Abstract: Trans Youth Navigating Identity Disclosure in the Midwest: Contextual Factors in the Family, School, and Community (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

106P Trans Youth Navigating Identity Disclosure in the Midwest: Contextual Factors in the Family, School, and Community

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Patricia Sattler, MSW, Doctoral Student/Graduate Research Assistant, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Jacob Goffnett, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Megan Paceley, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Background: The social climate of families, schools, and communities towards transgender individuals may impact the identity development of transgender youth. Identity concealment or disclosures are important aspects of identity development. Research has started to explore the role of two compulsory environments—schools and families—in shaping the identity development process for sexual minority adolescents suggesting these environments may contribute additional stress or protective factors during this process. Furthermore, the region of the country and size of geographical community (i.e., metropolitan, small metropolitan, or rural) may also impact the climate of different social environments transgender youth occupy and, subsequently, influence their identity development. However, there is a lack research on the ways in which transgender youth navigate the identity development processes based on the social environment in which they are situated. Therefore, this study aimed to understand how contextual factors of different social environments influence identity concealment or disclosure for transgender youth living in the Midwest.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 19 transgender youth (13-24 years old; M = 18) living in two Midwestern states. A majority of participants were white (74%) and identified as trans-masculine or gender non-binary (42% each). Interviews were conducted in-person or via video conferencing and all youth received a $20 gift card for their time. Interviews were transcribed and coded using thematic analysis by three independent coders. A transgender youth advisory board assisted with study recruitment and provided feedback on interview questions and analyses.

Results: Findings suggests that contextual factors fall into two broad categories, hostile or supportive, and occurred primarily in three social environments: family, school, and community. Hostile contextual factors included high levels of gender normativity, a lack of supportive people and resources, and discrimination and victimization toward transgender individuals. Supportive contextual factors included visibility of queer (i.e., non-straight, non-cisgender) identities and people, as well as the presence of supportive people and identity-specific resources or policies. Participants reduced the visibility of their identities in the face of hostile contextual factors to avoid negative emotions such as disgust, fear, and shame and to enhance their physical safety and well-being. Conversely, they increased the visibility of their identities under supportive contextual factors to promote experiences of positive emotions such as hope, joy, and pride. It was uncommon for social environments to be entirely hostile or supportive; subsequently, participants continually negotiated the level of visibility of their transgender identities in their social environments.

Conclusions and Implications: The findings of this study provide implications for practice and research given the important role that visibility may play in improving biopsychosocial health and well-being. Social work practitioners should work to identify efforts that increase the supportiveness of social environments that transgender youth commonly occupy. Researchers should continue to investigate the direct impact contextual factors have on transgender youth, as well as indirectly through the level of visibility of their identities and associated emotions.