Jen Richards is a trans actress and activist—you might recognize her as physical therapist Allyson Del Lago on the hit show Nashville. In an interview with The Daily Beast, she talked about what it’s like dating while trans: “The first time that a clearly lesbian-identified woman pursued me, it meant the world to me,” she said. “It was one of the most affirming moments of my womanhood—being desired and pursued by a lesbian-identified woman. A lesbian who is a woman who loves other women, and there being a long tradition within lesbian community of exclusion of trans women...to have women who love women pursue me, it just means that much more.”
Thanks to candid conversations like this one, the experiences of transgender individuals are gaining more attention. And that’s really important, considering the pervasiveness of transphobia in today’s society (see: Trump’s proposed ban on trans military service members). The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, for example, found that nearly half of respondents reported being verbally harassed in the past year for being transgender. Nine percent said they’d actually been physically attacked.
Because of depressing statistics like these, it’s so important for researchers to continue their work in shedding light on what marginalized communities have to deal with. That’s part of the reason why Hui Liu, a professor of sociology at Michigan State University, started investigating how marital status impacts transgender individuals. Her findings were published in the Journal of Marriage and Family earlier this summer.
“I have been doing research on marriage for many years,” she tells Brides. “It is interesting for me to understand how marriage works similarly or differently across different populations to affect their life and well-being. Transgenders is a specific group that has long been suffering from discrimination in our society.”
Hiu and her coauthor Lindsey Wilkinson, a sociologist at Portland State University, analyzed the responses of 4,286 transgender individuals who participated in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey between September 2008 through March 2009. In addition to considering respondents’ relationship status (married, cohabiting, never married, and previously married), researchers also measured perceived discrimination in the areas of workplace, family, health care, and public accommodations.
“Married transgenders report lower levels of perceived discrimination than their unmarried, in particular cohabiting and previously married transgender, counterparts,” Hiu says, summarizing their findings. “This is more profound for transwomen than transmen. So, married transgenders do have some advantages in comparison to their unmarried counterparts.”
One of the great things about getting hitched, of course, is having a full-time partner—which means combined income. “Greater family income,” the study states, “may grant more privileges to married transwomen relative to their unmarried counterparts; for example, married transwomen may find it easier to choose their living and work environments and access gender-sensitive services and thus reduce exposure to transphobia and discrimination.”
The authors suggest it is likely “that having a legally recognized marriage is especially important for transgender people because they are more likely to lack economic, social, and psychological resources relative to the general population. In this sense, the marriage-equality movement and resulting policies to increase transgender people’s access to legal marriage should be effective in reducing transpersons’ experiences of discrimination.”
It’s important to note, however, that getting married doesn't necessarily mean a transgender individual will experience less discrimination. Liu says there are many theoretical reasons that could explain why marriage may offer some protections, but the research doesn’t come to a causal conclusion.
But her—and our—hope is that this research, and more studies like it, can help people better understand the transgender population and ultimately reduce the stigma and discrimination they face.