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  • Friday, June 17, 2016

    June 20, 2016 9:57 AM - June 20, 2016 10:09 AM

    Exposition Room

    • William Mellman, MSW ;
    • Curtis Dolezal, PhD ;
    • Helen-Maria Lekas, PhD ;
    • Anke Ehrhardt, PhD ;
    • Walter Bockting, PhD


    In addition to gender identity, transgender people have a sexual orientation identity—a topic that has been largely absent in literature. As such, the role of dating and relationships in identity development and health in the lives of transgender individuals warrants further attention. Such a focus is necessary as dating and the initiation of intimate relationships is largely regarded as an integral step in identity development (Bockting & Coleman, 2007). Furthermore, social support and relationships have been shown to be associated with better health and behavioral outcomes (Kawachi & Berkman, 2001; Cohen, Gottlieb, & Underwood, 2000), including for transgender people who have documented health disparities (Bockting et al., 2013). Accordingly, this research sought to examine how transgender individuals negotiate their identity and relationships in the context of sexual scripts; to what degree, they challenge and/or conform to prevailing norms; and how dating relationships may impact their health and wellbeing.

    Materials and Methods

    Participants, 21 years and older, were recruited from a larger sample of transgender individuals who completed the screening process for a multi-site longitudinal study on transgender identity development (R01 HD079603, Walter Bockting, PI—funded by NICHD; NY Community Trust). Thirty six couples that were diverse in terms of identity (transmen or women in relationships with cisgender men, women, or transgender partners) were invited to complete in-person, semi-structured interviews. Both partners completed an individual interview and then met together for a dyadic interview. The interviews were grounded in sexual script theory and explored topics such as courtship and disclosure, identity affirmation, negotiation and enactment of scripts, and integration in society.


    Stigma attached to nonconformity in gender as well as nonconformity to heterosexual or homosexual scripts affect the experience of relationships for both transgender and cisgender partners. For example, in relationships between transmen and cisgender women, heterosexual scripts prevail, which may serve in part to affirm gender identity. In relationships between transgender individuals who identify as non-binary, greater ambiguity in gender identity and expression extends to the dyad, leading to a higher vulnerability to felt and enacted stigma. In this scenario, the cisgender partner joins the transgender individual in challenging (queering) both heterosexual and homosexual scripts. In relationships between transgender and cisgender men, scripts are more likely co-created as both partners of the dyad challenge the majority norm. A willingness and ability for both partners to question and explore conventional notions of sex, gender, and sexual orientation appears to promote resilience and facilitate health and wellbeing.


    Findings reveal the limitations of the binary and the challenges transgender couples experience in the current sociocultural context that sanctions it. Transgender couples both re-affirm and challenge conventional scripts. Participants were successful in navigating identity and intimacy, and established rewarding relationships. Further research is needed to better understand the potential of relationships to facilitate resilience and health in the face of stigma and minority stress.

    Category: Family and Relationships