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Learning to endure: A qualitative examination of the protective factors of homeless transgender and gender expansive youth engaged in survival sex

NCJ Number
Date Published
14 pages

This study examined how transgender and gender expansive (TGE) youth who are homeless and engaging in survival sex describe and understand the protective factors present in their lives.


Transgender and gender expansive (TGE) youth face a number of adversities that are associated with deleterious consequences, including mental health problems, substance misuse, suicide, and homelessness; however, there is evidence that TGE youth still demonstrate resilience under extraordinary conditions. In the current study, in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with 57 TGE youth living in a large U.S. city. Participants were 17-26 years old (M = 19.88, SD = 1.55), and identified as transgender woman (53 percent), transgender man (16 percent), and other (32 percent; gender-queer, gender-fluid, androgynous, or non-binary). Youth identified as Black (40 percent), multiracial (35 percent), Latinx (16 percent), White (5 percent), and as another race (3 percent). Researchers conducted a secondary analysis of qualitative data using thematic analysis. The study identified three themes to capture youth’s understanding of their protective factors: relying on oneself and others to avoid violence, accessing gender-affirming health and mental health care, and proactively maintaining sexual health. Participants described strategies for mitigating risk of harm while attempting to meet their basic needs. In addition, they discussed the importance of having gender-affirming health and mental health services. Participants also expressed keen awareness of their sexual health risks and making calculated, often proactive decisions about their sexual health. The protective factors described by TGE youth reflect the unique ways in which hyper-marginalized youth must navigate their own survival and well-being and align with literature suggesting resilience is not mutually exclusive from risk. By focusing on TGE youth, this research privileges the experiences of individuals historically underrepresented in research and encourages future research to incorporate these perspectives into policies and programs. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2021