By Jana Keith-Jennings, LMSW
Trans Day of Remembrance is an annual observance on November 20th, honoring the memory of trans people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-trans violence. As Trans Day of Remembrance founder, Gwendolyn Ann Smith says, “With so many seeking to erase transgender people—sometimes in the most brutal ways possible—it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice.”
In honor of Trans Day of Remembrance, we’d like to take a moment to help raise visibility for trans people.
We want to bring attention to the factors that leave trans folx more vulnerable to developing eating disorders and other mental health challenges and simultaneously leave them less likely to receive affirming mental health care.
While research on trans and gender non-conforming folks is still woefully lacking, the research we do have tells us that gender minority youth and adults are much more likely to experience eating disorders and disordered eating than their cisgender counterparts.1 54 percent of LGBT adolescents have been diagnosed with a full-syndrome eating disorder in their lifetime, with an additional 21 percent suspecting that they had an ED at some point in their lives. Among eating disorder treatment admissions, sexual and gender minority youth had on average more acute ED symptoms and higher rates of abuse compared to hetero and cis counterparts. In one study, almost 70 percent of the trans and GNC adult participants reported dissatisfaction with their eating patterns and 67.2 percent reported basing their self-worth on their weight status.
Trans and GNC youth appear to be at a particularly high level of risk for disordered eating behaviors, with a high incidence of youth (up to 70 percent) reporting body dissatisfaction – a notable risk factor for developing an eating disorder. Of those reporting distress regarding body dysphoria, body shame, and the desire to change one’s body to better express their gender experience, there was a high incidence of reported eating disorder behavior as well. Disordered eating behaviors are more likely to be reported by individuals who encounter barriers to gender affirming treatment. In fact, for trans individuals, gender dysphoria appears to correlate with body dissatisfaction and increased incidence of eating disorders. Risk factors such as gender dysphoria, lack of timely gender dysphoria management, lack of gender affirming care, not being on HRT, experiences of being misgendered, anxiety, perfectionism, low self-esteem, and identification as a sexual minority all increase trans individuals’ vulnerability to risk factors.
To date there is little to no research specifically focusing on trans identity and eating disorders.
There are also no trans specific eating disorder treatment models, eating disorder centers, or oversight for training of clinicians. TGNC folx still face more barriers to receiving gender affirming care, or proper mental and physical health care in general, with POC trans folx facing the greatest barriers of all.
As members and allies of the TGNC community, we at Columbus Park, hope to draw attention to critical gaps in both research and available treatment and demand more resources and attention be directed to bolster the TGNC community and ensure access to effective, appropriate and affirming care.
If you’re looking for additional support, reach out to our team at Columbus Park.