Abstract: Learning to Thrive in a Binary World: Core Dimensions of Wellbeing Among Nonbinary Individuals (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

336P Learning to Thrive in a Binary World: Core Dimensions of Wellbeing Among Nonbinary Individuals

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
M. Killian Kinney, PhD, Doctoral Candidate, Indiana University - Purdue University, Indianapolis, Indianapolis, IN
Background and Purpose:

The research on trans and nonbinary individuals has been overwhelmingly about deficits and adverse outcomes (e.g., suicidality, depression, anxiety, low employment, murder, gender dysphoria), which centers on survival and coping rather than endorsing long-term goals of resilience and wellbeing. Despite a growing literature on the experiences of binary transgender individuals, little has been explored regarding experiences unique to nonbinary individuals and even less about their wellbeing in relation to their gender. In the face of limited information, more research is warranted to understand the gendered experiences of nonbinary individuals and their relationship to wellbeing to inform social work practice.


A qualitative participatory action study using PhotoVoice was conducted virtually to address the identified gaps in the literature on nonbinary individuals concerning gendered experiences and wellbeing. One aim of the study was to explore core dimensions of wellbeing as defined by nonbinary individuals. Prevailing theories of wellbeing informed the study along with the minority stress model and an ecological approach to resilience to account for environmental factors of oppression and individual and community resilience. A sample of nonbinary adults (N=17) in the midwest was recruited using convenience and snowball sampling. Participants completed group discussions on a dedicated Canvas page and one-on-one zoom interviews. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis by the author and a second coder for trustworthiness.


The findings contribute to a thorough description of how nonbinary individuals perceive their wellbeing concerning their gender and as part of a marginalized population. The analysis identified nine themes for how participants conceptualized their wellbeing: (1) Feeling Safe and Secure, (2) Having Affirming Support/Support Networks, (3) Being Connected to Community, (4) Exploring Gender Identity and Expression, (5) Experiencing Mental and Physical Health, (6) Feeling comfortable with oneself, (7) Being holistically present, (8) Experiencing harmony or balance across aspects of one’s life, and (9) Creating joy. The findings present an overarching understanding of how participant researchers experience wellbeing throughout their lives, including the complex mutual concessions between daily microaggressions and discrimination with visibility and affirmation. Further, the organization of core dimensions of wellbeing themes begins to demonstrate the importance of the environment in nonbinary wellbeing. Participant researchers were most well when their social networks, family, immediate environments, and services were affirming of their gender.

Conclusions and Implications:

This study contributes a new approach to PhotoVoice methodology, wellbeing literature, and trans literature. The ways in which these individuals dealt with and adapted to marginalization are meaningful contributions to understanding wellbeing among members of a marginalized population. Further, their ability to advocate for changes in the environment to improve their lives and the lives of other nonbinary individuals indicates a high level of resilience and perseverance that was possible through community care. The findings provide a concrete understanding of the gendered experiences of nonbinary individuals and their relationship to wellbeing, which can be used to inform ways for social workers to serve the community appropriately and effectively. Recommendations for practice application and advocacy will be discussed.