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Life satisfaction among transgender and cisgender people

Life Satisfaction among Transgender and Cisgender people



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Gender can be defined as those characteristics of women and men which are socially constructed – such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men (WHO, Gender mainstreaming for health managers: a practical approach, 2011) Gender identity is a part of gender which refers to the innermost concept of identifying oneself as a man or a woman, that may or may not be congruent to the sex that the individual is born with.

The present study focuses on two broad gender identities, namely transgender and cisgender people. Transgender people are those whose gender does not match with their biological sex. It includes transmen (Biological females who identify themselves as males) and transwomen (biological males who identify themselves as females). On the other hand, cisgender people are those whose gender is in sync with the birth sex. It includes cisgender men and cisgender women.

Life satisfaction refers to the global evaluation of life which is not limited to a specific time period or an exclusive domain. It is defined as “the degree to which a person positively evaluates the overall quality of his/her life as-a-whole.” Ruut Veenhoven (1993). Life satisfaction is not the same as happiness because the former is more stable and is broader in scope than the latter. Happiness is a momentary feeling of joy, which is ultimately fleeting. Daniel Gilbert (2009), professor of psychology at Harvard University, describes happiness as “anything we pleased”. Life satisfaction, on the other hand, is based on our cognitive judgement about how pleased we feel with our lives overall. It is also defined as the “cognitive assessment of an underlying state thought to be relatively consistent and influenced by social factors” (Ellison, 1989).

Life satisfaction is also different from well-being. The PERMA model (Seligman, 2011) describes five factors that contribute to well being- positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishments. The concept of well-being is more objective, whereas life satisfaction is more subjective as it is the general feeling of contentment with one’s life and not just one’s present level of happiness.

Another differentiation is made with quality of life which is associated with living conditions like the amount and quality of food, the state of one’s health, and the quality of one’s shelter (Veenhoven, 1996).

Even though compared to cisgender people, transgender people are more marginalized and prone to prejudice, one cannot take the issues of cisgender people for granted. Gender being regarded as the social characteristics of a man or a woman, irrespective of the birth sex, accompanies its own set of norms, roles, stigmas, stereotypes and prejudices which eventually lead to discriminatory behaviour in the society. This further influences how one evaluates their overall life, i.e. life satisfaction. It refers to a person’s general happiness, freedom from tension, interest in life etc.

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Hence, the present study aims to highlight whether there is a significant difference in the level of life satisfaction between transgender and cisgender people in terms of taking pleasure in daily activities, considering life meaningful, holding a positive self image, having a happy and optimistic outlook and feeling success in achieving goals.

Background of the Study

The researcher was influenced by the autobiography of A. Revathi called “The Truth about me” which gives an elaborate and vivid description about the life and hardships of a transwoman in India. After the decriminalization of section 377 in India (2018), many people belonging to the LGBTQ community came out of the closet and now work in the mainstream community with utmost pride about their sexuality and gender identity. Various non-governmental organizations have been working towards the upliftment of sexual minority groups with respect to education, vocational training, and job recruitment, thus, expanding their horizons to opportunities that are not merely restricted to begging and sex work.

Even though there is a positive minimalistic shift in the dynamics of their life in terms of social support, acceptance and working conditions, they still have a long way to go. Factors such as transphobia and lack of awareness still prevail which leads to them being marginalized in the society. Suicidal tendencies are 14-22 times higher in transgender people, compared to the general population (Hindustan Times, 2017). Another key barrier is the ambiguity to recognize their gender status. This creates an obstacle in the accessibility to the basic fundamental rights that everyone is entitled to, irrespective of their gender. (Sudha & Suga, 2018)

Inspite of struggling on an everyday basis, transgender people have also shown resilience in their approach to life. Taking pride in their gender identity is known to be an integral factor in being resilient after going through a traumatic event (Singh & McKleroy). Furthermore, the patriarchal system enhances disparities in the lives of cisgender men and women. A study conducted by Jan and Masood on women in Jammu and Kashmir showed that the life satisfaction in women decreased with an increase in age. Hence, the present study aims to find the extent to which the level of life satisfaction differs across gender identities.

