Loving beyond Gender: Family Experiences of Transgender Loved Ones

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

Year of Completion


First Advisor

Danielle Knafo


Clinical issues related to gender-variant individuals remain largely overlooked in psychological research and literature. Even less research has been dedicated to understanding the emotional, cognitive, and interpersonal challenges family members of transgender individuals face after learning of a loved one's gender variance. The scant literature that does exist on this topic has been based on therapists' experiences working with the families of transgender individuals, as well as case studies. The current study explores the experiences of families of transgender individuals by using a qualitative research method designed by Auerbach and Silverstein (2003) as the basis for data collection, coding, and analysis. The fifteen participants, family members of a transgender loved one (over half of whom were parents), were interviewed in recorded focus groups (six total). The transcripts of the interviews served as the data for analysis. The primary investigator coded the transcripts along with two coders, and organized the data into relevant text, repeating ideas, themes, and theoretical constructs. The theoretical constructs reveal the transformative developmental process family members experience after learning of a loved one's transgender identity. The data are consistent with Kübler-Ross's (1969) model of bereavement, which previous authors have drawn upon to describe how family members cope with a transgender member. The following five theoretical constructs captured family members' experiences: emotional distress following the discovery of a family member's transgender identity; family members' emotional and behavioral adaptations; negative interpersonal impact on family; recognizing and coping with practical challenges; and acceptance and advocacy.