New UT study shows importance of respecting transgender identities

Sam Groves

A new study conducted by UT researchers that was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health shows an undeniable link between the mental health of transgender youth and the extent to which those around them respect their gender identity. The study found that those who were consistently addressed by their chosen name “experienced 71 percent fewer symptoms of severe depression, a 34 percent decrease in reported thoughts of suicide and a 65 percent decrease in suicidal attempts.”

For simply asking to be addressed by their preferred names and pronouns, those in the transgender and genderqueer communities face all manner of ridicule. Speaking broadly, many conservatives (and even some liberals) see the idea that we ought to respect other individual’s gender identities as frivolous at best, and a threat to their free speech at worst.

Some commentators attempt to dismiss this issue as persnickety liberal identity politics. Conservative pundit Tucker Carlson recently denied the existence of a “transgender community” and scoffed at the concept of gender-neutral pronouns. In a similar vein, Jordan Peterson, a controversial University of Toronto psychology professor, came to prominence in part by bashing a proposed Canadian law that “could have made the refusal to refer to people by the pronouns of their choice an actionable form of harassment,” insisting, “I don’t recognize another person’s right to determine what pronouns I use to address them.”

Moreover, among some anti-transgender pundits, it’s fashionable to “misgender” transgender public figures whom you dislike or disagree with — that is, to refer to them in a way that doesn’t reflect their gender identity. Kevin Williamson, who was recently hired and then promptly fired by The Atlantic, did this to actress Laverne Cox back in 2014, and the National Review’s David French did this to activist Chelsea Manning in 2017.

Perhaps they don’t realize that these choices have a real impact on the well being of others. Perhaps they don’t understand that when a group’s very humanity is up for debate, the way you choose to address members of that group can matter a great deal. Or perhaps they just don’t care. Whatever the case, these findings shed light on the concrete significance of respecting transgender identities and underscore how normalizing this kind of disrespect can impact the lives of real people: It’s not just a matter of words.

Groves is a philosophy junior from Dallas.