A Longitudinal Phenomenological Exploration
The present study explores the dynamics and evolution of families that include gender non-conforming children/youth (including transgender children/youth). Through in-depth interviews with parents/guardians, the researcher explores the lived experiences and evolution of identity among all family members, the strengths and challenges in navigating society as a diverse family, and the impact upon a family when one member identifies as gender non-conforming.
In a society that has little more than a superficial knowledge of gender non-conforming individuals, routine activities such as obtaining healthcare or going to school become substantial events with hurdles that the individuals and their families must overcome. Routine activities are no longer routine. Determining which restroom to use, deciding upon a gender-specific bathing suit, choosing extracurricular sports and activities – decisions that most individuals and families take for granted become salient and problematic for the family with a gender non-conforming child/youth.
The extant literature has demonstrated that from the level of the individual to the macrosystem level, gender non-conforming children/youth and their families experience many trials. Family discord, depression, and associated comorbidities and health disparities are rampant. For youth rejected by their families, homelessness, substance abuse, victimization are common. Harassment and victimization is common in schools; teachers and staff often lack knowledge on gender diversity (and may be unwilling to learn). Satisfactory medical care may be inaccessible.
In the knowledge base of healthcare, ground has been made, but there is need for more. There is little education on gender non-conforming issues in nursing, and nurses and other clinicians feel unprepared to care for these individuals and the issues their families face. Yet, healthcare providers, including school nurses, primary care providers, and psych-mental health clinicians, are being increasingly called upon to care for this population. Further, providers such as counselors, including school and family counselors, need to be cognizant of issues. Indeed, a multi-disciplinary approach to care is best.
Cognizant of these gaps in knowledge, influential national bodies have called for more research into the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) population. The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GMLA) has called for research into environmental factors that contribute to health disparities within the population, and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has similarly called for increased research within the population. Moreover, the IOM lay out a research agenda, specifically stating, “An individual’s health is affected by community and social circumstances. LGBT health research should consider both the individual and various contexts, including interpersonal relationships, in which the individual lives” (IOM, 2011; p. 7).
Consistent with the gaps in knowledge that this researcher has identified, and with the assessed need as asserted by the GMLA and the IOM, the present study provides needed findings to help improve the environment and healthcare for gender non-conforming individuals and their families. The study takes a social ecological, phenomenological approach towards increasing this understanding. Therefore, to gain insight into the contextual environment of gender non-conforming children/youth, the first research question is:
RQ 1. What are the experiences of families of gender non-conforming children & youth, including in the following areas?
- Family dynamics
- Social networks (extended family, peers)
- Healthcare (access and quality)
Continuing with the contextual perspective, previous studies have demonstrated that family members of gender non-conforming persons also frequently reexamine their own identity and worldviews, discovering new ways to assimilate reformed perspectives (e.g., through activism). This in turn can strengthen relationships. Hence, the following research question aims explore the psychology of identity that may underlie relational interactions:
RQ 2. How is the identity of family members of gender non-conforming children/youth affected, including the following?
- Self-view of parent/guardian
- Parent/guardian view of child
Through in-depth interviews, the present study gains in-depth knowledge on the experiences, including helpful strategies, of gender-diverse families navigating a marginalizing society.