Experiences of gender incongruence and the relationship between social exclusion, psychological distress, and dysfunction among South African transgender adults: A field-study for ICD-11

BACKGROUND: The classification of sexuality-related conditions and condi­tions relating to transgender identity has generated controversy. Growing evidence suggests that the distress and dysfunction reported by transgen­der individuals is more likely associated with social exclusion, stigmati­zation, and violence than as a result of gender incongruence per se. Our study aimed to explore the experiences of South African transgender indi­viduals through: 1) their self-reported accounts of gender incongruence, and 2) associations between their experiences of social exclusion and vio­lence, and their reports of psychological distress and dysfunction during adolescence.

METHODS: Our sample of 57 South African transgender adults completed a structured interview, in English, including questions related to expe­riences of gender incongruence duration, distress, dysfunction, social exclusion, and violence.

RESULTS: Many transgender individuals reported having experienced an intense desire to be a different gender, with all noting discomfort with several aspects of their bodies. Importantly, psychological distress and dysfunction were significantly associated with social exclusion (most commonly perpetuated by family and friends) and not with gender incon­gruence per se.

CONCLUSIONS: This study adds to the growing evidence that experiences of social exclusion play a significant role in the psychological distress and dysfunction reported by transgender persons.

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