Increased knowledge and collective responsibility – how everyone can contribute to a better treatment of trans people

Sun 02 Jul 2023 12:00

Sofia Smolle conducts research on the treatment of older trans people, primarily in health care and elderly care. The target group is rarely acknowledged, but is highly topical in the public debate.

Sofia Smolle, forskare PSO
Sofia Smolle. Private picture.

– More than ever, it is visible, through the media, social media and in research, how trans people are exposed to hate speech, stigmatization and exclusion globally. In addition, my studies focus on an older population, which is growing ever larger and where there is today a greater acceptance of variation within the group nationally, which places certain demands on health and social care professions. Furthermore, the demand for awareness-raising initiatives regarding LGBTQIA-related issues among several professions has increased significantly, where we can follow that more and more people choose to turn to bodies that offer LGBTQIA certifications and LGBTQIA diplomas. In my research, I focus on the treatment, where my hope is to contribute with knowledge to develop strategies and tools, in order to thus improve the treatment of older trans people, says Sofia Smolle, doctoral student at the Department of Psychology and Social Work, PSO, on campus in Östersund.

As a researcher, how do you view the treatment of trans people in general?

– Although my main focus is how the treatment from social workers is, a large part of the interviews with older trans people have focused on previous experiences of treatment from all kinds of welfare institutions, such as primary care, dentists and more. Experience seems to be mixed. Some have described that knowledge is low among many, but that goodwill and openness have nevertheless contributed to positive experiences of treatment. Others have described situations that have been very negative, which has contributed to them avoiding seeking care. Furthermore, both research and national government reports indicate that the response needs to be significantly improved. For example, sad statements about negative responses from trans people of all ages in many different areas, for example from health care and school, emerge in several of the interviews.  Overall, I would say that a lot needs to be done to improve the treatment of trans people overall, where increased knowledge is a central component.

With the societal debate that is around trans people today, do you feel that their situation has changed? If so, in what way, and why is that?

– I would say that the situation of trans people has changed in several ways, both positively and negatively, in recent years. Today we see greater visibility, strengthened legislation, more accessible information via, for example, the internet and social media, and somewhat improved knowledge. On the other hand, there is of course a downside, where, for example, the increased visibility provokes some who respond with threatening and hate speech. This type of rhetoric is not really new, but has moved largely from the street to the internet where it is allowed to spread widely, at high speed and many times anonymously.

– In addition, I would also like to say that a lot of misinformation is spread via various media that create social debate in various ways. One example that has aroused great debate is the issue of the large percentage increase in applicants to gender identity clinics where it has been claimed by opponents that "more and more people are becoming trans" and that it poses a danger to society, while trans activists and experts describe that it is because there are more clinics and increased knowledge and acceptance that has resulted in more people daring to apply there.

– We also live in a time where we see the result of strong right-wing populist elements that obviously affect both the public debate and the living conditions of trans people around the world. But for something more hopeful, there is great resistance, which we see not least at Pride.

It has been reported that camps for trans children have had to be cancelled due to threats, how do you view that?

– It is true that a camp for young transgender people was cancelled now in 2023, which is a typical example of when a safe space for transgender people is cancelled due to insecurity coming from outside. Another example is when a story time for children that was to be led by drag queens was cancelled last year due to a threat. In recent years, the protect the children argument has been used to an increasing extent, where many instead believe that it is only a way to counteract diversity. In a study I conducted outside my dissertation work, I interviewed trans activists where many argued that today there is a greater threat due to SD's increased influence. That said, at no time has it been easy for trans people to live as their authentic selves, to feel safe, to fully experience acceptance, or to engage in trans activism. It has always come with resistance.

How can trans people be supported in the best way?

– What we can all do to help and support trans people in what I want to say tough times, is to take responsibility for learning and also stand up for everyone's human rights. Together in society, we need to increase our knowledge and not be satisfied with the image that "it's better now" or "we live in Sweden after all". This applies both in our professional roles and as private individuals. Furthermore, we do not all have to be activists, but we can all contribute – big or small. We can talk to our children about diversity, we can discuss how we can create security for trans people in our workplaces, we can choose to be source critical when we take part in media images of trans people and we can speak up when we see injustices or stereotypical assumptions that exclude trans people.

Sofia Smolle is working on a dissertation that focuses on the treatment of older people, 65 years and older, trans people. The thesis will be completed next year. She has also conducted a study outside the thesis that examined what trans activism looks like on social media.

Contact: Sofia Smolle



The page was updated 7/6/2023