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  • Kye Campbell-Fox

Summary of Findings – Trans and Nonbinary People’s Experiences of Resilience

We've been hard at work on our collaborative study on trans and nonbinary people's experiences of resilience (led by Drs. Jae Puckett, Paz Galupo, and Em Matsuno).


In the summer of 2023, the team conducted 5 focus groups to gather feedback about a new questionnaire they created, the Multidimensional TNB (Trans and Nonbinary) Resilience Scale. Each of the focus groups focused on a subsection of the questionnaire: resilience at the individual, interpersonal, community, and societal levels, as well as an intersectional resilience section. The overall results from the focus groups are described here.


Feedback Sought on Resilience Scale:

The team developed the Multidimensional TNB (Trans and Nonbinary) Resilience Scale from an extensive review of research in this area and past studies that they conducted about TNB people’s experiences of resilience. This questionnaire builds off 10+ years of resilience focused research with TNB communities!


Examples of questions in each sub-section of the questionnaire (these are just examples and items cover many areas within each sub-section):

Participants

There were 26 people who participated in the 5 focus groups. In terms of gender, when asked what label best described their identity, participants included 5 trans men, 6 trans women, and 15 nonbinary participants. Participants ranged in age from 20 to 66 years old, with an average age of 33 years old. In terms of race and ethnicity, 5 participants were Black or African American, 8 were Asian, 3 were multiracial, and 10 were white.


What were the findings from the focus groups?

The focus groups helped us to identify wording changes and ways to improve the clarity of the items. There also were a few common themes across the focus groups, which we have briefly described here:


1.       It is critical to understand resilience as shaped by life histories and a person’s context.

  • Across the focus groups, participants discussed the many life experiences that led them to their current experiences of resilience and how that has changed over time. Resilience is also continuously shaped by what’s happening around the person and in the broader context they are living within. With that in mind, we must consider the ways that marginalization, access to resources, political forces, and other factors might shape how a person experiences resilience or how they might express their resilience. For example, one person shared, “Certain questions and the way they were framed seemed like… Like state laws and policies or other things would like put a cap on like what you could accomplish on the scale when it came to resilience and I don't know if… I'm like, well, if I like, am not allowed to by policy or because of professional consequences or other reasons able to like, I think some of the questions about like making decisions for oneself, or like, feel like I can recover or resist microaggressions or other sorts of things. It's like, what- does that mean I'm less resilient? Or does that mean like I am taking steps to survive in different ways that the, that my response might not capture that?”


2.       There can be great variability in experiences of resilience and what resonates for people.

  •  It was clear that there is not a singular way that resilience is experienced or expressed. Some of the items in the questionnaire resonated for some participants but not others. What resonated with people can also be influenced by their experiences in relation to other aspects of their identity, such as their race, ability status, or other intersections of identity. For example, one participant shared: “We all have different places that we draw our resilience from. And… for example, I can draw a lot of resilience from gender expression and the way I look and all of that and it doesn't seem to impact other people particularly. And that's just, it comes from different places.”

  •  Participants reflected on the importance of also measuring resilience at a more general or global level rather than just specifically in relation to participants’ trans and/or nonbinary identities. One participant shared, “I think for me, some of the differences in these words is like when I look at a lot of these questions, I'm feeling like, well, I do do that thing in that like that sort of resilience way, but I don't necessarily do it or draw from it because of my trans identity. I'm a late-in-life out as trans person and I developed resilience long before I knew I was trans.”


3.       The potential for resilience to be used against trans and nonbinary communities.

  • Participants reflected on the complicated nature of resilience and how it can sometimes be used against communities, even when not intentional. Resilience often puts the responsibility on the individual to “bounce back” and rely on some inner quality to push beyond hardship without recognizing the influence of systems of power and oppression. When this happens, the social and political context is essentially let off the hook and trans and nonbinary people are then left to blame for their own challenges or struggles. For example, one participant shared, “I've been in experiences where trans people of color have been told we need you to be more resilient and I feel like that is like weaponizing the experiences of people. Cause I just wanna scream back, do you know how resilient they've had to be to get to this position and you're not. It's almost like an excuse to not give them the resources they need to be successful. So, like, for example, in a graduate program where a student is Black and trans and experiencing a mental illness situation and they're like, well we just need this student to be more resilient.”

