An exploratory study of the emotional experiences of a parent of a transgendered child
This qualitative, exploratory study comprises a discourse analysis of the emotional experiences of the parent of a transgendered child. The primary aim of the study was to detail the emotional experiences encountered by the parents of a transgendered child within the South African context, with a focus on how discourse is used to make sense of experiences. The research employed a single case-study, and data was collected via three semi-structured interviews. The data was analysed within a social constructionist framework, using discourse analysis (as per ten stages suggested by Potter and Wetherell, 1987). The literature review highlights various issues regarding the plight of transgendered children and their loved ones in trans-phobic societies, most of which are reflected in the findings. The pertinent themes were divided into four sections: “Discourse of Shaping”, “Discourse of Incongruous Loss”, “Discourse of Motherhood” and “The Transformer and Transformation”. In “Discourse of ‘Shaping’”, the focus is on the parent’s ‘compelled’ reconceptualization of issues and previously accepted ‘truths’ that lie at the core of identity, namely, gender and religion. “Discourse of Incongruous Loss” shows the trauma, challenges, complexity and many ambiguities in mourning someone who is simultaneously absent and present, the same yet different. It also explores additional aspects of the loss that distinguishes it from conventional loss, such as stigmatism and discrimination, lack of support, and ensuing losses. Data reveal that the discourse of motherhood, whilst placing immense pressure on the parent, also has an empowering effect. Although the discourse of motherhood gives rise to feelings of intense self-blame and hate regarding the trans-identity of the child, and ‘dictates’ unwavering compassion, selflessness, acceptance and nurturance, it also enables a basis for resisting oppression. The final section documents how a personal, painful, private experience is linked to broader social systems. It shows how an initially harrowing experience can become empowering, as the participant not only embraces previously unaccepted ‘truths’, but is also an advocate of transgenderism and contributes to social change. It is important to note though, that although ‘victorious’, the experience is a complex one and meaning-making is on-going. Throughout, the interplay of dominant discourses and alternate discourses and their role in the personal meaning-making experience of the participant, is documented. Various creative strategies are employed in order to enable acceptance of the trans-identity and the continuous meaning-making, such as, for example, vacillating between seemingly contradictory discourses. Based on the findings that emphasises the trauma caused by a dual-definition if gender, it is suggested that a more inclusive definition of gender be adopted, such as defining gender as a spectrum or on a continuum. A redefinition of gender should also include de-pathologising gender variance, but before it is removed as diagnosis from the DSM, resources and assistance enabled by its diagnosis should be readily available so as not to create further obstacles for an already marginalised group. Awareness is vital if stigmatising and discrimination are to be reduced. It is important that awareness be generated and resources be made available, with a special focus to include disadvantaged communities. There is an urgent need for literature within a South African context so that interventions can be designed to assist parents (and loved ones) of transgendered children. This is particularly important since support from parents have consistently been found to reduce both depression and suicide rates of transgendered children. Within a diverse South African context, it is also essential to determine how gender discrimination intersects with various other forms of discrimination pertaining aspects of identity such as religion, spirituality, ethnicity, race and culture. There is a need for the South African government to address the lack with regards to implementation of gender policy with some urgency.