Transgender Behavior in Boys: The Social Work Response
Franklin L. Brooks, PhD, National Association of Social Workers, Miane Chapter, Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues.
This study examined social workers' understanding of and practice with school-age boys with transgender behavior. A qualitative, exploratory study design enabled an in-depth examination of how social workers think about and practice with these boys because little is known about social work practice with this population. Ten social workers in various practice settings, including schools, residential treatment centers, and community based treatment programs described factors that influenced their understanding of transgender behavior and practice with this population. This study utilized a data analysis approach that identified themes and patterns of meaning in the interview data. Data analysis was seen as an ongoing process which included reviewing and coding of data, categorizing of data, using techniques such as constant comparing of data, finding discrepant cases, and the ability to critically assess and consider alternative explanations for findings. This allowed for the identification of patterns of participants'thoughts and behavior and a thematic analysis of the data. The threats to trustworthiness and credibility of this research fell under three broad headings: reactivity, researcher biases, and respondent biases and these threats were addressed to minimize effects. The conceptual framework of the study consists of an ecological perspective that is informed by a social constructionist orientation to knowledge including the understanding of gender. In addition, gender schema theory is utilized to help identify and comprehend the many social forces that shape thinking about what are masculine and feminine-identified behaviors. The findings of the study fall into two broad categories: a) how social workers' intellectual understanding and personal experiences have shaped their understanding and influenced their thinking about transgender behavior in boys; and b) how social workers conceptualize and intervene in their practice with boys who present with transgender behavior. Factors affecting social work interventions with this population include the influence of workplace settings, the conceptual frameworks and practice models used in professional interactions with this population, and the influence of environmental, cultural, ethnic, and religious factors on participants and clients. According to study participants, unsafe and hostile living environments create many challenges for youth with transgender behavior, especially with regard to their mental health. These mental health problems include depression, suicidal and self-destructive behavior, substance abuse, and eating disorders. Many study participants identified the need for more information to adequately serve this population and spoke of the lack of training and formal education. Participants also described exemplary practices that included developing and implementing non-harassment policies in schools and the inclusion of transgender issues materials in training programs. The participants' experiences underscore the need to develop and include content specific to transgender issues in social work education and training programs.