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The psychology of stigma

by Ian Down January 29, 2019
The psychology of stigma

Gender advocacy lawsuit concludes a week of expert testimony

 

Françoise Susset has devoted her career as a psychologist and social worker to the trans community. She has trained doctors, psychologists and other healthcare professionals to care for transgender and gender non-binary patients. She has testified at multiple provincial parliamentary commissions on gender-related causes.

Susset was one of several experts who testified last week in the lawsuit the Centre for Gender Advocacy (CGA) is pursuing against the provincial government. The CGA, a Concordia fee-levy group, is seeking to overturn 11 articles in the Civil Code of Québec that it says violate the rights of transgender and gender non-binary people.

On Friday, Jan. 25, during a week devoted to expert testimony, Susset answered questions from Plaintiff Attorney François Goyer about her work with the trans community and about the mental and emotional struggles they face.

Some of the stigma faced by transgender people, Susset said, comes from their peers at school. “It’s hell. And that’s not a hyperbole; it’s what [transgender youth] say in the studies,” she said.

Sometimes, the ostracization comes from their parents. Susset cited a recent study by Trans PULSE Project, a think tank that studies “the impact of social exclusion and discrimination on the health of trans people in Ontario,” according to its website. There were 433 responses, an unusually high number for such a survey. “What it showed us is that parental support is a key factor” in the well-being of transgender people, Susset said.

One of the articles of the Civil Code of Québec up for debate is article 62, which states that people under the age of 18 may have their name and gender markers changed if their legal guardian approves of it. Susset argued this law must be changed to give full autonomy to young people to change their personal information. When young people can’t change their gender markers, they “don’t have an affirmation of their identity,” she said.

Susset has spent a lot of time working in schools, where she said there is much work to be done to educate teachers and administrators. In her experience, both tend to be more open and understanding of children who identify as the opposite gender than those who are gender non-binary. For schools, when it comes to gender, “it’s one or the other,” she said.

Parents also lack concrete information about their transgender child’s needs, which can lead to worry and uncertainty when they notice their child displaying gender atypical behaviour, according to Susset. That’s why she helps organize workshops for parents of children under seven years old. In this age range, she said, stunting the expression of gender can cause psychological damage.

Susset said many children of transgender parents also face stigma as a consequence of their parents’ gender identities. These parents claimed a victory in the trial on Jan. 15, when the Directeur de l’état civil announced it would allow parents to change their own gender markers on their children’s birth certificates. The bureau also announced that they would allow gender markers to be removed from personal identification upon request.

Beyond the social consequences of being transgender, Susset criticized what she sees as a lack of medical services for trans people. “Services for trans people are so inaccessible, we find ourselves in a situation where most frontline services are provided by the community,” she said, adding that Quebec is in need of more community clinics to provide these services.

Susset said these are not problems she can solve using her own skills. “A large part of the suffering of my clients comes from forces external to them,” she said. “I can’t fix those problems using psychology.”

The next hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 29 at the Montreal courthouse. Proceedings are expected to run until the end of February.

Graphic by @spooky_soda.

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