Defining Transgender: What Do Lay Definitions Say About Prejudice?


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Abstract

The word transgender can serve as an umbrella term, encompassing a wide array of identities. However, those opposed to transgender rights seem to narrowly conceptualize what it means to be transgender in terms of assigned sex and gender expression while ignoring the construct of gender identity. This research tests whether the variation that can exist in cisgender participants’ lay definitions of the word transgender is a predictor of antitransgender prejudice and broader beliefs about gender roles. The current study had 200 heterosexual cisgender undergraduate participants complete a mixed-methods online survey that asked them to generate a definition of the term transgender and then respond to questionnaires assessing antitransgender attitudes and the endorsement of traditional gender roles. A content analysis of participants’ definitions was conducted by 3 independent raters, and 3 themes emerged around the concepts of gender identity, gender expression, and changing one’s gender or sex. Referencing gender identity in definitions was related to more positive attitudes toward transgender individuals whereas definitions that included reference to changing sex or gender were related to more negative attitudes. However, gender expression was unrelated to attitudes. The relationships between attitudes and the gender identity and change codes were mediated by the endorsement of traditional gender roles, suggesting a possible model of antitransgender prejudice.

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