Our spring research seminar was dedicated to hearing about trans research in the UK and Dr Katherine Johnson (University of Brighton) presented her research-in-progress entitled ‘Trans Youth: What Matters?’
Katherine began her presentation by identifying her research beginnings, stating her focus on lived experiences, gender dysoprhia, trans youth health, violence and global activism. The national and global focus on trans health and violence against people, particularly trans women, set the context of the work. Katherine identified that at a National level there is an unprecedented number of referrals to NHS Gender Identity Services (50 in 2007/8, 1419 in 2015/16) and there is concern about their ability to cope with this.
Existing literature focuses on the voices of parents rather their offspring and Katherine’s work addresses this gap in the research by focusing on trans youths themselves. The work documents the value of a community-based organisation and helps them evidence their importance to obtain funding as current budgets are being slashed by up to 80%. The research uses a range of creative-arts based methods in collaboration with a trans youth group. The group provides a place for young people to meet: it’s a youth group for those who are questioning their sexuality, and 60% of users are trans.
A range of participatory, creative, and visual methods are used by Katherine to facilitate group discussions among trans youth. These techniques are more effective than semi-structured interviews because young people can lack of confidence in voicing their experiences. Using visual methods such as photovoice changes the nature of the research process and shifts the focus onto the agency and voice of the young person and generates youth-focused understandings of experience, social exclusion, and mental health.
The methods of participatory creative arts research help participants to re-story and challenge dominant representations of trans lives, such as the assumption that trans people hate their bodies, which is not true for all. The research is on-going through themed discussions which ask participants to reflect upon: how group-users value the group; how the group works as a community; the difficulties and restrictions of gender expression and living in a binary world; and gender dysphoria.
So far, the research has highlighted the role of community support in providing a sense of safety, acceptance, friendship, fun and support. The group plays a vital role in facilitating peer support and creating a sense of belonging. What is emerging for Katherine’s research is a rich picture of trans and non-binary identities and how they are expressed by young trans people.