When foreigners came to Hawai‘i, they found practices and beliefs that disagreed with their world view. The dissonance created by the Westerners’ rigid assumptions and sense of righteousness was a problem, missionaries thought, that could be solved through conversion. So began the process of colonization: the imposition of Western culture on native people, establishment of white supremacy, and displacement of indigenous practices, people, and identity.
Colonization persists today. A report from the Department of Health illustrates one example. The Hawai‘i Sexual and Gender Minority Health Report 2018: A Focus On Transgender Youth, released last week, discusses the inequity of the health and risk factors experienced by Hawai‘i’s transgender public high school students, but not before giving context to the controversial topic of gender identity, an “individual’s personal sense of their gender.” Essentially, the report states, while gender identity has been largely considered to be binary (man or woman), these constructs are culturally informed.
Cultures worldwide have embraced a number of non-binary gender identities. In pre-colonial Hawai‘i, mahu were a third or “middle” gender that embodied the characteristics of both sexes, and society accepted sexual and gender diversity to the extent that mahu “were respected as spiritual and cultural leaders, especially in the preservation of Hawaiian traditions such as hula chants.” As colonization warped culture in the image of the West, mahu and other sexual minorities struggled to maintain respect within society, becoming shamed and stigmatized instead.
The result is “minority stress.” Minority Stress Theory states that people in stigmatized minority groups, such as gender non-conforming individuals and sexual minorities, experience a number of additional stressors, including “discrimination, rejection, and victimization based on gender minority identity or expression; non-affirmation of gender identity (e.g. wrong pronoun use); expectations of future experiences of discrimination based on gender minority identity; internalized transphobia; and concealment of one’s [transgender] identity,” the DOH report states.
The prevalence of transgender individuals in Hawai‘i is highest in the nation, 0.8 percent of adults, the report adds; among high school students, that ratio is even larger with more than three percent of public high school students (approximately 1,260 students) identifying as transgender. Half of the youth who identified as transgender were Hawaiian or Filipino – cultures with a tradition of socially and culturally integrated non-binary genders that were colonized by the West.
Minority stress for gender non-conforming and transgender people, a result of supplanting a sexually and gender diverse society with rigid and binary Western conceptions of gender, has been linked to higher rates of mental health issues, “suicidality, depression, anxiety, substance use, and HIV diagnoses” when compared to cisgender people (those whose gender identity is the same as their sex assigned at birth).
The Hawai‘i Sexual and Gender Minority Health Report 2018 focuses on a number of self-reported health-risk behaviors and experiences transgender public high school students in Hawai‘i encounter in comparison to their cisgender peers. The results are shocking, and show a population that’s disproportionately at-risk and victimized. Here are some of the report’s findings:
- Half of transgender youth have attempted suicide in the past year, compared to eight percent of cisgender youth.
- 29 percent of TG youth were bullied on school property in the past year, compared to 17 percent of cisgender youth.
- A quarter of TG youth skip school because they feel unsafe, compared to seven percent of their cisgender peers.
- Transgender youth are three times more likely to binge drink than cisgender youth.
- 25 percent of TG youth have injected illegal drugs, compared to 1 percent of cisgender youth.
- 46 percent of TG youth have misused prescription pain medication versus 10 percent of cisgender youth.
- Transgender youth are four-times more likely than cisgender youth to have been physically forced to have sexual intercourse.
- Two-thirds of transgender youth do not think they will complete a post-high school program.
- More than half of transgender youth do not have a teacher or an adult in school they can talk to about things important to them.
There are more statistics in the full report, available at Health.hawaii.gov/surveillance. Despite these numbers, the report concludes, “Recognizing and building upon the strength and resiliency of our local [transgender/gender non-conforming] communities is an essential component to improving the health and well-being of the population statewide.”
The advice Danielle Bergan, author of It’s Always Okay To Be Me, wrote in the Aug. 9, 2017 issue of MauiTime (“What it’s like to be transgender…”) is pertinent: “I want to ask all of you in our Maui community to support our transgender population on Maui and in Hawai‘i, especially the children. They are the bravest and the most susceptible of all of us in regards to lack of acceptance and potential for bullying or harm…
I ask that you do not sit on the sidelines in the face of discrimination – stand up and be counted! Remember, an idle bystander can be just as dangerous as a bully.”
Photo 1 courtesy of flickr/torbakhopper
Photo 2 courtesy of Maui Pride Film Festival
Coconut Poll: Do you think gender is a spectrum?
This week we talked about a Department of Health report that found transgender public high school students face significant health and social inequity as a result of “minority stress” created through the rigid binary gender identity norms imposed by mainstream Western culture.
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