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Researching and Improving New Online Spaces to Support Transgender Wellbeing

When people transition from one gender to another, physical and emotional changes are important for improved emotional wellbeing. Yet changes happen relatively slowly and may not be visible to oneself or one’s network on a day-to-day basis. Social media technologies can help transgender and non-binary people document physical and emotional changes by enabling them to view their changes over time and connect with people who share similar identities. However, although many trans people use social media regularly, existing social media platforms were not designed specifically for trans users, and thus have many limitations for trans people. For example, existing social media sites are sometimes difficult for trans users because current content is often tied with past content, identity presentation is constrained, identity experimentation can be difficult, and gender may not be asked about or displayed in respectful ways. In this study we investigate a new social media platform, Trans Time, which was designed specifically for trans and non-binary people to document their gender transitions and interact with others going through similar changes. Trans Time displays innovative timelines that enable users to scroll back and forth through time across different physical, emotional, and social elements of their transition. Documenting transition in new ways within a trans online community can be empowering while at the same time improving wellbeing for trans people. We will conduct interviews and user tests to understand how the unique temporal and community elements of gender transition can best be represented on social media sites. This research will help us to understand how to best use technology to support trans populations, and to enable trans populations to support and empower themselves and each other. Transition can be a difficult and isolating time for many, particularly when families and friends are unsupportive. We aim to harness social technologies to enable people to build community, which can reduce some of the distress people face during transition.

Principal Investigator: Oliver Haimson

Co-investigators: Briar Baron

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The amount of the award is $10,000 for UMSI for the project period. The grant is funded by the U-M Institute for Research on Women and Gender (IRWG).