Experiencing transphobia and abuse, and struggling with the decision to divulge their gender identity throughout their transition. These are what transgender and gender non-conforming (TNGC) adolescents face when dating, according to a study – “Romantic Relationships in Transgender Adolescents: a Qualitative Study” by Adrian C. Araya, Rebecca Warwick, Daniel Shumer and Ellen Selkie – that appeared in Pediatrics.
According to the study, adolescence is a period of identity formation, a time of questioning one’s belonging and one’s role in society, and a shift from family relationship dependence to preference for friendship. It is also recognized as a time of exploration of love and intimacy, which is considered to be critical to development and adjustment.
But young people who are transgender and gender nonconforming face a different set of challenges than peers during these developmental milestones, the study suggests.
For this study, 30 adolescents (18 transmasculine and 12 transfeminine) between the ages of 15 and 20 years were interviewed. Themes included (1) engagement in romantic relationships, (2) disclosure of gender identity and romantic relationships, (3) experience with abusive relationships, and (4) perceived impact of gender-affirming hormone care on romantic experiences.
The study found that:
- TGNC adolescents are engaged in romantic experiences before and during social and/or medical transitioning and are cultivating relationships through both proximal peers and online connections.
- There is perceived benefit of gender-affirming hormone care on romantic experiences.
- Risk of transphobia in romantic relationships impacts the approach that transgender adolescents take toward romance and influences decisions of identity disclosure.
- TGNC adolescents have experience with relationship abuse in different forms.
The study also noted that romantic pursuit was hampered by transphobia perpetuated by both cisgender and transgender individuals. This transphobia may stem from adhering to gender binary and correlating sex assigned at birth to gender identity.
To deal with this situation, the researchers suggested that providers should incorporate changes in their approach to counseling and screening when caring for TGNC youth.