"I want to be who I am": A phenomenological study of how transgender persons viewed the changes in their families as they negotiated the path to their true gender
Current estimates suggest that transgender persons make up about .5 - 1.0% of the population in the US (Gates, 2012). Accurate numbers are difficult to determine because of physical and emotional threats, both perceived and experienced, which have made transgender persons cautious about disclosing their true gender to family and the larger society (Bethea & McCollum, 2013). The purpose of this qualitative study was to investigate how the transgender person viewed the relationship changes in her or his family, friends, and associates, as she or he negotiated the path to their true gender. Sixteen adult transgender persons from across the US were interviewed in this qualitative study. Phenomenology theory was employed to analyze interviews with each participant. By employing semi-structured questions, the participants gave rich descriptions of their lives and relationship changes they experienced, beginning in earliest childhood. Content analysis of the narratives generated eleven themes found within the participant interviews. Themes generated from descriptions of childhood include (a) the struggle within and the struggle to fit in and (b) a positive childhood. Themes generated from descriptions of the early teens include (a)the walking wounded: Consequences of ongoing struggles, and (b) staying out of trouble, while themes generated from descriptions of late teens include (a) the struggle continues, and (b) high school wasn't so bad. Adulthood themes include (a) the closet door just exploded, (b) do you want to know a secret, and (c) on to a different life. Two very specific theme were generated based on participant descriptions of puberty, and include (a) this is confusing (b) how could this happen. The participants reported relationship changes, some very significant, as they negotiated the path to their true gender. Descriptions of the participant's experiences were used to form what it means to be transgender and experience relationship changes while negotiating the path to the participant's true gender. This research also suggests that mental health professionals need much more training and supervision before working with transgender persons.