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Critique Essay Humanities Nonfiction Social Sciences

Coming Out to Doctors, Coming Out to “Everyone”: Understanding the Average Sequence of Transgender Identity Disclosures Using Social Media Data

By Oliver L. Haimson and Tiffany C. Veinot, 2021

The dominant narrative of gender transition imagines an unambiguous, specific moment in which one’s gender switches. However, transition is a process rather than a moment; it involves transgender identity disclosures to different people in one’s life, some marking pivotal moments of change. When developing transgender identities, people balance their desires for a lived gender that matches their internal gender with considerations of available resources, coping abilities, and potential consequences of transition. Models of transgender identity transition have proposed five steps of coming out and 14 stages of identity development. However, transition can also be framed as a series of “milestones” reflecting diversity in transition goals, some of which involve disclosures. Although previous works offer important details regarding the temporal dynamics of transgender identity disclosure, we lack thorough empirical understanding of the average sequence of audiences to whom transgender people disclose. Knowledge of this sequence may help health care providers contextualize these disclosures, and react to them appropriately. Emotional wellbeing shifts throughout gender transition processes, often temporally related to specific disclosures—thus, uncovering the sequence in which transgender identity disclosures are likely to occur can illuminate emotional wellbeing patterns. Previous work with social media data showed that transgender identity disclosures included increased negative sentiment in the short term after disclosures to family members, increased positive sentiment after disclosures on Facebook, and overall increased positive sentiment. Transgender identity disclosures to family members impact participants’ emotional wellbeing, and these emotions may change over time as family members become more accepting.Transgender experiences disclosing to friends are significant because friends play a major role in many transgender people’s lives, and often become a “chosen family.” Disclosing one’s transgender identity to a wide personal network on Facebook can be stressful, but support from one’s network can mitigate distress.Understanding how each disclosure fits within the gender transition process can contextualize previous findings regarding emotions. We use a novel data source—social media—to understand the average sequence of transgender identity disclosures, a task that would be difficult using surveys or interviews given people’s difficulty accurately recalling life events from the past.

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