Emerging Scholars Fellowship: Drum Roll Please…


9186213I don’t know if you’ve all noticed, but it seems like the transgender community has been gaining more and more visibility in the last few months…

It’s been amazing to see, and I feel honored to be doing this research at a time when society seems to be becoming more open to the experiences and needs of transgender and non-binary individuals.

On that note, I think it’s time to share some of the findings that have come from my time as an Active Minds Emerging Scholars Fellow.

As a quick refresher, the purpose of my study was to explore the treatment experiences of transgender and gender-diverse individuals diagnosed with eating disorders, something I accomplished through analyzing answers to a series of open-ended questions. My final results were a number of themes categorizing participants’ experiences, which I separated into “experiences in treatment” and “recommendations for treatment providers”.

Here are the major themes with a few representative examples from actual responses to the questionnaire:

Treatment Experiences:

  1. Gender Ignored

“Every primary care provider that I have interacted with simply sidesteps or ignores my articulation of a trans identity. It’s as if the gesture never happened.”

“Since coming out my identity has been erased in treatment because clinicians and therapists aren’t comfortable with a transgender individual who does not identify as male or female.”

  1. Assumptions

“My therapist asked me questions about my body, such as if I’d taken hormones or had “the surgery” yet. She twice asked me if I was “really a boy or a girl”, despite my birth name and sex being on my records”

“Despite telling and often reminding my therapist of my identity, it was obvious she didn’t truly see me as the gender I was.”

  1. Lack of Specialization

“It’s difficult in general for me to find therapy and help that understands me being trans, being a rape survivor, and having an eating disorder.  I tend to find any help I seek for one, or any combination of those, fails in at least one of those areas.  After a while, I’ve just given up rather than risk spending the time and energy to seek help that ultimately makes me feel worse about myself.”

Recommendations for Treatment Providers:

  1. Ask Questions

“There needs to be better understanding that people develop disorders for different reasons. Many of my doctors told me I was trying to cover for my eating disorder by claiming that I was transgender, which couldn’t have been farther from the truth.  I have an eating disorder in addition to being a trans person, they are not necessarily related, though there are parts of them that interact.”

“Always ask for pronouns. Use the name they ask you to use – I can’t stress this enough.”

  1. Facilitate Access to Care

“It would be reassuring to see programs which include some sort of reference to their inclusivity of transgender / gender-diverse people. It is nerve-wracking to look for treatment options and wonder whether a program which works with women means that it works with all women, or only with cis women.”

“Gender mixed groups…I wouldn’t want to go to a group for men, since my eating disorder began when I was living as female, but I would hate to go to a women’s group that was supposed to be closed to men.”

  1. Educate Yourself

“In spite of my identification, ‘professionals’ tend to fall back on essentialist notions: ‘you are a man.’ I am simply not interested in educating professionals about my gender or identity; it’s the one space where I do not have the energy left to do so.”

“I can’t help but …wonder how my life might have been different…if anyone who saw me in the course of my treatment had been able to recognize my gender dysphoria and inform me that there were ways of addressing my extreme discomfort with my post-pubertal body other than starving myself.”

Right now, I’m in the process of disseminating my findings to various organizations related to eating disorders, LGBTQ populations, mental health, etc. This topic is really important, I can’t say it enough, and it is something I plan to continue working on.

A big thank you to Active Minds, The Scattergood Foundation, Trans Folx Fighting Eating Disorders, the University of Saint Joseph, and the many other individuals and organizations who have supported me during this project. Most of all, I would like to thank each of the 84 individuals who responded to my questionnaire – I couldn’t have done this without you.