Masculinity Among TGNC Youth and Elders: Developmental Considerations

By Joshua G. Parmenter

Utah State Univeristy

Youth:

A typical lifespan development theory may not directly apply to Transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) people. TGNC people may face significant developmental interruptions due to oppression, socialization, and gender identity concerns. For example, female masculinity is a highly common phenomenon in female-bodied children and is often characterized as “tomboy” behavior (i.e., playing with boys, participation in sports and rough play, masculine mannerisms, appearance; Burn, O’Neil, & Nederend, 1996).  However, for feminine boys, gender nonconformity is not as accepted; especially for those who are more emotionally expressive (Kane, 2006). Boys who are more emotionally expressive and non-conforming to masculine gender roles face social pressure to adhere to masculine expressions of behavior (Kosciw, Greytak, Giga, Villenas, & Danischewski, 2016) and experience exceedingly higher rates of verbal and physical abuse (Reiger, Lisenmeier, Gygax, & Bailey, 2008). Such prolonged negative experiences has the potential for negative mental health outcomes, such as depression, anxiety (Dank, Lachman, Zweig, & Yahner, 2014), identity strain (Parmenter, Blume, Crowell, and Galliher, under review; Sanchez & Vilain, 2012), self-harm, and suicidality (dickey, Resner, & Juntunen, 2015).

Recommendations for Youth:

Creating an affirming and accepting environment where masculine expression can be flexible and fluid should be at the forefront when combating systems of oppression for gender non-conforming individuals. By fostering a safe environment for children within multiple contexts (i.e., home, school, religious contexts), TGNC youth may freely explore different forms of masculine expression (Hildalgo et al., 2013). Clinicians should consider informing parents about the psychology of masculinity and the variety of ways someone can express masculinity to foster understanding and flexibility with gender roles.

Elders:

Older transmen who rigidly adhere to hegemonic masculine ideologies may have greater difficulty transitioning into the developmental stage of older adulthood. Research suggests three primary concerns pertaining to masculinity at this developmental stage. First, as older TGNC decide to leave the workforce, they may perceive themselves as estranged from traditional masculine norms of power, success (Oliffe et al., 2013), and financial independence (dickey & Bower, 2017). Second, adherence to masculine norms in older adulthood may be associated with a reluctance to seek help (Weirsma & Chesser, 2011), as well as social isolation. Lastly, adhering to rigid heterodominant masculine norms has been associated with higher physical (i.e., self-destructive behavior, substance use, unprotected sex) and mental health problems (i.e., depression, suicide). A unique stressor for older TGNC individuals is the fear of being unable to express their male identity due to dementia or being msigendered after death (Courtenay, 2000; Sanchez, 2016; Westwood & Price, 2016).

Recommendations for Elders:

Practitioners can assist through reviewing the process of retirement and how this event interacts with expectations of masculine gender roles. Given social isolation and feelings of loneliness are common, despite developmental stage, among TGNC individuals, it is important that assess a client’s social and emotional support systems (Porter et al., 2016). By identifying significant relationships in the individual’s life across their lifespan, clinicians can strengthen the client’s social support system and create strategies to maintain these existing relationships.

“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.”