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The Invisibility of Gender Diversity: Understanding Transgender and Transsexuality in Nursing Literature


  • Lyn Merryfeather is a doctoral candidate in the School of Nursing at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, with a research focus on women who love and support female to male transsexual people. She identifies as a trans ally.



Increasingly, people are living their lives without strict attachment to one gender. In this paper, we discuss key discourses identified in a literature review of transgender and transsexual issues in nursing. Our aim is to highlight the power of dominant discourse and lack of adequate understanding of gender diversity on the part of nurses. We use stories of trans people to illustrate these discourses. An increased awareness may support respectful care of those who do not fit comfortably within culturally defined parameters of male and female.


The invisibility of gender diversity in health care remains a threat to ethical nursing care. The effects of invisibility of transgender people in health care result in a cycle of repetition where those who have been denied recognition in turn avoid disclosure. Key discourses addressing trans people in nursing literature include invisibility, advocacy, cultural competence, and emancipation.

Practice Implications

There is a need for further education about gender diversity in order to dispel and counter misunderstandings, stigma, and invisibility. This can be achieved through sustained efforts in nursing research and educational curricula to include gender diversity and trans people. Policies for the protection of those who change their sex or identify outside the dominant gender schema are urgently needed.