A Phenomenological Study of Identity and Relationship Negotiation within Latter-day Saint (Mormon) Couples with a MtF Gender Variant Partner
Texas Tech University
The field of Marriage and Family Therapy maintains an appreciation for the diverse experience of couples and families. In various mental health fields there is a growing body of research that explores the concerns of individuals who experience gender dysphoria and/or a variant gender identity, including the processes of resolving internal conflict and seeking congruency in their gender identity. Some ways in which individuals have sought congruency include forms of variant or non-normative gender expression, including hormonal, social or surgical transition, as well as through other non-transitioning methods. There is little research, however, exploring those processes as they are navigated within the context of marital relationships, and there is no published research exploring the experience of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (i.e., Mormons), which has a unique theology of gender and relationship endurance beyond death that is organized by gender—a theology which has the potential to present both additional resources in the process of subjective meaning-making and additional existential conflicts that can affect mental health and relationship resilience. This dissertation is an attempt to better understand the internal subjective and interpersonal relationship processes that individuals and couples experience in the process of seeking congruence in both gender and relationship identity. This study utilized an inductive phenomenological methodology to interview and analyze couples’ experiences to answer the following research questions:
What is the range and diversity of experience of married couples in which one partner experiences gender dysphoria or a variant gender identity? What are some of the questions and personal and relational needs of the partner who experiences gender dysphoria or a variant gender identity? What are some of the questions and personal and relational needs of the partner who does not experience gender dysphoria or a variant gender identity? What attempts have there been to solicit the aid of resources external to the relationship (i.e., family, non-profit, religious, therapeutic, medical, etc.)? How have these resources felt helpful and/or hurtful by either or both partners? How has Mormonism’s theological concept of gender affected the way either partner interprets or relates to the experience of gender incongruence, either as resource or stressor? How has belief in and/or adherence to Mormon faith broadly affected the way either partner interprets or relates to the experience of gender incongruence, either as resource or stressor?
Ten couples participated in a 1.5-2-hour semi-structured interview exploring various questions related to personal narrative and negotiated processes of seeking congruence. Data from those interviews was then be transcribed and analyzed using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA).