Main Body

CHAPTER 2: Connecting to Trans Communities

Mateo Huezo

As discussed in the Introduction people are making big waves about the importance of connecting to trans communities for trans-affirmative practice. For The TCS Project, trans community members from Edmonton and Calgary contributed to the project’s functioning and data. The success of this trans-owned research was evident in community feedback emphasizing the importance of trans knowledge. It is also possibly evident in the fact that participants had the opportunity to provide their additional thoughts in written form, in member-checking meetings, and by contacting the me or my supervisor. However, no new topics arose through these mediums that weren’t already shared in the context of the original study sessions. One thing that might help anyone connecting to trans communities is to look at patterns in how people joined The Project.

Advertising

The first consideration for advertisements in this study was whether I should socially locate myself. Indicating that I am trans and that this project was meant to be owned by trans communities came with some potential social risk to myself. It was, however, the first step in using transparency and relaying safety to potential participants and Advisory Panel members. The second consideration was choosing an advertising scheme that was most likely to reach trans people in a safe(r) space where they could read trans-related posters.

When recruitment started for The TCS Project, it was publicized via posters and online advertisements. These advertisements were distributed to agencies and professionals focused on serving sexual and gender minorities in Edmonton and Calgary. In these advertisements, trans community members were invited to contact me (the Principal Investigator extraordinaire) if they wanted to participate in “a study by and for local trans communities.”

Respondents completed an intake interview and were sorted into one of two roles: Participants who would contribute to the study data or Advisory Panel members who would oversee the research project. In their intake interviews, respondents were asked where they had heard of the study, and these responses were tracked (Figure 2.1). Tracking study recruitment is a method of monitoring whether your participants are well-distributed or coming from a bias of one source (Creswell, 2013; Bauer et al., 2010). In this case, tracking was also used to understand what community members were responsive to.

Table 2.1 shows where I could confirm study advertisements ended up. It appears there were more displayed through online means, and more through generalized LGBT+ services than trans-specific ones. I was able to find and advertise with more online than in-person groups. Perhaps because of this, more people said they’d heard of the study through online means.

In practice, it seems the people who responded to study ads more often came from trans-specific sources than other services (Figure 2.1). In Edmonton, this held true for online and in-person sources. No in-person trans-specific groups confirmed distributing ads in Calgary. Instead, some people were recruited through more general services. 11 of 15 people were recruited through trans-specific resources in total. The most successful way to reach respondents seemed to be online trans-specific resources. This is maybe a surprise given that I found less trans-specific resources in which to post advertisements.

These response patterns are somewhat in line with previous literature that emphasized the importance of community endorsement in order to be given access to trans communities (Benson, 2013; Bess & Stabb, 2009; Simeonov, Steele, Anderson, & Ross, 2015). It is important to note that I found less services and professionals to distribute advertisements to in the Calgary area, which may have affected the response rates in each city.

Figure 2.1. Advertising response patterns. Respondents reported hearing about the study by seeing posters or hearing about the study in person or online, through trans-specific sources or other sources. Dark grey bars represent respondents from Edmonton, light grey Calgary.

Look Who’s Talking

Just as important as honouring trans knowledge is understanding who is offering it. Table 2.2 shows the demographic characteristics participants shared about themselves. These demographics are not meant to be representative of the Edmonton or Calgary trans communities as a whole. Rather, they are meant to provide some background for the insights participants shared in this study.

Respondents were considered eligible to participate in The Project if they were adults, identified with an Edmonton or Calgary transgender community (and had recently associated with those communities), had no personal relation to me (the Principal Investigator), and were able to participate in focus groups. An accessibility fund was available to accommodate specific needs, such as translation services. The Edmonton group in general was slightly older and had spent more time in their local trans communities than the Calgary group. However both groups had a wide range of ages, with a range of 41 years in the Edmonton group and 36 years in the Calgary group. They also had a wide range of times they’d spent out to their local trans communities. Both groups reported predominantly White or Caucasian heritage. The genders Edmonton group members identified as represented a spectrum across man/male, woman/female, and nonbinary (outside a male/female binary). The Calgary group indicated male and female gender identities.

These demographics point to potential patterns in recruitment and questions for further research. The predominance of White or Caucasian (i.e., dominant group) backgrounds in the sample might indicate that this demographic is most willing or able to contribute their energy and time to research participation. Prevalent attitudes, felt power, and trust in research endeavours in these sociocultural groups may also have impacted participation.

The difference in gender diversity in the Edmonton and Calgary groups might be indicative of cultural differences between the cities, and/or it might show which subgroups in each community felt willing or able to participate in trans research. It also might signify a difference in how the words trans and transgender (which I used in study advertisements) are used in each city. What would responses be like if cultural subgroups such as nonbinary people were explicitly named on study advertisements and invited to participate? Some questions for further research might be: What would trans communities of colour have to say about their local trans communities in Edmonton and Calgary? What would nonbinary people in Calgary have to say?

