Experiences of Ambiguous Loss for Parents of Transgender Male Youth: A Phenomenological Exploration

Deborah Coolhart, Kayla Ritenour, Anna Grodzinski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Little research exists on the emotional experiences of family members in general, and in particular, the parents of transgender individuals during their disclosure or transition. The current literature on the family members of transgender individuals provides various models of emotional processing. These models are based on clinical work and experience with transgender individuals and their families, rather than on research. All of these models include many different emotional experiences and experiences of loss for family members. Thus, models describing loss and ambiguous loss are also helpful in understanding these experiences. This study explored parents’ experiences of ambiguous loss and manifestations of loss of their transgender male youth after the discovery or disclosure of the youth’s gender identity. Participants completed in-depth semi-structured interviews and data were analyzed using interpretive phenomenological analysis. Findings suggest some parents experience ambiguous loss while others do not. Findings also suggest that some parents experience feelings of grief as a manifestation of loss. Parents developed a variety of methods to cope with ambiguous loss; some of these methods were specific to the participant’s gender. Clinical implications are discussed, suggesting strategies for therapists working with parents of transgender youth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-41
Number of pages14
JournalContemporary Family Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018


  • Ambiguous loss
  • Loss
  • Parents
  • Transgender youth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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