Reducing Vulnerability Through Indigenizing
Research Methodologies With Gender And
Sexual Minorities
The Ninth Global Forum on Bioethics in Research
Auckland, Aotearoa, December, 2008
Vic Muñoz, Ed.D.
Professor of Psychology, Wells College
Aurora, New York, USA
Visiting Scholar, Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA
This research has been supported by grants from
The Small Change Foundation and The Foundation for the Scientific Study of Sexuality
Rather than affirm Western paradigms of pathology and the abnormal, which have
historically led to the marginalization of gender and sexual minorities across cultures,
this presentation will explore ways to develop psychological self-determination and
decolonial approaches to psychological health. We will explore the critically important
role of indigenous languages in opening up spaces for dialogue that move beyond
Western concepts of “gay” and “transgender.” The concept of “gender sovereignty” will
be offered as a way of indigenizing research with sexual and gender minorities.
Gender sovereignty might be a way to conceptualize culturally grounded and culturally
appropriate research. For the good health and well being of indigenous peoples and
other vulnerable populations, it is urgent that we ethically consider the diversity of
gender and sexual identities within a decolonizing framework.
Conceptual Framework
 “Research as Resistance” (Brown & Strega, 2005)
 Toward anti-oppressive research
 Decolonial Psychology (Gone, in press; Pace, et. al,
2005; Robbins, 2005)
 “Cultural Competence” (Helms, 1992; Sue, 2003)
 Indigenizing Research (Smith, L., 2002; Mihesuah &
Wilson, 2004)
 Reframing Western views of well-being
Ethical Issues
Who is included in the research?
Who conducts the research?
How is the research conducted?
Who benefits?
Free Prior Informed Consent (UN Permanent
Forum on Indigenous Issues, 2005; Indigenous
Research Protection Act, Indigenous People’s
Council on Biocolonialism, 2000)
Methodological Questions
 “What happens when the researched
become the researchers?” Linda T. Smith,
 What is the ideological and cultural location
of the researcher, psychologist,
Research Taking Indigenous Perspectives with
Gender and Sexual Minorities
Max Valerio, 2002
Andrew Matzer, 2001
Wesley Thomas, 1997
Clive Aspin, 2005
Jessica Hutchings & Clive Aspin, 2007
Mia Nakamura, 2008
Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Study
 Longitudinal study: 2002, 2003, 2004
 Focus on changes in sexuality amongst
transgender and transsexual people during
 Transition brings about changes in sexual
identity, sexual orientation, and sexual
 Implications for sexual health
GISO Study
Issues Disproportionately Affecting Trans People
of Color
Culturally appropriate gender roles
Pervasive Discrimination
Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Study (GISO)
Issues Affecting Trans People of Color
Current Models of Gender and Sexual
Minority Development
 Even the best models available today, those that
consider trans- development as part of human
gender diversity and not pathological, still center
Western approaches to transgender health.
 Aaron Devor, 2004
 Bockting & Coleman, 2007
 This is also true of sexual minority development
models (Cass, 1979)
An ethical approach to research with
Indigenous and vulnerable people from sexual
and gender populations involves:
 Importance of language
 Importance of community-based research which is not
 View of gender identity as a form of selfdetermination, not as pathological
 The right to self-determine one’s own gender and
sexual identity within one’s own cultural context
 Addressing homophobia, transphobia, and pervasive
 Educating health care providers
A Look at the Caribbean Region
 Importance of language: Arawak, English, Spanish,
French, Dutch, and most significantly the blending of
Indigenous languages with the colonial one out of
which emerges local languages.
 Importance of recovering Indigenous concepts and
practices in relation to sexuality and gender diversity
so as to counter the West’s “sexual deviance”
paradigm (Aspin, 2005; Thomas, 1997; Nakamura,
2008; Hall & Kauanui, 1996).
 Lack of a unified approach to sexual and gender
health due to disparate historical relationships to
colonial rule.
A Look at the Caribbean Region:
Contrasting Cuba and Puerto Rico
“The two wings of the same bird”
 Mariela Castro, head of the National Centre for Sex Education
(CENESEX): "The freedom of sexual choice and gender identity
(are) exercises in equality and social justice.”
 This year, 2008, 50 years after the revolution, Resolution 128
signed into law which will provide free gender reassignment
therapy for those who want sex change surgeries.
 “National Commission for Integral Care of Transsexual People”
 “International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia”
 Mariela Castro has been at the forefront of social justice for
trans- and sexual minorities since 2004.
 Cuban doctors trained with doctors from Belgium.
 Cuba provides a model which focuses on social and cultural
education, not a “disease” approach.
A Look at the Caribbean Region:
Contrasting Cuba and Puerto Rico
“the two wings of the same bird”
 “In Puerto Rico, institutional and political practices silence the
existence of TG's through the denial of their existence and of
their specific needs.” (Rodriguez-Madera & Toro-Alfonso, 2002)
 No national focus or effort. Trans- and sexual minority people
remain highly stigmatized.
 Several Community Based Organizations focus on HIV/AIDS
which continues to be the focus of research on trans- and sexual
minority people in Puerto Rico.
 Need to move beyond “disease model” of “deviance” imported
from U.S. psychiatry and medical models to understand how
Puerto Rican trans- and sexual minorities develop identities
within our own cultural context.
Toward “Gender Sovereignty”
 Globalization of Western based diagnosis
 Gender Sovereignty as a concept and praxis for
ethical research with Indigenous and vulnerable
 What would a decolonizing transgender psychology
look like?
 What might we think about in relation to
decolonizing GID as a diagnosis?
 DSM - V forthcoming in 2012
QuickTime™ and a
TIFF (LZW) decompressor
are needed to see this picture.
The National Native American AIDS Prevention Center (NNAAPC)
The National Native American AIDS Prevention Center (NNAAPC)
 If you would like a copy of the complete
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Toward ethnic transgender psychologies: How can gender