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Breaking Binary Boundaries: A Phenomenological Exploration of Gender Nonconformity

1 March 2012


This phenomenological study examines the subjective experiences of self-identified transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. 23 participants were interviewed in an open-ended format about their gendered experiences. The interview questions covered information about the participants’ personal conceptualization of gender, the process of transforming their gender expression, the process of coming out, sources of stress and support, experiences of prejudice or discrimination, interactions with the medical and mental health fields respectively, and reactions concerning Gender Identity Disorder (GID) as a psychiatric diagnosis. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). The following superordinate themes were identified through IPA: (a) a period of questioning, (b) the importance of support, (c) the binary myth, (d) social concerns, (e) trans visibility, (f) reactions to the LGBT connection, (g) healthcare limitations, (g) reactions to GID, and (h) post-transition considerations.

Overwhelmingly, participants rejected the notion that alternative gender identities are synonymous with mental illness. The most commonly expressed belief by the participants was that informed and consenting adults, regardless of their gender identity, should have the final word about their bodies and their medical care. The results supported previous research related to gender as a social construct, rather than a biological determinant. The results also substantiated previous claims that transgender individuals frequently adhere to traditional gender presentations given the limited range of socially sanctioned gender identities. Directions for future research include a continued exploration of the detriment or benefit of retaining GID as a psychiatric diagnosis. It was also recommended that research aim to diversify transgender literature.


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