Premise of the Study

Gender is considered to be one of the most crucial factors that form the foundation of our identity. While it facilitates in defining who we are, it also brings about its own issues whether they are biological, psychological or emotional in nature along with societal pressures consisting of prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination.

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Although cisgender women and people belonging to the sexual/gender minority groups have always been chronic victims to the Indian patriarchal society, cisgender men have also faced their own set of societal pressures arising out of the need to be loyal towards their gender role, ranging from being the obvious bread winner of the family to faulty allegations related to harassments. Hence there is a need to discover whether there is a difference across gender identities with respect to how satisfied one feels with their current life.

Statement of the Research Problem

Is there a difference in the level of life satisfaction between transgender and cisgender people?


Indian queer literature for transgender people have more or less entirely focused on the sample population of transwomen, with limited studies showing a comparison between transmen and transwomen on variables other than patient satisfaction after sex reassignment surgery. This comparison requires tremendous attention as the word “transgender” should be used as an umbrella term where transmen are not unrecognized and are given equal importance when it comes to social science research studies.

Also, there is a need to highlight the fact how perception associated with different domains in life and its evaluation would differ, despite the underlying characteristic of their gender identity to be the same, i.e., difference in how they feel and what their birth sex is. The study would be further elaborated by assessing the level of life satisfaction between transgender and cisgender people as a whole and comparison within cisgender people including both men and women as well.

Significance & Scope of the Present Study

The present study will help to find out whether gender affects life satisfaction and the extent to which the level of life satisfaction is different across various gender identities consisting of transmen, transwomen, cisgender men and women. The correlation can further help our study as life satisfaction has a positive impact on our health and well being and is strongly correlated with health-related factors like chronic illness, sleep problems, pain, obesity, smoking, anxiety and physical activity (Strine, Chapman, Balluz, Moriarty & Mokdad, 2008). It also alters the level of psychological distress experienced by an individual.

Theoretical Framework

Theories on Gender. There are three theories on gender that explains the experiences of transgender people- essentialism, social constructionism and performativity. According to essentialists, gender identity, whether congruent or incongruent to the biological sex, is fixed at birth and is not entirely socially constructed. This theory explains how transgender people report to have the feeling of belongingness to the sex opposite to theirs since the beginning.

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Social constructionists, on the other hand, believe that gender identity is socially constructed and the traits and behaviours associated with a particular gender have varied across time and culture.

The third theory, performativity (Judith Butler), emphasizes how gender is merely a “performance” that an individual goes through on an everyday basis, which creates an illusion that there is an underlying nature or essence of gender identity.

Theories on Life Satisfaction. There are two components that conceptualize the concept of subjective well being, emotional or affective component and judgmental or cognitive component. (Diener, 1984; Veenhoven, 1984). Life satisfaction is an integrated part of the cognitive or judgemental component. (Andrews & Withey, 1976).

According to Diener (1984) the concept of life satisfaction can be explained through a combination of two theories- top down and bottom up theories. Top down theories assume that life satisfaction is an influencer of domain-specific satisfaction (Heady, Veenhoven, & Wearing, 1991) where personality traits have an overall influence on life satisfaction, whereas bottom up theories assume that life satisfaction results from the amalgamation of various aspects of an individual’s life such as social relations, health, work life etc.

Conceptual Framework

Gender identity, which may or may not be the same as a person’s assigned sex, refers to how individuals perceive themselves. The present study focuses on two broad categories of gender, i.e., transgender, which includes transmen and transwomen, and cisgender, which includes cisgender men and cisgender women.

As characteristics of gender are socially constructed, gender norms, stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination, people vary across different aspects of life such as life chances, course of events, flow of experience and evaluation of life (Veenhoven, 1996). Life chances include societal resources (social and economic equality, political freedom etc); personal resources (interpersonal relationships, material property etc); and individual abilities (intellect, physical well being etc). Course of events describe the experiences that an individual goes through which can widely range from moments of happiness to traumatizing events. Flow of experience describe the emotional responses ( such as anxiety, satiation, love, respect, loneliness, excitement etc.) to these course of events. Finally, evaluation of life refers to the appraisal of life based on the interaction of all these aspects.

These factors combined together contribute to an individual’s life satisfaction which consists of taking pleasure in daily activities, considering life meaningful, holding a positive self image and feeling successful about achieving goals.

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