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June 4, 2019

Research advances public awareness for transgender community

Research from Michigan State University’s College of Social Science centers around transforming the human experience, and for Jae Puckett, assistant professor of psychology, that means transforming the way we understand the experiences of the transgender community.

Focusing specifically on minority stressors for transgender people, Puckett researches the obstacles the transgender community faces and how individuals can overcome these challenges.

“I look at stressors and how they affect the mental health of trans folks, but I also look at coping mechanisms and resilience,” Puckett said. “For me, that part is equally as important. We have to fight for equality and protection for the trans community and simultaneously understand how to promote positive outcomes given that there is still a long road ahead for this social change.”

Minority stress refers to the social and political stressors certain minority groups experience beyond typical, everyday stresses, like paying bills and meeting deadlines at work. For the transgender community, these stressors are often grouped in with those of cisgender sexual minorities – LGBQ+ people who are not transgender; though some transgender people also identify as sexual minorities – though in reality, their experiences are much different.

“There is definitely overlap between the types of stressors trans folks and LGB cis folks go through,” Puckett said. “Both experience things like harassment and victimization, but unique to trans folks, those experiences are embedded within a broader context that largely lacks protections for them and even has laws that actively target them. We’ve seen a lot of advancement in equality for cisgender sexual minority people, but for trans folks, that hasn’t been the case.”

According to Puckett, an example of a stressor unique to the transgender community is bodily hypervigilance, which occurs when transgender people are on hyper-alert, worrying about judgement and gender policing from others regarding how their body and gender expression is perceived.

To learn more about these stressors and how to combat them, Puckett is working on two major research projects that will involve members of the transgender community and create real-world solutions.

The first project will include transgender individuals from Oregon, Michigan, Tennessee, Nebraska and Montreal. Puckett will interview participants and follow them for a year, asking them to complete monthly surveys about stressors and forms of resilience in their everyday lives to understand more about how sociopolitical contexts relate to health and resilience.

Puckett is also working with a research group called Trans Collaborations to improve how the mental health field interacts with clients who are transgender. For many transgender people, mental health care is required for hormone therapy and gender affirming surgeries. However, many mental health care providers fail to positively support or affirm transgender individuals.

Therefore, Trans Collaborations is tackling the issue by creating Adaptations of Care that can be implemented to make mental health services more supportive for the transgender community. The team worked closely with members of the community to identify gaps in care and create resources and guidelines that can be used for any kind of therapy to make it more inclusive and affirming for transgender clients.

For Puckett, making the world a better, safer place for the transgender community is what it’s all about.

“I think it’s important to publish your research, but I also think it should actually make an impact in the communities involved in your work,” Puckett said.

Treating the transgender community with respect during the research process is important to them, too.

“Psychology as a discipline has a really bad history of doing problematic research that’s really stigmatizing, fetishizing and sensationalizing of trans people’s lives,” Puckett said. “As a person who identifies as trans and collaborates with researchers who are also trans-identified, there’s value in that for the people who participate in our studies. To see trans people doing this work and for it to be done in a positive and affirming way is validating. We’re not just here to gather data, we’re here to actually learn about folks’ experiences and give back to the community.”

More information on Dr. Puckett and their research can be found here.

For more information about the use of singular they/them pronouns, go here.

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