Workplace pathologisation of gender-variant identities and its impact on health, well-being and quality-of-life

Arevshatian, Lilith, Beauregard, T. Alexandra, Booth, Jonathan and Whittle, Stephen (2017) Workplace pathologisation of gender-variant identities and its impact on health, well-being and quality-of-life. In: 10th Biennial Conference of International Society of Critical Health Psychology (ISCHP); 09 - 12 Jul 2017, Loughborough, U.K..


Although mainstream essentialism views gender as fixed binary masculine/feminine categories determined by sexual anatomy, an estimated 650 000 persons experience gender-variance in the United Kingdom (UK). Legislation and medical discourses of Gender Dysphoria and Gender Identity Disorder pathologise gender-variance by awarding recognition only to those who experience distress and undergo gender reassignment. The implication is that there is something wrong with being gender-variant and that this ‘deviance’ can be ‘fixed’ by being reassigned a ‘correct’ gender. Indeed, trans persons experience worse health outcomes than individuals who easily conform to societal gender expectations; they are at a greater risk of depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse, smoking, self-injury, suicidal intentions and suicide. They even have a greater risk of contracting urinary tract and kidney infections incurred by avoiding restrooms out of fear of discriminatory treatment. Specifically in the workplace, women and men are required to ‘do’ gender appropriately by constructing, expressing and maintaining binary gender categories. Those who do not comfortably conform to the appropriate performative identity (i.e., gender-variant persons) often experience overt discrimination, stigma, harassment and covert micro-aggressions. For these reasons, up to 46% of trans persons hide their gender identity at work out of fear of harassment. Although ‘going stealth’ requires constant monitoring of the self and uses up psychological resources, it remains theoretically under-explored. We argue that gender can be fluid and is based on self-identification theorize that one of the ways in which gender-variance leads to health disparities is via its impact on identity at work.

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