  • In addition, there is a risk of romanticizing the experiences of oppression that people experience when researching resilience. This is especially true for people of color, whose hardships are often overlooked, as explained by one participant, “The word resilience almost has like, this like undertone of like white supremacy to it. That, these are things that we've always done. And we didn't even, we didn't know that we were doing them because we had to, we had to survive in this way because we are in, in spaces and in communities that don't value us in the same way that they value other people. And now we just have like, this like cute word to put on it like, oh, you're so brave, you're so courageous, you're so resilient, and it's like, well, why do I have to be?”

  • Finally, some participants noted that while some people may use activism and advocacy as a way of expressing resilience, it should not be heavily centered in the questionnaire as this also comes with challenges. High levels of activism and advocacy also wear people down, lead to burnout, and can be risky in terms of a person’s safety. For example, one participant wrote, “[based on these questions,] It feels like the ‘trans hero’ of an inspirational movie is the only resilient trans person.”


How did participant feedback influence the questionnaire?

Based on the feedback from participants, we made several changes to the questionnaire, which included:

  • Some items resonated with some people but not others. We made sure to include a variety of ways that resilience can be embodied in TNB people’s lives to make sure to capture the range of experiences people might have.

  •  We added a general questionnaire to measure resilience that is unrelated to being trans or nonbinary. This way we can understand resilience at a more global level too, which participants voiced being important to their experience taking the survey.

  • We reflected on whether items were measuring privilege in some cases, like access to certain resources or protections, rather than resilience, and adjusted or removed items where we believed that to be the case.

  • Some focus groups discussed the negative tolls of activism and fighting oppression and the questionnaire was adjusted to have less focus on this at the societal level. This still allows for people to endorse this experience if it is relevant to their resilience, but does not overemphasize it. We also modified questions to take into account that people can benefit and build resilience from positive societal shifts or activism that other people are doing in the community even if they might not directly be engaged in that work.

  • We also modified wording across many of the items based on participants’ input.


In addition to the changes to the actual questionnaire, the themes emphasized several important takeaways that we will ensure are represented in the papers we write about the questionnaire, like:

  • We will conduct statistical tests to see if the questionnaire works the same way for participants across groups related to gender and race. This allows us to see if the questionnaire is biased towards more or less accurately reflecting certain groups of people’s experiences.

  • We will ensure that we describe TNB people’s experiences in relation to the broader social and political context that may influence resilience.

  • We will include recommendations for how to study resilience without repeating problematic narratives about TNB people or emphasizing a solely individual experience that might result in weaponizing resilience against TNB people.


Next steps?

When the team conducted the focus groups last summer, they had already gotten extensive input from our community advisory board. The focus groups were key to helping further refine the questionnaire and improving the items. Afterwards, the team spent time editing the items and sought further input from a group of researchers with experience doing research with TNB communities.


After they revised the scale extensively throughout this process, they started data collection for a large longitudinal study. The team will be following ~600 TNB people’s experiences over the next 2 years to validate this measure of resilience and to study what influences resilience, as well as the potential role of resilience in protecting TNB people against the negative outcomes from stressors. We believe that ultimately this study can help us to learn how to support more positive outcomes in the face of the stressful experiences that are common in the lives of TNB people (while we also, of course, work to directly change the social context and decrease those stressors too).


We also will be creating a website for the study in the near future. Once that is available, we will link to it on the Trans-ilience Lab’s site here: https://www.trans-ilience.com/current-research-studies. We encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about this project to check back to our website and/or follow us on social media, @Trans-ilience on Facebook and Instagram. 


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