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Our project will address the following research questions. 

supportive family structures
  • What does good family support look like for transgender young people, from their own perspective? 

  • Who are the people that form a transgender young person’s ecology of support?

  • How do different family members (e.g. aunts, grandparents, cousins, etc) support a transgender young person in their own unique ways? 

  • How do the experiences of Māori, Pasifika and Asian participants expand understandings of supportive family structures, beyond the Western ideology of the nuclear family? 

Definitions of family in family studies research derive from studies of White, American, middle-class, nuclear families, and there is an urgent need to widen this view to encompass other forms of family. For many Māori and Pacific people, whānau or extended family is central in supporting children and families exist across time and space, including through the ongoing presence of ancestors. The limited research on non-parent family members suggests they may support a transgender young person in different ways, with siblings and grandparents demonstrating unique challenges and strengths. Networks beyond biological family may also play family-like roles, as in chosen families in rainbow communities. This broader vision of family is what we will investigate in our research.  Based on our pilot research, we expect to find that transgender young people draw support from a range of family relationships, differing between family roles and cultures, enabling us to map diverse ecologies of support for transgender youth in Aotearoa. 

resistance and resilience 
  • How do transgender young people and their families work together to resist societal oppression? 

  • How does raising a transgender child transform a family in positive ways?

  • How do families approach difference in a way that is not harmful for the transgender children involved? 

There is a long history of pathologising research on transgender young people and their families and contemporary debates often invalidate their lived realities, causing gender minority stress and secondary stigma. Against this backdrop, strengths-based research focusing on affirmation is vital.  Based on our pilot research, we expect to find, among other aspects, that: the greatest challenges transgender young people and their families face involve dealing with oppressive social structures; families relocate the problem from transgender young people to the society surrounding them; transgender young people keenly feel the support of their families; and family members’ lives are enriched by raising a transgender child. Exploring experiences of reciprocal empowerment can help restore agency to transgender young people and their families, showing that together they survive and thrive. 

 intersectional perspectives 
  • What forms of intersectional oppression do transgender young people and their families face, relating to gender, ethnicity, migrant status, religion, disability, class and other features of identity? 

  • What intersectional perspectives do they draw on to interpret their experience of being a transgender young person or raising a transgender child?

  • What strengths do these perspectives present for transgender young people and their families?

  • How does mātauranga Māori regarding takatāpui identity and whānau help Māori transgender young people and their whānau resist Western perspectives of gender and family imposed via colonisation? 

Our research will involve participants of the largest ethnic population groupings in Aotearoa, including Pākehā, Māori, Pacific and Asian people, and the research team will include researchers from each of these groups, who will draw on culturally appropriate research frameworks to collect and analyse the data. Alongside the cultural lens we will bring to the analysis, our intersectionality will be wide-reaching, taking into account various forms of identity-based oppression. We will explore challenges and benefits associated with the intersectional perspectives of transgender young people and their families, which are likely to reflect the burdens of intersectional oppression, while also fostering discursive resilience (e.g. using culturally situated knowledge to deflect stigma or build solidarity).  

language and drawing 
  • How do transgender young people and their families discursively construct their experiences of family support? 

  • What visual metaphors do they use to depict their experiences? 

  • How do they use these visual and verbal discourses to further their interests and drive social change? 

Reflective drawing will enable transgender young people and their families to express in pictures what words cannot convey. This method produces not just more data (in the sense of collecting both visual and verbal data from participants) but also different data. This form of visual communication may also extend beyond the limits of current language in this area, which is changing rapidly.  In analysing the results, we will explore how families support a transgender child via visual and verbal discourse itself: organising their experiences into schemas of understanding that allow them to enact discursive resilience and resist oppression. As well as improving individual and collective resilience, this use of discourse has strong potential to promote social change, as families spread these discourses among their social networks and the social institutions with which they engage. The research team will reinterpret the visual metaphors in the participants’ drawings in an illustrated resource for families, amplifying the participants’ voices.  

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