Learning to Thrive in a Binary World: Understanding the Gendered Experiences of Nonbinary Individuals and Ways to Bolster Wellbeing
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Traditionally, gender has been viewed through an essentialist lens with fixed biology-based traits or polarized gender norms between women and men. As awareness of gender diversity grows, increasingly more people identify as nonbinary – or not exclusively a man or woman. Despite a growing literature on the experiences of binary transgender individuals, little has been explored regarding experiences unique to nonbinary individuals. The research that does include nonbinary individuals focuses primarily on adverse risks and outcomes. As such, a dearth of empirical research exists to understand the unique experiences of nonbinary people and how they relate to wellbeing. A qualitative participatory action study using PhotoVoice was conducted virtually to address the identified gaps in the literature on nonbinary individuals concerning gendered experiences and wellbeing. Prevailing theories of wellbeing informed the study along with minority stress theory and the resilience literature to account for environmental factors of oppression and individual and community resilience. A sample of 17 nonbinary adults in the Midwestern United States was recruited using convenience sampling and participated in online group discussions and individual interviews. The findings were reported in sections corresponding with the three study aims: 1) Explore core dimensions of wellbeing as defined by nonbinary individuals, 2) Identify promotive and corrosive factors of that wellbeing, and 3) Provide recommendations to bolster nonbinary wellbeing. The findings provided a thorough description of how nonbinary individuals perceive their wellbeing concerning their gender and as part of a marginalized population. Thematic analysis identified nine wellbeing themes for how participants conceptualized their wellbeing (e.g., Exploring gender identity and expression, Being connected to community, etc.), seven themes of promotive and corrosive factors of wellbeing (e.g., Positive, accurate, and nuanced representation, Coping skills to manage minority stressors, etc.), and three themes of recommendations (e.g., personal, interpersonal, and professional) with eighteen strategies to bolster wellbeing among nonbinary individuals and communities. The significance of the findings to social work was discussed, including practice application and advocacy. This study contributes to PhotoVoice methodology, wellbeing literature, and trans literature.