IMPROVING SURVEY MEASUREMENT QUESTIONS FOR SEXUAL MINORITIES AND THE TRANS POPULATION: TOWARD AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED NATURE OF THE TRANS LIFE COURSE
Ryan, John Michael
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Sexual minorities are a hidden population who are difficult for social researchers to analyze well. One specific group of sexual minorities, the transgender population, and how they understand their sometimes changing identities, may be especially complex to study. Not only is this sometimes a hidden population, but they may only identify as transgender at certain points in the life course, preferring other identity categories at different life stages and in different circumstances. I use the shortened term "trans" to refer to all members of what the hegemonic gendered order would consider gender non-conforming. Using the overarching sociological concepts of social constructionism and classification and drawing on a life course perspective, this dissertation explores how the self-identity of members of the trans community might shift across the life course. The goal then is to better understand trans identity awareness and developments across the life course in order to make better sense of existing survey data as well as to improve future questions related to trans identity. Analysis for this dissertation drew upon data collected from 139 in-depth cognitive interviews in both English and Spanish from a project related to testing a new sexual identity question for the National Health Interview Survey conducted by the Questionnaire Design Research Laboratory at the National Center for Health Statistics to explore how survey wording affects what researchers know, or think they know, about sexual identity distribution, particularly as it relates to trans identity. It also drew upon data collected from 10 in-depth qualitative interviews done with members of the trans community in order to explore how an understanding of the trans life course enables us to make better sense of the ways in which this group identifies on official surveys. A sociological approach, one particularly embedded in social constructionism, was used to address the improvement of a survey research question.