“The most important thing is that my parents have accepted me, it does not matter what society says”: Our Health Matters Report on Family Experiences
Authors: Aakanshya Aryal, Sahil Jamal Siddiqui, Vihaan Vee, Ritwik, Heather Santos, Ayden Scheim
“The world can say, ‘if you don’t get support from your family, then why should we support you?’.
The world can start from family. If your parents are with you, then it isn’t an issue whether
friends, girlfriends, or boyfriends are with you or not.” (26, Thane, Hindu, OBC)
Our Health Matters
Our Health Matters is a community-based participatory research study of trans men’s and transmasculine people’s health in India. The study uses qualitative (in-depth interviews) and quantitative (survey) methods to explore and bring attention to transmasculine1 people’s experiences in society and how they impact our health and well-being.
The project is led by an all-transmasculine Steering Committee and a team of trans and non-trans researchers from Drexel University (Philadelphia, USA), the Population Council (New Delhi), and other organizations in India, Canada, and the USA. Project partners include TWEET Foundation and Transmen Collective. Visit our website – ourhealthmatters.in for more information about the study team.
- In this report, we use “transmasculine” to be inclusive of trans men and non-binary people.
Family support plays an important role for trans and non-binary people of all ages. Family support can help protect one against the negative impacts of social stigma and positively impacts overall health and well-being. For example, studies conducted among trans adults and young people in North America have found that gender-related family support is related to higher levels of resilience, better mental health, and higher quality of life.1,2 In contrast, gender-related discrimination from families is related to increased psychological distress.1
Few studies have explored family experiences of trans people in India. A recent qualitative study focusing on trans men in India found that participants began to experience family pressure to conform to their assigned gender role in adolescence, and often had to conceal their gender identity at home, leading to stress.3 Most faced negative reactions when they disclosed their gender identity, sometimes including verbal or physical violence. Due to lack of family support, misgendering, and lack of freedom in their daily lives, some participants left the family home or used alcohol or drugs to cope. However, a few participants reported that some family members reacted positively to their disclosure, or that their families became more accepting over time. Research with trans women in India has also highlighted the complexity of family experiences. For example, some described receiving conditional acceptance from parents, who privately accepted their gender identity but placed restrictions on interactions with transgender peers or neighbors, wearing preferred clothing outside of the home, or accessing medical gender transition.4
This report focuses on experiences of family support and rejection among trans men and transmasculine people who participated in interviews as part of Our Health Matters, a community-based research study.
Who did we speak to?
We spoke to 40 trans men who ranged in age from 20-50 (average= 28) and lived in 10 states in India. Participants self-identified with varying socio-economic, caste, and religious backgrounds. All interviews were conducted in Hindi or Marathi.
How did we collect and analyze our data?
In the first phase of Our Health Matters, in-depth interviews were conducted by peer researchers (trans men) via telephone or video conference in July and August 2021, following a semi-structured interview guide. The interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and then translated to English. The interview guide focused on family experiences, social and community support, experiences of discrimination and safety, mental health, and access to health care.
The interview transcripts were analyzed by four team members with previous experience in qualitative data analysis. Steering Committee members participated in interpreting the data and writing this report. To provide additional context, we provide some available demographic details (age, location, religion, caste) for each participant quoted.
What did we find?
Participants had diverse experiences with their families during childhood, when disclosing their trans identities, and after socially and/or medically transitioning. Although we present results about acceptance and rejection separately in this report, participants often experienced shifts in family support over time:
“Initially, they were very much accepting of it. I have always wanted to change my gender, they always said that you are free, whatever you want to do, so they were accepting of it. However, when I started to transition, and changes started to happen, they didn’t understand the intensity of changes that I was going through and they started neglecting me and I did not get the support I needed at that time.” (23, Hyderabad, Hindu)
“My family didn’t like it.…It took me two years to make them understand. Two years later they said yes to me. Now I have the full support of my father, mother, and my married sister.” (25, Mumbai, Hindu, OBC)
In addition, participants expressed varying levels of support from different family members such as parents, siblings, and relatives:
“My elder sister is like my mother to me. She understood all of this. “I will support you in whatever you do next,” she said.” (28, Bhandra, Hindu, OBC)
“I have an uncle who has supported me with surgery.” (45, Mumbai, Hindu, OBC)
In this report, we describe how family acceptance and rejection were experienced by participants and how the same impacted their well-being. Expressions of family acceptance included not interfering with gender expression (e.g., choice of clothing), assistance with accessing or recovering from medical procedures, and affirmation of the participant’s identity, chosen name, and pronouns. Expressions of family rejection included pressure to maintain a feminine gender expression or to get married, attempts at “conversion therapy”, or being forced to leave the family home to transition. Some participants were not free to express their gender or transition because of restrictions placed on them as people labeled female at birth. While family rejection had very negative impacts on participants, family support improved their mental health and facilitated acceptance from relatives and the wider community.
Finally, based on these findings, we make recommendations for future research and programs to increase family support for trans men and transmasculine people in India.
Impacts of Family Acceptance and Rejection
Strategies used by transmasculine people to gain family support
Conclusion and Recommendations
The findings in this report support previous research indicating that family support and acceptance are critical for trans and non-binary people’s well-being at every stage of life. They also highlight unique aspects of the family experiences of trans men and transmasculine people in India, as compared to their peers in other countries. Specifically, a recurring sentiment expressed was that family acceptance was the most important factor for participants’ well-being and ability to move forward in life, reflecting the central societal importance of parents, families, and relatives. Conversely, a lack of family support hindered transmasculine people’s ability to express their gender or transition, even as adults. This may reflect the ways that the choices and opportunities of transmasculine people are constrained by patriarchal gender norms impacting children labeled as girls at birth.
We also found that participants were resilient and creative in finding strategies to gain family support and access transition care, if they needed it. In addition to the educational and communication strategies described in the previous section, participants made recommendations for social policies and programs that could increase family acceptance for transmasculine people in India.
Participants suggested that many people don’t understand the meaning of being trans. Therefore, education and awareness about transgender persons is critical:
“We also need to give support and try from outside because they don’t know about transmen. It is our responsibility to explain them. Some parents don’t understand, but mine support me.” (26, Thane, Hindu, OBC)
“Awareness should be created for that first. It should start from your home.” (28, Mumbai, Hindu, SC)
Participants expressed that along with advocacy by themselves and trans peers, access to counseling for family members is important.
“Along with our counselling, there should be counselling of parents too so that they do not harass their children so much, not kill them or make them leave the house, or have to commit suicide.” (40, Nagpur, Hindu)
Research on transmasculine health is scarce in India, particularly research that takes a community-based approach. Our Health Matters is an attempt to fill this gap and provide relevant information to promote transmasculine health. Through this research, we examined the experiences of trans men with disclosing their gender identities and navigating transition processes with their families. To identify ideal strategies to increase family acceptance, qualitative research to understand the perspective of cisgender (non-trans) family members would be quite valuable.
|Some resources for family education and support: |
Orinam: a bilingual website (Tamil and English) associated with Chennai-based social-supports-arts-advocacy group Orinam. The website features videos, blogs, poems and podcasts by members of LGBT community along with information on alternate sexualities and gender identities.
Sweekar – The Rainbow Parents : A group formed by parents of LGBTQ+ community to advocate for the community and facilitate acceptance.