Abstract: What Messages Do Trans Youth Have for Other Youth about Growing up Trans? (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

What Messages Do Trans Youth Have for Other Youth about Growing up Trans?

Friday, January 18, 2019: 10:45 AM
Union Square 17 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Megan Paceley, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Jacob Goffnett, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Background: Transgender youth experience an array of risk and protective factors in regards to their development and well-being. These factors occur through an interplay between individual- and micro-level factors (Meyer, 2015). Minority stress theory suggests risk factors may include experiences of gender-based victimization, discrimination, concealment of identity, anticipation of rejection and internalized transphobia (Hendricks & Testa, 2012). Protective factors include one’s self-concept (e.g., self-esteem, locus of control), as well as the opportunity for and access to other members of the queer community and access to transgender-specific resources (Meyer, 2015). A growing body of research addresses the present experiences of transgender youth. From a resiliency perspective, it is also important to understand what transgender youth would like their peers to know about growing up and developing their transgender identities. Thus, the purpose of this study was to understand and share the messages transgender young people have for other transgender youth.

Methods:  This study is part of a more extensive qualitative study exploring the contextual experiences of transgender youth. Interviews were conducted with twelve transgender young people (ages 13-24) in two largely rural Midwestern states. At the completion of an interview, transgender youth were asked “What would you want other transgender youth to know about growing up trans?”  Data from this question were analyzed using thematic analysis by two researchers. Codes were created and then organized into themes. Discrepancies were discussed until consensus was reached.

Results: Findings revealed three major thematic messages that participants had for youth growing up transgender: finding community, validating identity, and staying present. Finding community included connecting to the broader queer community, developing a family of choice, seeking out transgender or queer specific supports, and participating in activism. Participants revealed this strategy helped them feel less alone, supported their well-being and helped normalize their gender identity. Validating identity included encouraging transgender youth to develop a gender identity that works for them, while externalizing stigmatizing or invalidating messages about their gender identity. Participants implied this narrative helps with being authentic and realizing they deserve to be loved and not victimized. Finally, staying present, included being mindful of everyday experiences, persevering during difficult times, and realizing that the future is unpredictable and often gets better. While three main themes emerged with their own characteristics, participants frequently discussed the influence and overlap of the themes.

Conclusions and Implications: This study provides important insight into the lessons transgender youth have learned for themselves and share with other transgender youth. The findings provide an important contribution to the literature by highlighting the voices and expertise of transgender youth, themselves. Practitioners can use this data by sharing the findings and specific quotes with the transgender young people with whom they work. Researchers should expand on these findings by studying the messages in more detail and how they relate to well-being.