“We call ourselves mythbusters now? Cool!” Laura A. Jacobs says to Laura Erickson-Schroth. This is a new addition to their professional titles: Laura A. Jacobs, LCSW-R is a psychotherapist and Laura Erickson-Schroth, M.D., is a psychiatrist, and together, they've co-written the new book, You’re in the Wrong Bathroom! And 20 Other Myths and Misconceptions About Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming People.
The book combines current research, history and their respective fields of expertise, with a shared goal to create a reference book of trans experience that resonate with an open-ended readership. OUT recently sat down with the Lauras over coffee to discuss this balanced, necessary, and expansive new work.
OUT: What sparked the two of you coming together to write this book?
Laura Erickson-Schroth: We've been friends for a long time. We've been on the board of Trans Bodies together, we both wrote for [the] book. This was really interesting to me, because I really like doing things that are bringing information to the general public.
Laura A. Jacobs: We crossed paths a million times over the years. We're doing similar work. As somebody trans myself, who does a lot of activism as a therapist, I find that the trans community spends so much time having to debunk some of these myths. These myths come up whenever somebody comes out. There is so much misinformation out there, or so much information that is dated, but not really true of what's going on right now. It felt like an important activist project to be bringing some of this information out there in a place where people could find it.
There’s this passage where you write, “How to handle it when someone uses the wrong name or pronoun,” and part of your advice is, “Stick up for yourself! And try educating them if you feel you can.” It's an important and difficult reminder to self-advocate.
Jacobs: It can be difficult. I see this play out as a therapist when parents are having more trouble coming onboard. Often, parents are well-meaning, but struggling with their own issues or their own questions. They might take their time, so they might continue to use the person's birth name or assigned gender. Sometimes parents are pretty supportive early on, but they struggle or have their own beliefs that make it hard to accept. There are all sorts of things that I've suggested to people [when they are misgendered], like not responding. I've even had people take an empty coffee can, cut in the top, and every time you misgender me, you put in a quarter. Callen-Lorde has pronoun stickers. Every time you go to any of the reception desks, there are stickers right there on the counter—you can write in your pronouns. That way, you don't get misgendered throughout the building. People can do that in their own life in all sorts of other ways. Sometimes it’s difficult. Sometimes others are not going to come along.
Erickson-Schroth: It's really important that we talk about teaching people on an individual level. Teaching one person at a time is probably the most effective way for people to learn. Meeting an individual person, knowing that they're a full person, that they're not in this category that's separate from everyone else.
Jacobs: This isn't just about pronouns or names. It's about teaching people empowerment. Teaching them to speak up for themselves about their name or pronoun is helping them be empowered as people. What's more essential to who you are than your name?
Erickson-Schroth: Some of the newest research in LGBTQ health is about resilience. The things that we know that promote resilience: family support; social support; community support. We want to connect people to other trans people when they're first coming out. The other thing that we don't talk about a lot is understanding systems of oppression. Understanding this is not just happening to me, because I'm somehow different or strange. This is happening to whole groups of people, because the world is full of systems of oppression.
Jacobs: Research is starting to show that trans people who exist within systems, structures, environments where they are getting support do far better. Trans youth in environments where they are getting emotional support from their parents, schools, [and] peers have no higher rates of depression, anxiety, or suicide than their cisgender peers. Trans youth who grow up in environments of stigma, shame, non-acceptance, where they're not being called the appropriate name, where their genders are not being recognized—those are the ones who have high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. It's very clear that the structures that trans people live within can be very determinant of their outcomes.
Erickson-Schroth: Laura [Jacobs] and I spend a lot of time talking with other doctors [and] therapists about trans health. One of the things that comes up the most is people who aren't familiar with trans people in their daily lives, who see them only in clinics and hospitals, get a false impression that trans people are mentally ill; that they are much more likely to be depressed [and] anxious than other people. There are higher rates of mental illness, but when we talk with other professionals, we always emphasize [that] there's a cause for this. It is called minority stress. This isn't something that is inherent to being a trans person; this is something that society does to people.
There are statistics in this book that are really important, particularly since trans people often have to be specifically knowledgeable about their health needs for themselves and for their doctors. The figures around higher rates (compared to both LGB and cishet individuals) of diabetes, obesity and smoking prevalence are staggering. Can we talk about these ongoing public health crises?
Jacobs: Some of these are secondary to the stigma [and] the shame. People who are feeling depression, anxiety, and shame may not eat well; may not get exercise; may engage in riskier sex. If you are trans and you're subject to stigma, you're going to cope with it [in] the way people often cope with stress. Somebody growing up trans may feel very disconnected from their body [and] feel strong senses of dysphoria. If you don't feel connected to the body you're in, you're probably not going to take care of it very well, because it doesn't feel like yours. That's a significant factor.
Erickson-Schroth: For people who are seeking out care: There's a lot of evidence that our healthcare system doesn't treat trans people in the way that it should. There was a study that, over the whole four years of medical school, med students learn an average of only five hours of LGBTQ-related healthcare. That's not surprising to me at all, having been in medical school. Actually, that's high, I think. [The results are based on] deans that answered the survey. That's really scary. When they do surveys of trans people in healthcare settings, people report lots of discrimination, and even things like physical abuse in healthcare settings—being beaten up by patients or staff. That's a clear reason why people don't go and get healthcare.
You write, “When people are seen as real, and no longer theoretical, it becomes harder to exclude them.” Did using theory in a more accessible way influence how you wrote the book?
Erickson-Schroth: Absolutely. If you meet someone and you understand them as a whole person—that they can be sad and funny and all those things wrapped up into one—it's hard to hate someone.
Jacobs: Theory often puts a framework around this process of exploration we're all going through to understand our humanity, [and] what it means to exist; within the trans community, to understand how our gender plays a role in identity. Theory can, at times, be divorced from the individual, lived experience. The connections between theory and lived experience really frame how we understand who we are as people.
Purchase the book, here.