Journeys Towards an Acceptable Gender Expression: Narratives of People Living With Gender Variance
Horley, Nicola Joanne
BACKGROUND: Gender Variance (GV) is an experience that the gender assigned at birth is different to one’s preferred gender identity. It includes the possibility of a preferred gender identity being different to either male or female. It is reported that around 4000 people per year access care from the NHS in relation to GV (Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES), 2009) and both the physical and psychological elements of these experiences is well documented. However, little research specifically explores how Gender Variant (GVt) people make sense of their experiences and construct meaningful expression of their preferred identity. The aim of this study is to further the understanding of GV with a view to considering the implications for service provision to this population. METHODOLOGY: The study employed a qualitative method that explored the narratives of the participants. A purposive sample of seven participants self identified as GVt was recruited for a single interview. The interviews used a topic guide to elicit the narratives that these people tell about their experiences. All interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analysed using a narrative approach to explore what the participants said and the way they said it. This was then situated within the local and broader social contexts within which the narratives exist. ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS: The findings are presented through a global impression of each of the individual narratives and then through discussion of the similarities and differences in relation to the collective storylines. Particular attention is paid to the identity construction and the emotional experiences that take place during the interviews. These two elements are told within and through each of the storylines. | P a g e 7 The local and wider narratives available to the participants are used to contextualise the analysis and findings, and so are reported within the analysis. The analysis offers the following findings: i) their first experiences of understanding GV was important, leading them to find others who felt the same to gain a sense of hope of a normal life ii) sharing their experiences with others was an anxiety provoking time and was part of a decision making process about treatment and establishing an acceptable gender expression iii) relationships with family, friends, peers and members of their social context influence sense making and identity constructions of GVt people and typify the challenges faced within their GVt experiences. Some of these challenges were reported as ongoing and illustrated throughout the stories of the day to day lives of the participants iv) for these participants distressing emotional challenges were often situated in the past and participants spoke of ‘overcoming’ challenges. This offered a counter to the more dominant isolation and loneliness narratives within the literature on GVt experiences The findings of the study are discussed in relation to its clinical implications, the strengths and limitations of the methodology, and directions for future research.
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