When working with Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming clients, it’s vital to remember there are many ways to be a man or be masculine, writes Josh Parmenter.
Masculine gender role ideals have the potential to ostracize some transmen from developing a congruent male identity, which may lead some TGNC individuals to change behaviors in order to fit these dominant masculine ideals and reduce gender role conflict (Green, 2005; Skidmore, Linsenmeier, & Bailey, 2006). Expression of masculine gender roles may not be highly important for all who hold a male gender identity. Because traditional masculine gender roles revolve around heteronormative assumptions and advise individuals to “steer clear” of affection towards other men or same-sex attraction, transmen may experience gender role-related conflict when expressing romantic or sexual attraction (Schwartzberg & Rosenberg, 1998).
Before providing the necessary background research regarding masculinity and TGNC individuals, some preliminary remarks are necessary to discuss masculinity as a separate concept from sexual orientation. While gender identity and sexual orientation are related to one another, it is important to make this distinction as sexual orientation describes who an individual is sexually attracted to while gender identity explores how you identify and express your gender on a daily basis. For the purposes of this document, masculine gender role expression refers to the way an individual communicates or presents masculinity or masculine gender roles (i.e., physical appearance, clothing, behaviors, speech) within a given cultural context (APA, 2012). Masculine gender role expressions are socially constructed and integrated into an individual’s sense of self through learning and socialization with others. Masculinity is grounded in historical and social contexts, and is conceptualized differently from person to person depending on the individual’s identity and context (Diamond & Butterworth, 2008; Nagoshi & Brzuzy, 2010; Vegter, 2013). Therefore, the term masculinity is often used in plural form (i.e., masculinities; Connell, 1995).
When practicing with TGNC clients, it may be helpful to avoid assumptions that there is only one way of conceptualizing and expressing masculinity. For example, some male-identified TGNC individuals do not wish to label their gender identity and do not feel masculine behaviors are an essential component of establishing a male gender identity (Bockting, Benner, & Coleman, 2009). The therapist should ask the TGNC client about how salient masculinity is to them and how they define or enact it, as opposed to operating under the assumption that it is essential to adhere to masculine gender-roles when identifying as a man. However, when working with gender diverse clients who do label themselves as male, it is important to ask how they personally define and conceptualize masculinity and how this definition functions in their day-to-day life.
It is important to acknowledge that dominant masculinities are also grounded in social norms and ideals for White, upper class, heterosexual, able bodied, highly educated men (Levant & Richmond, 2016; Shields, 2008). Clinicians should operate outside of this assumption because clients’ conceptualizations of masculinity that may be influenced by various intersecting cultural variables and aspects of identity (i.e., ethnic, cultural, and sexual identity). Therefore, it is important for the clinician to inquire about the client’s unique background and how this may have shaped their view of masculinity and what it means to identify and behave as a man.
This article was adapted from the American Psychological Association (APA) published Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People (TGNC), to assist psychologists in providing culturally competent psychological services to TGNC people, including guidance for research, psychological education, or clinical training surrounding issues of gender identity and gender expression (APA, 2015). In 2016, the Sexual and Gender Minorities Special Interest Group of the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinities (APA Division 51) formed a workgroup to create a brief document to highlighting masculinity-related topics touched upon in these Guidelines that are salient in the practice of psychology with TGNC individuals.
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Joshua G. Parmenter is a doctoral student in the Combined Clinical/Counseling Psychology program at Utah State University. Joshua’s research is currently exploring: 1) masculinity among sexual minority men and how this influences their physical (i.e., sexual risk taking, HIV, body image/disordered eating) and mental health (i.e., psychological distress, depression, internalized homophobia), and 2) sexual minorities’ identity with the LGBTQ+ culture and concealment of sexual identity. Joshua is primarily interested in working with men with eating disorders as well as sexual minorities who are navigating the early stages of sexual identity development.
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