Abstract: Engaging in Creative Expression As a Source of Resilience for Transgender and Gender Diverse Young People (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Engaging in Creative Expression As a Source of Resilience for Transgender and Gender Diverse Young People

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 13, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Ashley Austin, PhD, Professor, Barry University, Miami Shores, FL
Michael P. Dentato, PhD, Associate Professor, Loyola University, Chicago, IL
Joshua Holzworth, BSW, MSW RA, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Anthony Verdino, MSW, PhD Student, Psychotherapist, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Roxanna Ast, MSW, MSc, Graduate Research Assistant, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Andrew Eaton, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Regina, Saskatoon, SK, Canada
Shelley L. Craig, PhD, LCSW, Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background: There is growing interest in exploring sources of resilience among transgender and gender diverse (TGD) young people with multiple marginalized identities, yet research remains scarce. Creative expression – painting, photography, poetry, music, theater – has a positive impact upon individual well-being (Rooke, 2010) and recent research suggests its relevance for individuals with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities and expression (Rodes & Schecter, 2014). While it has not been explored widely with TGD young people, taking or selecting photos and discussing these images in a research interview may help TGD youth share their authentic self-expression, connection to others, coping strategies, and stories of resilience.

Methods: The present study aims to address existing gaps in the resilience literature by using photo elicitation inquiry (PEI) and grounded theory methodologies to gather and analyze qualitative data from TGD young people across the United States who are between the ages of 14-25 and identify with at least one of the following demographics: (a) person of color, (b) immigrant, (c) living in a rural area. Prior to each online interview, participants were asked to upload images representative of their identities as well as online and offline experiences with stress and resilience. PEI is a participant-driven process that involves using participant-selected photos/images to guide qualitative interviews (Frith & Harcourt, 2007). PEI engages aspects of memory and consciousness, as well as emotions that cannot be accessed using narrative interviews alone (Harper, 2002), often resulting in emotionally rich participant-driven data inclusive of both visual and narrative representations of experiences.

Results: A total of 29 participants completed the PEI interviews. The age range of participants was 14-25 years, with a mean age of 17.86 (SD=3.0). Participants’ gender was identified as: nonbinary (n = 12), trans man (n = 15), and trans woman (n = 2). Race/ethnicity of participants was a identified as: American Indian (n = 1), Asian/Asian-American (n = 4), Black (n = 7), Hispanic (n = 7), and White (n = 10). Participants lived in 20 states across the U.S. with a total of 11 participants residing in rural areas. Four main themes were revealed in the data including art as a: 1) form of authentic self-expression, 2) coping mechanism, 3) way to connect to others, and 4) pathway toward agency.

Conclusions: This study illustrates the utility of research that engages TGD young people in their own environments via online methodologies. Of particular relevance, was the success of the digital PEI approach in gathering a range of meaningful visual and narrative data which offered depth and insight into their resilience enhancing processes. In particular, findings advance understanding of creative expression as an underexamined source of resilience among TGD youth with multiple marginalized identities. Within clinical settings, options for TGD youth to participate in various forms of expressive art may improve engagement and enhance TGD youths’ abilities to authentically express thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a manner that will promote and foster healing and growth.