Appearance and acceptance: Toward a sociology of familial responses to gender transition
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This dissertation provides an analysis of transgender individuals' accounts of their experiences with family acceptance and rejection. Based on interviews with 25 transwomen and 25 transmen, I find that family members are heavily invested in their loved ones' gendered appearance. In the first empirical chapter I argue that transgender peoples' definitions of family acceptance and rejection are mediated by pervasive social stigma. Interviewees overwhelmingly talked about limiting their expectations for family acceptance. I suggest that the process of defining acceptance as simply the lack of abuse or ostracism is a resilience strategy for transgender people. In the second empirical chapter I use intersectional analysis to explore how family members emphasize social class in their messages about acceptable masculinity, and beauty and sexuality in their messages about acceptable femininity. In the third empirical chapter I explore the different kinds of support that accepting family members provide during medical transition. I find that emotional and instrumental support from family members helps transgender individuals successfully navigate barriers created by social stigma within the medical arena. This research makes contributions to several areas of scholarship including sociology of gender, family sociology, beauty work, and transgender studies.