2021 Rose Olver Prize Winner

Nat Shogren
Nat Shogren '21

Diagnosing Difference: How Perceptions of Mental Illness and Medical Pathologization Influence Anti-Transgender Prejudice

Department of psychology Honors Thesis

Abstract: This collection of psychological studies investigated how the belief that transgender people are mentally ill influences anti-transgender prejudice on an individual and a societal basis. A Pilot study found that transgender people are perceived as more mentally ill than Gay or Atheist people, and that this perception of mental illness was strongly correlated to anti-trans* prejudice. Additionally, my main study not only found that perceptions of mental illness significantly mediated rates of anti-trans prejudice, but also that different medical depictions of transgender and gay identities influenced participants perceptions of mental illness, as well as the prejudice that they expressed. This suggests that a removal of Gender Dysphoria from the DSM and a fundamental depathologization of transgender identities would likely reduce the levels of anti-transgender prejudice in society. Further, this finding illuminates that the belief that transgender people are mentally ill is rooted in a desire to depict transgender identities as ‘abnormal’ or something that needs to be fixed. Generally, this study supports and aligns with the social pursuits of transgender advocacy groups and scholars who have continually called for the removal of trans-centered diagnoses from the DSM-5; as gender theorist Judith Butler outlines, while the intent of diagnosing transgender people is an alleviation of suffering, it is likely that said diagnosis intensifies the very suffering which requires alleviation, a consideration which can profoundly inform contemporary approaches to medical treatment and social justice.