What to Know About Internalized Transphobia

Internalized transphobia refers to the discomfort that a person may experience after internalizing society’s normative gender expectations. Transgender and gender nonconforming people often experience stigmatization, which may cause them to internalize gender attitudes and develop negative health outcomes.

Internalized Cissexism

Internalized cissexism occurs when a person judges themselves through society’s anti-trans bias. The term derives from the notion of internalized homophobia, or internalized heterosexism.

People with internalized cissexism may feel ashamed of their gender identity or expression, feel judgment from others, or remain closeted. This may result in negative health outcomes among transgender and gender nonconforming people.

This system of discrimination and exclusion suggests that there are, and should be, only two genders and that a person’s gender relates to their assigned sex at birth.

This system oppresses those whose gender or gender expression does not fall within CIS normative constructs. Cissexism perpetuates the idea that cisgender people are the dominant group and causes transgender or gender nonconforming people to experience oppression.

Problems With the Term

The term transphobia inaccurately describes systems that use irrational fears to subject people to oppression. Phobias can also be a distressing part of lived experience, so using this language is disrespectful to their experience and perpetuates ableism.

Why Does It Happen?

Gender stereotypes pervade virtually every aspect of mainstream culture — from “gender reveal” parties to ideas about “normal” jobs, appearances, or behaviors for people to have based on their appearance.

Transgender people who normalize these stereotypes may feel shame for their “failure” to conform to society’s gender expectations.

Even when a trans person outwardly transitions and passes, they may fear people finding out or hate themselves based on stereotypes about trans individuals.

Transgender people face high rates of violence, even in a more accepting modern society. The Human Rights Campaign report that 2020 was the deadliest year on record for this group, with at least 37 bigotry-fueled murders of trans and gender nonconforming individuals.

Some transgender people report difficulties getting their doctors to acknowledge their gender, their co-workers to use the correct pronouns, or society to acknowledge that their gender presentation is real and valid.

With so many images of hatred of transgender people and outright denial that they do or should exist, it is understandable that many people who are transgender or gender nonconforming may experience embarrassment or feelings of self-loathing.

Factors Affecting It

A number of studies have explored the potential factors that may increase the risk of internalizing cissexism. These may include:

  • expecting or experiencing rejection
  • having exposure to prejudice
  • having a tendency to obsessively think about negative emotions and experiences
  • Additionally, trans people often grapple with the contradiction between their actual gender and their sex assigned at birth. This incongruity can be frustrating and painful, particularly when a person is unable to transition.

One 2020 study proposes The Transgender Identity Survey as a measure of internalized cissexism. The authors of that study propose four dimensions and predictors of internalized cissexism:

  • Pride in transgender identity: This pride may help reduce stigma and internalized cissexism.
  • Investment in passing as a cisgender person: People who do not want to appear trans tend to have more internalized cissexism.
  • Isolation from other transgender people: People who do not have relationships with other trans people, who see themselves as disconnected from trans communities, or who view themselves as fundamentally different from other trans individuals may internalize more stigma.
  • Shame: People who feel ashamed of their identity, their gender expression, or their transition are more likely to have internalized cissexism.

How Can It Affect a Person’s Health?

Trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming individuals have a high rate of suicide and self-harm behaviors as both teenagers and adults.

Internalized cissexism, as well as the factors that contribute to it — such as rejection and discrimination — may play a key role in this phenomenon.

Some other potential health effects include:

  • higher rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, such as low self-esteem
  • a reluctance to call the police when one is a victim of a crime
  • delays in seeking healthcare because of shame or concerns about discrimination
  • stress-related illnesses
  • a lower quality of life
  • difficulties coming out as trans or seeking gender affirming care
Medical News Today

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