Miscategorizing Trans-Related Health Research as Social Science Harms Us All

Charlie Garcia-Spiegel
5 min readFeb 24, 2021


a blue, pink and white event poster with a floral border, with Let’s Talk About Sex! written in large capital letters, with the rest of the event details listed below in smaller pink and light blue text.
Event poster for the Let’s Talk About Sex! T-House event

Today, I facilitated my first T-House event of the semester. T-House is a program I’ve been running as a student worker for my campus’ Queer Resource Center during the pandemic, dedicated to transmasculine and masculine-of-center individuals and communities (regardless of birth assignment, specific gender identity, or affectional orientation). I partnered with one of my mentors, the amazing professor and sexual health educator Breana Bahar Hansen, to discuss transmasculine experiences of dating, relationships, and sexual/reproductive health.

On all levels by which I’ve been analyzing my work this academic year, the event (titled “Let’s Talk About Sex!”) was an absolute success. It was the largest event I’ve facilitated so far, with more engagement on the topic than I could have even hoped for. Students were active and interested, we kept to the timeline that I’d envisioned, and there was an environment of honesty, vulnerability, and trust that I definitely appreciated. In other words, it’s exactly what I’d dreamed of doing when I first started putting work into the T-House.

What struck me the most, though, was a conversation I had after the event wrapped up. I’d stayed behind on the Zoom room to chit-chat with my mentor and a student who had a few questions for me that they didn’t want to ask publicly. I won’t share the student’s question, because that’s not my story to tell, but I will share that it led to a really wonderful and thought-provoking conversation on the categorization of all trans-related research as social sciences or humanities.

I would be lying if I said my work as an educator, researcher, and community builder weren’t deeply based in social sciences and humanities. Outside of the specifics of sexual health education and health sciences, I draw a lot of what I do from concepts originating in social work, psychology, queer theory, even cultural analysis of literature, media, and pop culture. My work has always been interdisciplinary by nature.

At the same time, however, in order to do the work I do, I rely heavily on public health, medicine, and other more clinical sources. Trans health is notoriously under-studied, from Trans Broken Arm Syndrome to unknown symptom profiles of illnesses commonly considered to be gendered to access to healthcare and health education. The data simply isn’t there, which is deeply frustrating as an educator (and as a future researcher and counselor). My work relies on information about health outcomes, and I don’t have that information. I am expected to perform just as brilliantly as my cisgender peers while working blindfolded and one hand behind my back (and shoelaces tied together).

When I bring this up in academic spaces (aside from this conversation I had with my mentor), I am often directed to look at the social sciences for answers. In building my academic work, I absolutely read, cite, and grapple with humanities scholars, social science researchers, and the like, but when I am consistently expected to approach every public health or sexual health or health education situation from a humanities perspective, it hamstrings my work.

The continual miscategorization of trans-related health work, research, and services into humanities and social sciences does a disservice to people in both spheres. Social science researchers are for the most part simply not trained to do the kind of research they are being asked to, and health workers and researchers are having to do groundbreaking and deeply necessary work without any kind of clinical or institutional support. The solution to a lack of high-quality, peer-led research and support for trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people isn’t to ask already overworked and exploited social scientists and humanities scholars to do research they’re not equipped to do. The solution is to hand the reins over to trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming health sciences researchers, workers, and academics.

Queer/trans embodiment of injury and illness, gendered responses to trauma, and access to sexual and reproductive health services are all topics that I would be thrilled to research, that I have the training to research, and that I need data about in order to do my work as a peer educator; however, I doubt I will have the opportunity to be involved in this research unless one of two things happens. Either I carve out a space myself as a peer sexual health worker and researcher, or a cis person in a position of authority sticks their neck out for me (or someone like me) and centers trans experience and wisdom in the project.

This is a numbers game, when it comes down to it. Trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people simply do not have the numbers needed to tip the scale in our favor when it comes to research or even direct service provision. We need cisgender accomplices to accept the risk and the burden in order for any meaningful change to happen. We need people in positions of power and authority to do what is needed, and what is right — even to the point of risking their reputations, positions, and funding, if necessary. It’s honestly a small ask, considering the staggeringly high rates (nearly 1 in 2) of sexual violence faced by transmasculine people, for example, or considering the physical assault and violence targeting trans women of color through transmisogynoir.

In my sphere of sexual health education and research, specifically, there is a further imperative to direct funds, opportunities, and support to sex working trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming health science scholars. Sex working trans people are some of the most authoritative voices our community has when it comes to sexual health education and research, and simultaneously face the worst violence and hatred due to the criminalization of their existence by the state. The specific obstacle I face, the widespread lack of data I need to do my job as a sexual health educator, is one small facet of the wider problem — the systematic exploitation, devaluing, and hatred of trans people and sex workers, especially those of color. Health sciences can be an accomplice in pushing back against this oppression, but not if the academic sexual health sphere compartmentalizes anything to do with trans people or sex as belonging to the social sciences and humanities.



Charlie Garcia-Spiegel

student worker and organizer on stolen ramaytush and lisjan lands. ch.garciaspiegel@gmail.com for professional communication, twitter for everything else