The Role of Popular Culture in the Gender Identity Development of Transgender Young People

Year: 2021

Author: Patlamazoglou, Lefteris, Tamayo, Roberto

Type of paper: Symposium

Recent evidence suggests that popular culture, such as movies, television programs and books play a vital role in the gender development of young people. Although, in recent years, there has been a rise in the visibility of transgender people in popular culture, the ways in which contemporary popular culture portrays transgender people and the influence this has on young transgender people remains underexplored.The present qualitative study draws from queer theory and aims to redress this gap by exploring the ways in which portrayals of transgender people in popular culture have impacted transgender identity development. To achieve this, we conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 10 transgender young people (16-21 years old) living in Australia. Using reflexive thematic analysis, we identified five main themes in participants’ accounts: (1) understanding the transgender experience; (2) harmful stereotypes of transgender people; (3) support and inspiration to navigate gender identity development; (4) movement beyond portrayals of transgender people in popular culture; and, (5) hope for the transgender community.The findings indicate that popular culture is an important source of education about the transgender experience. It improves the visibility and representation of transgender young people and inspires resilience through authentic transgender role models. However, the presence of transgender people in popular culture needs to be approached with caution as it may promote transnormative ideologies through a limited or inauthentic presentation of the transgender experience. The present findings extend the discussions of the impact of popular culture beyond portrayals of transgender people and gender identity. The findings also point to the integration of gender diversity into the educational system to facilitate proactive pedagogies that challenge cisgenderism and combat transphobia. Further practical implications regarding the wellbeing of transgender young people in schools and recommendations for further research exploring the dynamic relationship between popular culture and transgender young people are also discussed.