The fastest-growing population of HIV+ individuals are transgender women – that is, women who were born male or intersex individuals who identify as women. But why is that the case, and what can be done about it?
How Common is HIV in the Trans Community?
First, it’s important to understand that data collection can be a challenge. Due to the relative invisibility of the trans* community until quite recently, many transgender women were previously categorized as men who have sex with men.
In other cases, data may not distinguish between transgender and cisgender women. Therefore, complete and accurate information about the history of HIV in the trans* population is unavailable, making it difficult to tell whether infection rates in trans* women are actually going up, or if they are simply being more accurately reported.
However, whether or not the infection rates are a recent development, the statistics are alarming: It’s estimated that over 25% of trans* Americans are HIV positive, and trans* women are about 50% more likely than any other group to be HIV+.
Why Are Trans Women At Risk?
In large part, because trans* women are one of the most vulnerable groups in the country, and this puts them in the path of many HIV risk factors. Trans* women are more likely to be homeless or lack familial support; they are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol or turn to sex work. They may also face difficulties attaining health care or may avoid doctors due to prior bad experiences, leading to them being unaware of their HIV status. You can read about other risk factors in greater detail here.