Legal gender marker and name change is associated with lower negative emotional response to gender-based mistreatment and improve mental health outcomes among trans populations

SSM Popul Health. 2020 May 11;11:100595. doi: 10.1016/j.ssmph.2020.100595. eCollection 2020 Aug.


Background: In recent years, Massachusetts (MA) and Rhode Island (RI) joined a growing list of states allowing residents to easily change the gender marker and name on government-identification (ID) documents. This was an important change for transgender and gender diverse (trans) residents, who face frequent mistreatment and thus for whom legal gender affirmation is critical. Little is known about associations between legal gender affirmation and psychological outcomes.

Methods: We examined associations between legal gender affirmation (i.e., having changed gender marker/name on neither, one, or both a passport and state ID), upsetting responses to gender-based mistreatment, and mental health outcomes in a sample of trans MA and RI residents. Analyses controlled for gender identity, age, race/ethnicity, education, employment, income, and insurance status.

Findings: Legal gender affirmation was significantly associated with lower reports of depression, anxiety, somatization, global psychiatric distress, and upsetting responses to gender-based mistreatment.

Conclusions: These data provide corroborate recent studies suggesting having pursued legal gender affirmation may be protective. Findings bolster calls to increase structural support for trans individuals, including enactment of state policies easing legal gender affirmation.

Keywords: Legal gender marker; Legal name; Mental health; Transgender.