Abstract: Reported Difficulty of Passing for Non-Binary Individuals (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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103P Reported Difficulty of Passing for Non-Binary Individuals

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
A.P. Spoth, MSW, Ph.D. Student, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Background: ‘Passing,’ or the act of appearing as part of a social category one is not a part, is a phenomenon that has been broadly theorized both in general and in its specific application to transgender individuals. Implicit in ‘passing’ is an articulation of what constitutes a “normal” or preferred identity. When considered through the lens of gender, the concept of ‘passing’ as it currently is understood reinforces binary constructions of gender categories, even when applied to transgender individuals. For non-binary trans people, passing therefore becomes a murky concept, raising the question of what it means to ‘pass’ as a gender that is not broadly recognized within social settings. Passing has also been historically linked to the concept of medical transition as both a pre-requisite to and a result of hormonal and surgical intervention. Access to and having pursued medical transition is therefore a potential mediating factor for transgender people’s experiences with passing. This study seeks to explore how non-binary people’s experience with passing diverges from other transgender individuals’ experiences. It also seeks to explore how medical transition mediates the reported difficulty of passing, and whether this accounts for any variance between transgender men and women’s and non-binary people’s reported difficulty of passing.

Methods: A secondary data analysis was conducted utilizing the transgender sample of the TransPop 2018 data (N = 274). Study analyses were conducted using SPSS and utilized univariate and bivariate analytic techniques. Comparisons among passing difficulty were made by gender and by the pursuit of and/or desire for various steps in medical transition.

Results: Non-binary people report markedly more difficulty passing than transgender men and women combined (p < .001) and are simultaneously significantly less likely (83.4%, p < .001) to pursue medical transition. Notably, the desire for more gender-affirming surgeries is positively correlated with difficulty passing (p < . 001), indicating that as people desire more gender-affirming surgeries, they report more difficulty passing. When medical transition and the desire for further medical transition are accounted for, non-binary people continue to report markedly more difficulty passing than both transgender men and transgender women (p < .001, adjusted R2 = 0.325).

Implications: Existing literature demonstrates that visual conformity and/or passing is correlated with a service user’s tendency to seek, receive, and benefit from social services. Given the comparatively low levels of reported passing among non-binary individuals combined with their comparatively low rate of seeking medical transition, we can expect that these individuals face unique challenges when engaging with social and healthcare services. This data analysis indicates a need for more targeted research on the experiences of non-binary individuals in particular when seeking social services.