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“There I am”: A Grounded Theory Study of Young Adults Navigating a Transgender or Gender Nonconforming Identity within a Context of Oppression and Invisibility

Abstract

The primary aim of the present study is to extend discussions of navigating an emerging transgender or gender nonconforming (TGNC) identity during youth and young adulthood in a society in which TGNC identities remain invisible and marginalized. Participants include 13 racially/ethnically diverse TGNC young adults ages 18–29 in the United States. Constructivist grounded theory methods were used to collect, analyze, and interpret data. Navigating a TGNC Identity in the Dark emerged as a journey from initial recognition of an existing, but unidentifiable, difference toward awareness and acceptance of a TGNC identity. Analyses revealed six themes associated with navigating identity: Moving from Uncertainty to Knowing, Recognizing Self in Others, Finding Me, Explaining Work, Struggling for Authenticity, and Evolving Self-Acceptance. Narratives highlighted the complex journeys toward authenticity that included pervasive oppression. Findings from my study can be used to inform clinical work aimed at supporting TGNC individuals as they recognize and make meaning of their TGNC identities. Moreover, findings underscore the importance of increasing the level of visibility and affirmation of a range of TGNC identities and experiences in dominant institutions (e.g., media, schools, health care) in the lives of youth as a way to facilitate self-understanding and acceptance at earlier ages and with fewer obstacles.

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Acknowledgments

I would like to extend sincere gratitude to the courageous and resilient transgender and gender nonconforming young people who so openly shared their lives and experiences in an effort to improve understanding and circumstances for future generations. I also thank the Barry University School of Social Work MSW research assistants, Chelsea Baker, Ashley Elrod-Mason, Marvin Taylor, and Jennifer Urrutia, who worked diligently to support this project. Finally, I thank Aiden Collazo for his guidance and consultation on trans experiences.

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Correspondence to Ashley Austin.

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All ethical guidelines were followed in the preparation and submission of this research. The manuscript has not been submitted to more than one journal for simultaneous consideration nor has it been published previously (partly or in full).

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Austin, A. “There I am”: A Grounded Theory Study of Young Adults Navigating a Transgender or Gender Nonconforming Identity within a Context of Oppression and Invisibility. Sex Roles 75, 215–230 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0600-7

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Keywords

  • Transgender
  • Gender nonconforming
  • Minority stress
  • Affirmative practice
  • Sexual minority
  • Oppression
  • Grounded theory