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.