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Essay Humanities Nonfiction Social Sciences

It’s my safe space: The life-saving role of the internet in the lives of transgender and gender diverse youth

By Ashley Austin, Shelley L. Craig, Nicole Navega & Lauren B. McInroy, 2020

Background: Public awareness of Transgender and Gender Diverse (TGD) identities has grown significantly; however, acceptance and support remain elusive for many TGD youth. Resultant experiences of marginalization and stigmatization contribute to elevated rates of psychological distress and suicidality among TGD youth. Emergent evidence suggests that the internet may offer TGD youth safety, support, and community previously unavailable.

Aim: The primary aim of this qualitative inquiry is to engage in an in-depth exploration of the online experiences and processes which help protect against psychological distress and promote well-being among TGD youth.

Methods: Data were culled from a mixed-methods, online study of sexual and gender minority youth from across the United States and Canada which followed Institutional Review Board approved protocols. Participants for this study represent a sample (n 1⁄4 260) of TGD participants aged 14–22 (x̄ 1⁄4 17.30). Data were analyzed using Charmaz’ grounded theory strategies.

Results: Data revealed that the internet offers TGD youth affirming spaces that, for the most part, do not exist in their offline lives. Online, TGD youth were able to engage meaningfully with others as their authentic selves, often for the first time. These experiences fostered well-being, healing, and growth through five processes: 1. Finding an escape from stigma and violence, 2. Experiencing belonging, 3. Building confidence, 4. Feeling hope, and 5. Giving back.

Discussion: The unique and innovative ways in which participants use online spaces to foster resilience offer important insights to inform affirmative practices with TGD young people.

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