Chapter 1 Literature Review

To begin, we review current literature on gender identity, trans identities, and the limited literature on gendered pronouns. We also review the other measures that were administered to participants.

1.1 Gender Identity

For some, gender is simply a stand-in term for sex (Auerbach, 1999). This means that many people simply understand sex and gender to be the same thing—one is born a male and grows up to be a man or is born female and grows up to be a woman. However, this does not reflect the diverse array of gender expressions and identities that exist.

Gender identity is better understood as one’s internal sense of gender and the gendered social roles that they choose (Kuper, Wright, & Mustanski, 2018). Generally, Kuper et al. (2018) frame gender identity adoption as an affirming process, in which one adopts the roles that most affirms their gender identity. Gender expression is the outward appearance one chooses in order to express their internal gender identity.

It should be noted that the roles that one relates to when forming one’s gender identity are not limited to “man” and “woman,” nor are they fixed over time. Diamond, Pardo, & Butterworth (2011) argues that gender identity is refined over time and may be a constant process of changing one’s social role and physical presentation and appearance to match one’s internal gender identity. While one’s relationship to gender may change frequently, even daily, Diamond et al. (2011) argue that identity comes to encompass possible variation and account for new change. This all occurs within the broader context of development and self-exploration. The formation of each individual’s gender identity is complex, multifaceted, and deeply interwoven with other aspects of their identity.

1.2 Transgender Identities

The boundary between cisgender, non-cisgender, and transgender is not consistent throughout the literature. Medical literature has a narrower definition of transgender, usually defining it as an individual who was born one gender, and wishes to be the “opposite,” e.g. someone who was assigned a man at birth, and wishes to transition to live as a woman (Galupo, Pulice-Farrow, & Ramirez, 2017). However, this rigid definition excludes numerous gender identities that do not fit into strict “man” and “woman” categories. Galupo et al. (2017), in a number of interviews with non-binary individuals, find that “transgender” is better understood as any gender identities that are not the gender one was assigned at birth.

This, however, is an incredibly broad definition that doesn’t have a lot of diagnostic use. Bradford & Catalpa (2019) found that, across several psychosocial measures, participant’s genders could be grouped into cisgender, binary transgender, and non-binary transgender. This examined aspects of participant’s lives such as life satisfaction and social support. They concluded that treating the “transgender community” as a unitary whole may inadequately address unique aspects about non-cisgender groups.

Dozier (2005) interviewed a number of transmasculine individuals (people who were assigned women at birth, but later transitioned to a more “masculine” gender) about their experiences as transgender people and changes in their gender identity over time. While many of her interviewees comfortably identified as transgender men, she also found that there was considerable fluidity across many aspects of identity. Critically, with access to medical interventions such as hormone replacement therapy, sex becomes a mutable aspect of gender expression, and labels such as “transgender man” began to lose their descriptive value and personal significance as an identity. Labels such as “transgender” and “transmasculine” frequently carry typified connotations that do not neatly map onto an individual’s identities and gendered experiences.

Furthermore, Tate, Youssef, & Bettergarcia (2014) examine the state of gender research and find large inconsistencies in how gender identity is presumed to form in cisgender people versus transgender people. They push back against the common assumption that gender identity is binary, static, and unquestioned in cisgender people, whereas it is an active process of self-categorization in transgender people. They advocate for the integration of cisgender and transgender gender research into one cohesive body of work that avoids assuming any in/activity or binary pattern in the formation of anyone’s identity.

Guided by insights from Dozier (2005) and Tate et al. (2014), the author had many discussions about gender identity and transgender identity with her peers, adviser, and friends. She found that there are some people who do not identify as cisgender, but also do not identify as transgender. Furthermore, in the author’s own transition, she has moved from identifying as non-binary, to a woman, to retaining some aspects of womanhood, but deriving more of her gender identity from her sexual orientation as a butch lesbian. This is a common dilemma for butch lesbians, who, at the intersection of cisnormativity and lesbophobia, find themselves estranged from womanhood but still deeply connected to lesbianism (Feinberg, 2015).

From these conversations and her own experience, the author believes that “transgender identity” is merely an umbrella term that encompasses many non-cisgender experiences. Trans people are better understood as individuals’ identification or and relationship with many different identities. For example, in the author’s case, her identification as a lesbian and as a transgender woman are separate. However, the author would be incomplete without one or the other. Taking a page from broader literature on the intersectionality of identities (e.g. queerness & disability Miller, Wynn, & Webb, 2019), many individuals have complicated gender identities that can only be fully realized as multiple parts that are woven together to make a whole.

1.3 Gendered Pronouns

Gendered pronouns are commonly recognized in trans literature as an important aspect of trans people’s lives, but are rarely elaborated on further (e.g. Diamond et al., 2011). The literature has recognized that use of one’s chosen name and pronouns is critical to supporting and affirming trans people. However, little attention has been paid to the details of trans people’s relationships with their pronouns.

Misgendering—the use of a pronoun or other gendered term that is incongruent with someone’s gender—is a common and, sadly, almost everyday experience for some trans people. McLemore (2015) examined the frequency to which non-cisgender people are misgendered, and the impact that has on a number of psychosocial measures. For example, they found that misgendering causes trans people to feel stigmatized, increases their negative affect, and decreases their self-esteem. Misgendering was shown to have significant negative impacts on mental health and self-confidence in trans people.

However, this still leaves the question of why trans people choose the pronouns they do and how they relate to their pronouns. McGlashan & Fitzpatrick (2018) performed a year-long ethnography of transgender schoolchildren in New Zealand who were part of an after school “Rainbow Group.” They found that relationships to pronouns are complicated and fluid. Some students were frustrated that their options were limited and could not capture their gender identity. Others also took issue with the static nature of pronouns—in order to capture fluctuations in relationship to their gender, they prefer to change pronouns every meeting. Additionally, the instructors were concerned that requiring students to share their pronouns would be limiting and box them in.

This was, sadly, the only piece of literature the author found that was explicitly about individual’s relationships to pronouns. Thus, much of the study was guided by her own experience as a transgender person.

1.4 Transgender Congruence Scale

Kozee, Tylka, & Bauerband (2012) developed the Transgender Congruence Scale (TCS) to quantify how congruent transgender people feel between with internal gender identity. The developed and validated 12 items that measured congruence with external appearance, body, and social gender. The TCS was developed and validated on a transgender population and was intentionally built to not reinforce the gender binary or privlege certain genders or presentations over others.

1.5 Transgender Inclusive Behavior Scale

Kattari, O’Connor, & Kattari (2018) developed the Transgender Inclusive Behavior Scale (TIBS) to quantify how many trans-inclusive behaviors people generally do when opportunities may present themselves. It includes questions about a number of behaviors, including sharing and asking for pronouns, using gender-neutral language, and keeping oneself up-to-date on policies that may affect trans people’s lives. The TIBS was developed and validated for people of all genders, trans and cis. We included the TIBS as a proxy measure for how supportive one is of trans people by how conscientiously they practice trans-inclusive behaviors.