Striving for authenticity and connection
Eaker, Rebecca Marie
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Children exhibiting nontraditional gender expression face numerous barriers including being isolated, bullied and teased at school, ostracized by peers and viewed as abnormal (Bryant, 2006; Ehrensaft, 2007; Meadow, 2011; Roberts et al, 2013; Swearer et al, 2008; Toomey, McGuire & Russell, 2012). These challenges contribute to increased rates of family and behavioral problems, difficulty in school, and other mental health issues – including depression, suicidal ideation and even homelessness (Bryant, 2006; Carver, Yunger & Perry, 2003; Clements-Nolle, Marx & Katz, 2006; D’Augelli, Grossman & Starks, 2006; Ehrensaft, 2012; Gainor, 2000; Meadow, 2001; Roberts et al, 2013; Toomey, McGuire & Russell, 2012; Israel & Tarver, 1997; Yu, 2010). Minimal research exists about the unique experience of individuals growing up as gender nonconforming (Riley et al, 2013), and recent research provides some insight into the experience of parenting children demonstrating gender nonconformity (de Jong, 2015; Johnson et al, 2014; Lindner, 2014; Pyne, 2014; Rahilly, 2015; Riley et al 2013; Sansfacona, Robichaud & Dumais-Michaud, 2015; Wyss, 2013). However, the need for a deeper understanding regarding parental influence on childhood gender nonconformity still exists (Riley et al, 2013; Sansfacona, Robichaud & Dumais-Michaud, 2015). This study engages Social Constructionism (Burr, 2003) as the theoretical framework with the qualitative participatory action methodology of collective memory work (Haug, 1987) to research the impact of parental response on children who exhibit nontraditional gender preferences and self-expression. The findings of this study provide a deeper understanding regarding the dynamics that occur between parent and gender-nonconforming child as recollected in adulthood. Utilizing collective memory work, the participants and researcher engaged in collective analysis of twelve stories written by the participants regarding their parent’s positive and/or negative responses to their childhood gender nonconformity. This research explores the impact of positive and negative parental responses and provides recommendations for the field of counseling in an effort to increase resources for counselors supporting families dealing with gender nonconformity. The study concludes with personal reflection regarding the process of the research and the experience of collective memory work.