I used to wrongfully view eating disorders as a disease for affluent sorority girls. Having attended private middle school, high school and college, and having been in a sorority, I’ve known my fair share of chicks with food issues. I’ve even rolled my eyes when I heard about adults dealing with it. I thought bulimia was just a concern for young women who had nothing else to worry about. Well, I was wrong. Upper-middle class white girls aren’t the only humans susceptible to eating disorders, which can develop into serious physical and emotional health problems that go beyond wanting to go down a size in denim. So I wasn’t surprised to read a recent Vice article about how transgender teens are surpassing everyone else in the eating disorder race. Yep, the Kappa Kappa Gammas have got some competition.
Vice points to a study that appeared in the The Journal of Adolescent Health which reported that transgender youth were four times more likely to report an eating disorder diagnosis than their cisgender heterosexual female peers. In the research, which surveyed a sizable sampling of students—200,000 heterosexual, 15,000 gay, lesbian or bisexual, 479 transgender and 5,000 that identified as “unsure”—cisgender straight women were the control group. Compared against various other sexual orientations and gender identities, the results found transgendered youth were “twice as likely to report using diet pills and more than twice as likely to report vomiting or laxative use during the previous month.” As if they aren’t dealing with enough right now.
What’s the Cause and Does It Matter?
I used to always be told eating disorders are about control. People can’t control this or that so they control their food intake (or output). Maybe that’s true for one sect of eating disorder victims. Of course the overwhelming pressure to be thin spurred by constant images (billboards, magazines and about 8,000 websites dedicated to celebrities—doesn’t it feel like there is more content thrust in our face every day?) of perfect, airbrushed humans certainly doesn’t help. Social networking hasn’t done us any favors, nor has the new obsession with being “fit” as opposed to just “thin,” which is like, same sh*t, different day, as far as I’m concerned. Strong is the new skinny, my ass.
For the trans community specifically though, there are a few theories as to why disordered eating is becoming so prevalent. People often perceive body hatred or disordered eating among transgendered individuals as a result of their own discomfort in the skin they were born in, the one that doesn’t correctly align with the gender they know they truly are. So they struggle to reach not only what culture tells us is the “ideal” body is but also what they deem is the ideal of their true gender. And according to the author of the report, Elizabeth Diemer, this viewpoint has become the norm due to past studies on the issue.
But there is someone in the trenches with the transgender community every day who is claiming that theory isn’t necessarily correct. According to Dan Maldonaldo of Los Angeles-based Trans Folix Fighting Eating Disorders (T-FFED), the assumption that eating issues will be resolved once people have fully transitioned is apparently an incorrect one. That, coupled with the assumption that people like me have had for years—that eating disorders are only a plague of the privileged—is exacerbating the problem. People are far less likely to seek out treatment because most of it is catered to young Caucasian women. This, says Malonaldo, is more of a concern than why they developed an eating disorder in the first place.
But They’ve Still Got Bigger Fish to Fry
Old habits die hard I guess. I can’t help but agree with the report’s author, who asserts that maybe there are more pressing issues for the trans community regardless—like the suicide rate, alienation from families often leading to depression and homelessness and addiction or substance abuse problems (finding treatment for that is another hurdle the LBGTQ population finds itself facing). Oh, and let’s not forget the whole, gaining-more-widespread-understanding-that-they-are-valuable-human-beings-worthy-of-acceptance-compassion-and-a-humane-existence dilemma. That should probably remain the highest item on their agenda, at least for now.