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Published 15 March 2024

Community research with trans young people: it takes a village

Project Village team members from right to left: Dr Jaimie Veale (AI), Tara Ravi (MA student), Dr Julia de Bres (PI), Ia Morrison-Young (MA student and Research Assistant), Freya Scott (MA student) and Alex Ker (advisory group member) (photo supplied).

Anyone doing research with, and for, trans communities needs to have the right team. Using their Marsden Fund Standard Grant, Project Village is wrapping support around its dream team of community researchers.

Trans young people in Aotearoa often report lower wellbeing than cisgender (non-trans) youth, due to experiences of stigma and discrimination. We know that family support is protective for trans young people, but research to date has largely focused on the perspectives of white, middle-class parents in nuclear families. We need to diversify this picture, recognising that family can involve whānau (extended family), friends, chosen family, and even pets! Project Village seeks to explore these diverse family experiences, by researching what good family support looks like for trans young people of different social and cultural backgrounds in Aotearoa. 

Principal Investigator Dr Julia de Bres and Research Assistant Ia Morrison-Young, from Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University, knew they needed to have the right team to do this research. All team members are closely connected to trans communities. Ia (Te Ātiawa and Pākehā) will do their Master’s research with trans and takatāpui young people and their whānau. Freya Scott (Tongan, Samoan and Pākehā) and Tara Ravi (Indian and Malaysian) will do Master’s research with Pacific and Asian trans young people and their families, respectively. The team is co-led by Associate Investigator Dr Jaimie Veale, an international expert in trans health at Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato The University of Waikato.  

Having the right team is one part of the picture, but they also need to be supported to do their work. The Project Village team is guided by a community advisory group, who bring expertise in health and wellbeing in Māori, Asian, Pacific and Pākehā trans communities. This summer, the team went on a week-long retreat, where they received training in interviewing techniques, reflected on their own family support experiences, considered how their cultural values influence their research, and practiced interviewing each other. Alex Ker, a PhD researcher in trans health at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington and advisory group member, came along to help train the team.  Tara says, “it was a special experience to bond with each other during this trip, and I feel like we know and trust each other a lot more now.”

The team also recently attended a psychology training day with two psychologists who work with trans and queer young people in Aotearoa. One was community psychologist, advisory group member and research tuakana Rebekah Anna (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Unu), who did her own Master’s research with rangatahi takatāpui. As she put it, “it takes a village to raise a Master’s student, too”. The training focused on how to keep the trans young people participating in the research safe, including how to make them feel comfortable, manage family dynamics, and respond to participants in distress. It also focused on how to keep the researchers safe.  As the team all have lived experience relevant to the project, they are likely to be emotionally affected by the research as well. Freya says, “after the training, I feel much more confident going into the interviews. I feel reassured that I have a team around me and I’m not going into this alone”.

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Rebekah Anna (advisory group member) visits Wellington to train the Master’s students in the psychological aspects of undertaking research with trans young people (photo supplied).

Alongside their academic supervision, the Project Village Master’s students each have funding to engage a cultural supervisor to guide them in cultural aspects related to their research. The students can choose who they want to advise them and in what areas. For Ia, restoring the mana of trans and takatāpui people means connecting with whakapapa alongside mātauranga. “I’d love to find a takatāpui supervisor, or someone from my iwi, Te Ātiawa”. 

With all this support in place, PI Julia de Bres is confident that the Project Village team will be empowered to do their best work. The Master’s students are soon to start their interviews with trans young people across Aotearoa. Julia says “alongside the benefits for the research itself, it is an absolute delight to have this opportunity to build capacity among emerging researchers from the community. I’m so proud to be a part of their village.”



Additional information: Learn more on the Project Village website