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Intersectional Lives, Intersectional Experiences: Exploring the Impact of Stigma in the Lives of African American Women


This intersectional, qualitative life history based narrative study explores the impact of stigma on the lives 10 African American women ages 21-55. All 10 women in the study also identify as transgender, transsexual, and transwomen. All of the women also primarily identified as women. Thus, one of the goals of this feminist investigation is to examine, position, and normalize these transwomen as women in contemporary research literature and in society in total. A culturally competent questionnaire was employed to guide the semi-structured, life-history based interviews. Theoretical frameworks of Intersectionality (Combahee River Collective, 1982; Crenshaw, 1993), Black Feminist Thought (Collins, 1991), Cross’ model of Black racial identity (Cross, 1971/1991), and the Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow,1954) were employed to gauge potential correlations between the impact of social stigma and feminist and female/woman group identities, African American race and racial group identities, and how the intersection of multiple oppressed identities interacts with their ability to obtain and sustain healthy, self-actualized, lives.

Participant responses were focused coded and grouped into 6 thematic categories (a) personal identity; (b) gender identity, transgender/transsexual or gender spectrum identity, female/woman identity, feminist understandings and/or identity, gender group connectedness; (c) racial group identity and Black community connectedness; (d) identity disclosure, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community connectedness, and political associations; (e) self-esteem, self-actualization, and self-concept; (f) relationships and love; and (g) stigma, discrimination, racism, sex work violence, trauma, suicide ideation, and isolation. A content analysis (Fetterman, 1998) was utilized alongside theoretical examinations.

Findings include: (a) African American transwomen experience an inordinate amount of social stigma that negatively impacts their mental and physical health, limits their ability to access the hierarchy of needs, and impedes their ability to maintain healthy lives; (b) African American transwomen are often ostracized from African American communities and kinship networks; they experiences most acts of violence from other African Americans, yet Black racial identity gave 8 out of 10 of the women a sense of empowerment and esteem; however, the relationship between Black racial identity and self-actualization was still low; (c) African American transwomen overwhelmingly express a desire to be seen, respected as, and protected as, women.

Keywords: African American Women; African American Transgender Women; Stigma; Intersectionality; Black Feminist Theory; Black Racial Identity; Hierarchy of Needs; Social Discrimination; Gender Identity; Narrative; Embodied Narrative; Life History; Violence; Trauma; Social Psychology; African American Studies; Women’s Studies; Gender Studies.

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