Abstract: I'm More Driven Now: Resilience and Resistance Among Transgender and Gender Expansive Youth Experiencing Homelessness (Society for Social Work and Research 22nd Annual Conference - Achieving Equal Opportunity, Equity, and Justice)

I'm More Driven Now: Resilience and Resistance Among Transgender and Gender Expansive Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Friday, January 12, 2018: 5:59 PM
Congress (ML 4) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jama Shelton, PhD, Assistant Professor, City University of New York, New York, NY
M. Alex Wagaman, PhD, Assistant Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Latoya Small, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background:Transgender youth and young adults (YYA) are thought to be disproportionately represented in the population of youth experiencing homelessness. A recent survey of street outreach programs in the U.S. found that 7% of young people surveyed (n = 656) identified themselves as transgender (Whitbeck, Lazoritz, Crawford, & Hautala, 2014). Transgender YYA experiencing homelessness face systemic barriers including sex-segregated programs and institutional practices that deny their own understanding and articulation of their gender. Systems are often not constructed for nor trained appropriately to meet the specific needs of youth who have experienced multiple stigmas related to racism, cisgenderism, transphobia, heterosexism, and homophobia (Olivet and Dones, 2016). Despite the challenges associated with homelessness and navigating an often hostile social environment, transgender YYA are finding innovative ways to resist the multiple and overlapping institutionalized challenges they face. This paper explores the ways a group of transgender YYA demonstrate resilience and resist dominant narratives about what it means to be young transgender people without stable housing through a revisioning of “home” and the practice of positive meaning making.

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.