Session: Implications of Transgender Theory for Social Work Research and Practice (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

53 Implications of Transgender Theory for Social Work Research and Practice

Cluster: Sexual Orientation
Symposium Organizer:

Stephan/ie Brzuzy, PhD, Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH
Friday, January 15, 2010: 10:00 AM-11:45 AM
Golden Gate (Hyatt Regency)
Transgenderism represents a more fundamental threat to heteronormative assumptions about the nature of gender than homosexuality, in that transgenders defy the unquestioned heteronormative belief that, while gender roles and sexual orientation may be socially constructed and malleable, gender identity, i.e., whether one is male or female, is biologically essential and fixed. The phenomenon of transgenderism has implications for social work research and practice on three levels, and this symposium consists of presentations that address each of these levels.

The first level is that of prejudice against transgenders. Prejudice and discrimination against gays/lesbians puts these individuals at greater risk for social and psychological distress, and some research indicates that prejudice and discrimination are more virulent against transgenders. Homophobia in social workers is often perceived by gays/lesbians as being a barrier to the provision of social services, and it is likely that transphobia, prejudice against transgenders, may be an even greater barrier. The first symposium talk presents quantitative research findings in straight and gay/lesbian college students on the bases of homophobia and transphobia. An important implication of these findings is that gender differences in the correlates of homophobia and transphobia reflect gender differences in the motivations for prejudice based on gender differences in social power and strategies for attaining power.

The second level of implications concerns the perceptions of the nature of gender in transgenders, compared to straights and gays/lesbians. The qualitative research findings presented in the second symposium talk show how transgenders view gender identity as being fluid, with the consequence that gender roles and sexual orientation are also seen as being manifestations of a more dynamic identity process. It is interesting that, while straights and gay men believe in a fixed gender identity but socially constructed gender roles and sexual orientation, a subset of lesbians express views of gender identity similar to those of transgenders. Research and social service work with transgenders need to recognize transgenders' more radical understandings of gender identity and identity in general.

What was apparent in transgenders' discussions of their gender identity was a consciously lived and dynamic interplay between embodied and socially/personally constructed aspects of identity. This is the essence of an emerging transgender theory of gender identity that seeks to reconcile and transcend traditional essentialist and feminist/queer theory social constructivist ideas about gender. This is the third level of implications to be discussed in the symposium, and in the third symposium talk transgender theory will be presented as a more valid way of understanding gender identity and identity in general as a lived, embodied, and constructed experience. The transgender approach also is important for reconciling social constructivist theoretical approaches in academic social work research with essentialist identity approaches thought necessary for social advocacy and activism for oppressed groups.

* noted as presenting author
Gender Differences in Correlates of Homophobia and Transphobia
Craig Nagoshi, PhD, Arizona State University
Perceptions of Gender Roles, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation
Stephan/ie Brzuzy, PhD, Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH
Transgender Theory: Embodying Research and Practice
Julie Nagoshi, MSW, Arizona State University
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