Language Impacts Society: “Sex,” “Gender,” and Depression in Patients

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Transgender individuals are impacted socially and legally by misuse of terms such as sex and gender. Image by ParaDox

Legal Implications of Language

Legal documents that ask for either “sex” or “gender” can cause problems for transgendered persons. According to Janis Walworth, of the Center for Gender Sanity,

One of the most vexing and common is the use of “gender: male or female” on forms. How is a person whose body doesn’t match his/her gender identity or expression supposed to answer that? Or someone whose body is not completely male or completely female? And why is that question even there? It gives rise to anxiety among transgender people who want to answer truthfully and legally but really can’t tell what the right answer is.

Ms. Walworth continued, regarding depression in LGBT communities,

I believe much of the depression among LGBT people is due to the stresses of hiding who one really is and of not being understood and appreciated by others. For transgender people, depression may set in when a person feels unable to transition fully or unable to find a comfortable situation for him/herself in either gender. Depression can also come about after transition when a person realizes that transitioning did not solve all of her/his problems.

Dr. Dave Thompson, a gender therapist in Brussels, Belgium, added this regarding transgender patients and depression:

For the American clients I see, their biggest issues are anxiety and depression. Most of this is tied to their family life and society. Part of society does include the misuse of language, primarily on documents. For someone who is attempting to determine their gender identity, reading statements about gender testing can be terrifying. This can lead people to delay seeking the treatment they need.

Another problem with America’s system of language is the laws. In some states, you are able to obtain a drivers license under your gender identity, yet can be imprisoned under your sex. Bathrooms are another problem. Are they regulated in a state by gender, or by sex? Does a drivers license that says you are female, for example, allow you to use the ladies room if you have a penis still? These are the problems faced with language in the laws in America.

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