Methods: Transgender/gender expansive YYA were recruited from youth serving agencies in a large northeastern city. Semi-structured interviews asked participants to describe their experiences related to their self-designated genders and their experiences of homelessness. The final sample included 27 transgender and gender expansive YYA ages 19 – 24. Most participants identified their race as Black/African-American (n=10) or mixed race (n=9). The overrepresentation of YYA of color in this study mirrors recent studies of YYA experiencing homelessness (CIDI, 2015; Freeman & Hamilton, 2008, 2013).
The heuristic process of phenomenological inquiry guided the initial analysis, and involved the following steps: immersion (listening, reading, and memo writing); incubation (further reading, memo writing); illumination (identifying initial themes, generating initial codes, applying and consolidating codes); explication and creative synthesis (synthesizing themes to generate findings, selecting exemplar quotes to illustrate key themes) (Patton, 2002). To expand upon the emergent theme of resilience, the researcher used focused coding to identify instances of resilience within the participant narratives.
Findings: Key themes identified in participant narratives included: rejecting the label ‘homeless’, creating positive meaning of homeless experiences, and cultivating hope for the future. The narratives demonstrated participants’ capacity to not only survive the life-challenging experience of homelessness, but to also make those experiences part of an inspiring life journey that was still unfolding. Further, participants articulated future possibilities of home that were hopeful and achievable.
Conclusion and Implications: Findings illustrate the capacity of transgender YYA experiencing homelessness to reframe their challenges as positive experiences, integral to the people they have become or will be in the future. This is an example of the participants’ resilience, and is also an act of resistance. Participants refused to accept stereotypes and negative messages about what it means to be young, homeless, and transgender. Findings suggest potential areas for strengths-building interventions for transgender YYA experiencing homelessness, including identifying ways to engage this population from an asset-based framework and harnessing the motivation and hopeful visioning of the future to guide interventions.