Affirmation and Safety: An Intersectional Analysis of Trans and Nonbinary Youths in Quebec

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To be young and transgender in North American society today is—in and of itself—an indicator of strength. Trans and nonbinary youths (TNBY)—that is, young people who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth—require a reservoir of fortitude to navigate the transphobic environments in which they are embedded. Although we know much about the challenges TNBY face, less is understood about how they overcome them or the strategies they deploy while navigating the impact of multiple forms of oppression and exclusion. Because of the diversity of experience among TNBY, it is critical to explore how race, class, ability, and language, among other factors, intersect with the ways that youths navigate transphobia and shape the strategies that they deploy in the world. This article takes up intersectionality as both a method and a form of analysis to do just that.

In an article published in a recent issue of the journal Social Work Research, co-published by NASW and Oxford University Press, researchers present the results of a combined grounded theory and community-based participatory action research project with 54 TNBY residing in the province of Quebec, Canada. Their project included two important sensitizing concepts: intersectionality and recognition. The researchers defined intersectionality as an approach that explores how people navigate manifold identities (class, race, disability, and so on) in the context of structural oppression.

An intersectional lens was applied to the recruitment of research participants through an iterative, community-based process. They also applied this lens to explore oppressive structures that negatively influence the well-being of TNBY and the specific factors that enable TNBY to thrive. In the article, the researchers argue for a contextualized, dynamic, and relational understanding of how well-being is produced. Specifically, they show two presenting needs: one for affirmation and one for safety.

Access to affirmation and safety springs from resources of privilege that emerge in the environment in which young people are embedded and from which they self-advocate. Understanding the dynamic relationship between these two needs and how they shift according to context is an important component of applying an intersectional approach to supporting TNBY in social work settings.

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Study authors:

Annie Pullen Sansfaçon, PhD, BSW, is associate professor and Morgane Gelly, MA, is research professional, School of Social Work, University of Montreal. Kimberly Ens Manning, PhD, is associate professor, Department of Political Science, Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia University, Montreal.

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The journal Social Work is a benefit of NASW membership. It is available online or, at a member’s request, in print. Children & SchoolsHealth & Social Work and Social Work Research are available by subscription at a discounted rate for NASW members, either online or in print. You can find out more about the journals and subscriptions at this link.