Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Beginning of a Transgender Sociologist

1994 was the start of two of the most significant things to happen in my life.  One was the start of my PhD program, and the other was coming out as transgender.  In a way, both were tied very closely to each other.  I began to use what I was learning in my PhD program to help me learn more about what it means to be transgender, so using my new skills searching for information at my University’s library.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much sociological literature on the subject.

Psychology and psychiatry had a long history of writings on the subject, but they were focused on transsexualism as an illness and there was very little I found useful.  I had classes on the sociology of mental illness and read the literature on stigma and saw what was written as being representative of the way society seeks to control and minimize any form of gender nonconformity.  This was not the way I was viewing myself and trans issues; I was hoping more for a critical perspective.

Fortunately 1994 was the year of two significant (for me) publications.  The first was Kate Bornstein’s book “Gender Outlaw” (I still have it and managed to get her to autograph later), and the other was an essay by Susan Stryker called “My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix:  Performing Transgender Rage”.   Both articulated a critical response to the experiences faced by transgender people.  These, along with Sandy Stone’s Essay “The Empire Strikes Back: a Posttranssexual Manifesto”, were very important in that they were other woman who are thinking the same things I was thinking.  That being trans wasn’t an illness and that trans people face numerous problems in their daily lives.  I would think that sociology would be very interested in investigating the inequities faced by trans people, but that’s not what I found.

One of the few articles I found at the time was “The process of deviance designation: The case of the homosexual transvestite” (Authors: LM Fournet, CJ Forsyth, CT Schramm) that was published in the Free Inquiry in Creative Sociology in 1988.  A very hard to find article, but one that represents the general view within sociology, that trans people represents a form of deviancy.   However, another article surprised me the most. “The socio-medical construction of transsexualism: An interpretation and critique” (Authors:  D. B. Billings and T. Urban) Published in the journal Social Problems.  In this case the social problem in question was being a transsexual, and individuals such as myself are just confused.   I wasn’t finding anything within the discipline that I felt that was actually dealt with the actual lives of transgender people.  So I felt it was important that I work to change that.

In 1996 I began to be more active as trans professionally.  I even chaired a session at the American Sociological Association meeting in New York City inviting local activists to talk about transgender issues.  I also recall a presentation on an HIV program in Rio de Janeiro targeting transgender women involved in sex work.  The topic of HIV and Transgender issues being very important to me and I was hoping to get some valuable information.  Unfortunately the talk was peppered with photos of topless trans women.  When this was brought up the answer that was given was that they consented and this is what they did to find clients.   Still a graduate student, I didn’t know how to react to the actions of a senior sociologist.   Unfortunately this also the beginning of my disenchantment with discipline of sociology, I eventually finished my program and started a post-doc in Los Angeles.  Shortly after that I legally and medically transitioned (thanks to the resources and support available in LA), but what I didn’t know at the time was that it also was the beginning of my transition from sociology to public health.

Project Summary: Finding Measures to Identify Gender Minority Populations

Research examining health disparities among gender minorities (transgender, transsexual, and other gender nonconforming individuals) has reached a stage where population based studies are needed in order to expand upon what smaller, community based studies have found.

However, the diversity of terminology and operationalization of various gender minority groups has made it difficult to identify a measure that can be used globally.

At the same time, it will be necessary to create a measure that can be understood by gender majority populations and correctly differentiate between gender majority and minority populations.

One concept that stands out is gender identity/gender transition.  Gender identity/gender transition is defined by people’s answers to two questions, one asking about one’s sex assigned at birth and another about their current sex or gender.  This “two-step” question is being advocated by the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health.

A preliminary study utilizing the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force examined the relationship between gender identity/gender transition and discrimination.  A dichotomous measure was based on two questions:

What sex were you assigned at birth
What is your primary gender identity Male      Female
Male/Man No          Yes
Female/Woman Yes         No
Part-time No          No
Other No          No

The measure identified those whose primary gender identity was consistently different from their sex assigned at birth (yes versus no).

Another concept is that of gender nonconformity.  Gender nonconformity was measured by a single question “People can tell I’m transgender/gender non-conforming even if I don’t tell them?”.  The variable ranged from zero (never) to four (always).

Plotting these two variables against people’s experiences with discrimination resulted in the following:


Those who were identified as having a gender different from their assigned sex were found to report more experiences of discrimination; even at higher levels of gender nonconformity.

The above data was found to show that a two-step gender identity question could be useful in identifying those likely to experience greater social disparities among transgender populations.  The next step was to examine whether gender majority individuals can understand and answer these questions in a way that represents their gender majority status.

Another study (funded by the Williams Institute, UCLA) examined gender identity/gender transition measures by conducting cognitive interviews with 50 people (25 gender minority, 25 gender majority).  The interviews asked people to read and answer the questions; afterwards they were interviewed about why they answered the way they did.

