METHODS: Four main research questions were addressed via in-depth interviews with twelve non-binary transgender youths: what are the past and present lived experience with non-binary transgender identity? (1); how do they describe their identity and self? (2); what are their experiences in the family system? (3); are there any protective and risk factors contributing to the formation of their ego-resilience? (4). Participants were limited to those who were living with their family for at least five years to explore potential roles of family in their ego-resilience development. The taped interviews were fully transcribed and analyzed using the Colaizzi’s descriptive phenomenological method.
RESULTS: Overall, three categories were derived along with ten theme clusters and twenty-six themes: gender identity formation process (1); realization of ego-resilience (2); protective/risk factors of ego-resilience in their contiguous social environment (3). To explain the findings of this study, study participants encountered significant confusion towards their identity as non-binary was considered as non-existent in the Korean society. Despite of the social atmosphere, the participants formed ego-resilience through the support of their queer-friendly friends, strong belief towards oneself, and their past experiences of overcoming the failures. Lastly, home was an ambivalent place, both giving strength and posing threat to their ego-resilience. Some protective factors were family’s respect and welcoming attitude towards non-binary identity, whereas the risk factors appeared to be misgendering and drawing of the line by their parents regarding their identity.
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: Non-binary youths in Korea are known to experience identity crisis more than any other youth groups due to Korea’s highly hostile atmosphere against sexual minorities. Non-binary transgender youths may seem vulnerable to identity crisis and discrimination, but findings of this study highlighted that they can embrace themselves and achieve ego-resilience if they have supportive social systems. Family members need to set an inclusive home environment so that one can feel a sense of belonging. Schools can provide diversity education including various identities and develop protocols for preventing and resolving homophobic violence and discrimination. Local communities can foster queer-friendly counselors and social workers. Without such efforts, non-binary youths’ identity crisis will result in adverse social and psychological outcomes and deter their successful transition to adulthood.