The life paths of transgender youth are often hampered by unwelcoming social structures. Through her research and her activism, Annie Pullen Sansfaçon is working to make the voices of these young people and their families heard in an effort to correct these injustices.
Right off the bat, the researcher from the School of Social Work at Université de Montréal makes her position clear: "I don't conduct research ‘on' transgender people, but with them." Her research is co-constructed with transgender people, who are participants rather than simple "study subjects".
Traditional research on transgender people tends to focus on personal aspects of their transition from one gender to the other, yet their life paths can only be understood in relation to social structures. Annie Pullen Sansfaçon therefore turned her attention to social conditions and structures in order to shed light on the factors and conditions that encourage or, conversely, prevent, transgender youth from realizing their full potential. This is the subject of research she is currently conducting in partnership with several actors and organizations in Montréal's trans community, aimed at understanding the experiences of transgender youth between the ages of 15-25 in Québec.
She is applying a methodology inspired by a self-management approach developed largely by one of her mentors, David Ward, from Montfort University in England, under whom she wrote her doctoral thesis. "It is a group intervention aimed at empowering participants by raising awareness of the structural conditions that oppress them," summarizes the researcher.
This innovative approach has not been widely used with transgender people who, highly marginalized and struggling with a high suicide rate, benefit greatly from an inclusive and respectful approach aimed at providing them with the chance to be heard.
Thought and action
Herself the mother of a transgender child, Annie Pullen Sansfaçon is in a good position to understand the challenges facing such children and their families on a daily basis. Having admitted to having chosen social work because she wanted to help others, she is now translating words into action.
Cofounder of the support group Gender Creative Kids Canada, she and her daughter, Olie Pullen, received the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse Rights and Freedoms Award 2016 in recognition of their work on behalf of the rights of trans children. The researcher's activism also contributed to the tabling of Bill 103 aimed at fighting transphobia and reducing the administrative obstacles that hinder the recognition of a trans person's gender, such as changing the designation of sex on their birth certificate.
While Annie Pullen Sansfaçon stresses the importance of university research into the situation of transgender people, she would also like to see more transgender people succeeding at university and becoming researchers themselves. But in order to foster their academic success, there need to be changes in the university environment. Transgender students experience daily humiliations such as gendered bathrooms and the refusal of administrations to change the first names and pronouns they use to designate them. In universities, as elsewhere, there is still work to be done to help transgender people reach their full potential.