The study utilized these questions:

1. What is your sex or gender? (Check ALL that apply)
  • Male
  • Female
  • Other: Please specify: _____________________
 2. What sex were you assigned at birth? (Check one)
  • Male
  • Female
  • Unknown or Question Not Asked
  • Decline to State

The results show that individuals within the gender majority group consistently answered these questions in a manner that identified their gender majority status.  If they answered male (or female) in the first question, they also answered male (or female) for the second; whereas, individuals within the gender minority group had different answers for both questions, and a small number used the “other” option for the first question.

Overall, the two-step question was effective and easily understood by both groups.

  • Individuals within the gender majority group were able to answer the question about sex assigned at birth even though they never heard the phrase before.  They knew what it was referring too.
  • Most people in both groups see gender as an identity
  • People generally felt these two questions were easy to answer.
  • Gender minority group generally saw a difference between the terms sex and gender, but the gender majority group tended to see the terms to be the same.

The next step is to utilize these measures in a quantitative study with gender majority and minority populations to see how effective they are in the field.

LGBT Conference Grant Has Been Submitted

That makes two NIH grants submitted this summer.

R21 The impact of discrimination and social support upon the health of transgender men and women.

R13 Current Issues in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Health Research.  My colleagues and I are hoping to do a LGBT health conference just prior to the Gay Games being held in Cleveland next year.  Both events would work wonderfully together.

I should hear about both early in 2014.

Reposting Podcasts from 2008 Containing Interviews With Julia Serano, Talia Bettcher, and Krista Scott-Dixon

I’m reposting podcasts that I recorded back in 2008 in the media section of my website.

Topics include a discussion of Julia Serano’s book “Whipping Girl” and the anthology “Transforming Feminism” with Talia Bettcher and Krista Scott-Dixon.

Also included is a discussion with Julia Serano and Talia Bettcher regarding Alice Dreger’s report regarding people’s response to J. Michael Bailey’s book and their essays on the issue, all were published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior 37(3).

Call for Submissions for TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly 2.1 (2015)

I’m one of the editors for this special issue.

“Making Transgender Count”

As a relatively new social category, the very notion of a “transgender population” poses numerous intellectual, political, and technical challenges. Who gets to define what transgender is, or who is transgender?  How are trans people counted—and by whom and for whom are they enumerated? Why is counting transgender members of a population seen as making that population’s government accountable to those individuals? What is at stake in “making transgender count”—and how might this process vary in different national, linguistic, or cultural contexts?

This issue of TSQ seeks to present a range of approaches to these challenges—everything from analyses that generate more effective and inclusive ways to measure and count gender identity and/or transgender persons, to critical perspectives on quantitative methodologies and the politics of what Ian Hacking has called “making up people.”

In many countries, large-scale national health surveys provide data that policy-makers rely on to monitor the health of the populations they oversee, and to make decisions about the allocation of resources to particular groups and regions—yet transgender people remain invisible in most such data collection projects. When administrative gender is conceived as a male/female binary determined by the sex assigned at birth, the structure, and very existence, of trans sub populations can be invisibilized by government data collection efforts. Without the routine and standardized collection of information about transgender populations, some advocates contend, transgender people will not “count” when government agencies make decisions about the health, safety and public welfare of the population. But even as more agencies become more open to surveying transgender populations, experts and professionals are not yet of one mind as to what constitutes “best practices” for sampling methods that will accurately capture respondents’ gender identity/expression, and the diversity of transgender communities. In still other quarters, debates rage about the ethics of counting trans people in the first place.

We invite proposals for scholarly essays that tackle transgender inclusion and/or gender identity/expression measurement and sampling methods in population studies, demography, epidemiology, and other social sciences. We also invite submissions that critically engage with the project of categorizing and counting “trans” populations.

Potential topics might include:

  • best practices and strategies for transgender inclusion and sampling in quantitative research;
  • critical reflections on past, current, and future data collection efforts;
  • the potential effects of epidemiological research on health and other disparities in trans communities;
  • who counts/gets counted and who does not: occlusions of disability, race, ethnicity, class, gender in  quantitative research on trans communities;
  • the tension between the contextually specific meaning of transgender identities and the generality and fixity that data collection requires of its constructs and social categories;
  • implications of linguistic, geographical, and cultural diversity in definitions of transgender and the limits of its applicability;
  • critical engagements with of the biopolitics of enumerating the population.

Please send full length article submissions by December 31, 2013 to along with a brief bio including name, postal address, and any institutional affiliation. Illustrations, figures and tables should be included with the submission.

The guest editors for this issue are Jody Herman (Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law), Emilia Lombardi (Baldwin Wallace University), Sari L. Reisner (Harvard School of Public Health), Ben Singer (Vanderbilt University), and Hale Thompson (University of Illinois at Chicago). Any questions should be sent to the guest editors at

TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly is a new journal, edited by Paisley Currah and Susan Stryker to be published by Duke University Press. TSQ aims to be the journal of record for the interdisciplinary field of transgender studies and to promote the widest possible range of perspectives on transgender phenomena broadly defined. Every issue of TSQ will be a specially themed issue that also contains regularly recurring features such as reviews, interviews, and opinion pieces. To learn more about the journal and see calls for papers for future special issues, visit   For information about subscriptions, visit