As a transgender biological anthropologist, Zachary DuBois is always searching for representation.
Since receiving his doctorate in 2012, DuBois has been a part of numerous studies, including his latest project in New England, The Transitional Experience Study, which became the first study of trans experiences that used anthropological methods and identified stress specific to the trans community.
“When I started my own transition process about 10 years ago, I realized there wasn’t a lot of research out there,” DuBois said. “[We studied] some of the trans-focused stressors, like coming out. I also documented stress related to using gender specific public bathrooms and have found that these stressors are associated with higher levels of stress hormones.”
Together with Michigan State researcher Jae Puckett, DuBois is leading a study with the group Trans Collaboration that will track the reactions of trans individuals to both positive, and negative public events, in order to gauge the amount of extra stress caused by being trans in a heteronormative society.
“There is a lot about being trans and about transitioning that is unique and worth understanding on its own,” DuBois said. “These methods are an important way to learn about health disparities among marginalized people who may not otherwise be included or interested in participating in clinical research.”
Trans Collaboration is a Nebraska-based partnership between the trans community and academic researchers that seeks to improve health care services for trans people.
The year-long study will involve monthly monitoring of over 200 trans people from four states, including Oregon, and Montreal, Canada. Researchers will meet with participants monthly to gather information about their exposure to stressful events. Throughout the study, researchers will be focused on the physical health of participants as they maneuver through the world of gender identity.
“We are living in a time where rights and protections for trans and gender diverse people are actively under attack,” Puckett said. “We wanted to document how the broader sociopolitical atmosphere and context are impacting mental and physical health for TGD people.”
On April 12 a policy put forth by Donald Trump in 2017 that bans transgender people from enlisting in the military took effect. According to the memorandum, filed on March 12, troops can still identify as transgender, but still have to use the pronouns, uniforms and sleeping quarters of their biological sex.
Also on April 12, a video of a transgender woman being assaulted by multiple people on a street in Dallas went viral. Police are looking at the assault as a potential hate crime, according to the Washington Post.
The impact of stress on the body is well-documented. However, the physical impact of stress for transgender people specifically, who are more likely to be victimized than the average cisgendered person, isn’t well-documented.
“We also will be tracking what is happening within each of our areas and on the national stage to see how shifts within the sociopolitical contexts relate to shifts over time in mental and physical health,” Puckett said.
UO junior Beyla Geoffrey started working with DuBois at the beginning of the year, learning different methods of measuring physical stress and helping to find community resources.
“I feel so fortunate to be part of a research team that is able to work with so many diverse and amazing people who have such valuable perspectives and opinions,” Geoffrey said. “I feel like I’m constantly learning how to be a more supportive ally and how to get more involved in the community.”
This last week, DuBois went to Tennessee to help train a team of collaborators before the study begins. The year-long study hopes to begin by the end of spring term.
“[Students should] feel free to reach out to me if they are interested in being involved with this project,” DuBois said. “I’m looking for a research assistant for the summer in particular.”