Each sociocultural factor, such as age or ethnicity, could impact group members’ experiences of their trans communities and the subsequent knowledge they were able to share here. The length of time each person had spent in their trans communities, as well as the circumstances under which they met with other community members, could also influence a diversity of experiences. As I mentioned in the Introduction to this book, the knowledge shared here IS meant to give readers a rich slice of what some experiences of trans community are like from the inside. It IS NOT meant to define what that experience would be like for others.

Anti-Oppression

As I said in Chapter 1, this project was a CBPR project. Two important aspects of such a design are planning for anti-oppression and finding ways to give back to communities (Bergold & Thomas, 2012; Blumenthal, 2011; Freudenberg & Tsui, 2014; Smith, Bratini, Chambers, Jensen, & Romero, 2010; Viswanathan et al., 2004; Wallerstein & Duran, 2010). I created the e-book you are reading to honour this intent of giving back (and because the Advisory Panel named it a priority).

As a researcher working within trans communities, I aimed to be aware and responsive to the barriers transgender people face socially and the ways in which research has often served to further oppression (see also Chapter 1, Bauer et al., 2009; Bauer & Scheim, 2015; Fraser, 2009; Grant et al., 2011; OPHA, 2003). As these strategies were successful towards engaging trans community members in The TCS Project, I’ve shared them below.

  1. Self-reflection. First, I managed my own accountability through an ongoing self-reflection journal and frequent self-reflective check-ins with Dr. Collins (thesis supervisor).
  2. Insider/outsider principal investigator. The benefit of being a trans-identified investigator was that I was able to bring academic research expertise from outside trans communities while still navigating trans space as an insider. In other words, I could bridge the worlds of academia and community for the benefit of trans peoples.
  3. Insider Advisory Panel. Having trans-led trans research lessened the potential for power differences between the research team and participants based on status in society (George, Duran, & Norris, 2014; Smith et al., 2010; Travers et al., 2013). In other words, having a trans research team mitigated the risk for bias often found in cisgender research about trans people (Ansara & Hegarty, 2012; Bauer et al., 2009; Benson, 2013; de Vries, 2012; Matte et al., 2009; Vance et al., 2010; Vipond, 2015).
  4. Choosing an anti-oppressive framework. The choices to use community engagement and centre trans voices in this study were intentional. These choices were in direct response to harms that have come to trans people through past and ongoing cisgender-centred research practices. They were meant to model a more inclusive model of inquiry. The anti-oppressive underpinnings of this study were informed by trans feminism and CBPR (for further reading see Chapter 1 and Enke, 2012c).
  5. Community collaboration. At the heart of this project was the idea that it did not belong to me, but to trans communities in Alberta as a whole. To facilitate this community ownership, I created the Advisory Panel (see Chapter 1). Panel members reviewed each aspect of the study design and conduct from the study recruitment phase, through data collection, data analysis, and planning for dissemination. They collaborated on creating the framework of themes from the data (see Chapter 3), and they chose how the study would be presented to the public. This e-book exists because THEY advocated for it! How cool are they? Very cool. Very cool.
  6. Transparency. I was transparent at all stages of recruitment about my own trans identity and how I relate to trans communities. I also explained to everyone involved in the study what the research design and purposes were, and the roles of Advisory Panel and Supervisory Committee members.
  7. Inviting feedback. I ensured participants and Advisory Panel members had multiple avenues to provide feedback. At the end of all focus groups (for participants) and meetings (for Advisory Panel members), I invited feedback on my own approach and the research so far. Near the end of the data analysis phase, I also scheduled an evaluation meeting for participants and another for Advisory Panel members. Community members were provided contact information for myself, the study supervisor, and the research ethics board on their informed consent forms at the beginning of their involvement in The Project.
  8. Planning for accessibility. I took measures to ensure community members’ physical, social, and financial accessibility needs were taken into account. During intake interviews I invited them to ask for any special accommodations in the study if needed, and I had study funds reserved for this purpose. I also reimbursed participants for their travel and sent honoraria to Advisory Panel members for their work. During focus group sessions, I provided water and snacks for participants. Focus groups were held in community spaces already used by transgender groups, to minimize any potential social barriers to accessing the study.
  9. Community resource connecting. Finally, anyone who contacted me to take part in the study was given a list of transgender community resources, regardless of whether or not they were ultimately enrolled in the study. This was because The TCS Project was not set up to be a permanent social support. The resource list was given to ensure community members had information about permanent supports in their area. For more information about community resources, see the Transgender Resources page.

The strategies above overlapped heavily with ethical considerations and strategies for quality control in the study. They are NOT meant to be an exhaustive list of accountable practices for working within trans communities. There will always be some level of minimal risk in asking for participation in any endeavor. However, the above can serve as an example of ways in which these risks may be managed with gender minorities.