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Study finds ‘othermothers’ are essential in supporting LGBTQ+ youth

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In a ground-breaking study focusing on LGBTQ+ youth, researchers have uncovered the pivotal role of “othermothers” in the lives of young queer and trans individuals, particularly in communities of color. The study, titled “Aunties, Aunts, and Tías: The Forgotten Othermother Supporting and Housing LGBTQ Youth,” sheds light on the significant but often overlooked support provided by extended family members, whether blood-related or not, in nurturing and protecting LGBTQ+ youth.

“Aunts and othermothers play a critical role in the lives of LGBTQ youth,” the authors wrote.

Conducted among 83 queer and trans young people in South Texas and Southern California, the study reveals how aunts and other similar figures act as vital allies. Those figures offer gender-affirming support and housing assistance, especially in cases where immediate family relationships are strained. These othermothers, a term traditionally used in Black communities to describe women who assist a mother after birth, have been found to play a comparable nurturing role for LGBTQ+ youth.

The researchers found that these aunts and othermothers offer an alternative source of comfort and love, stepping in where parents, influenced by societal norms, might fall short. They provide a buffer between the youth and other family members, particularly in situations where parents struggle with accepting their queer and trans children’s identities.

The study also highlights the unique position of aunties and othermothers in being less invested in imposing traditional gender and sexuality norms on their niblings, a gender-neutral term for the child of a sibling. This becomes crucial in the context of LGBTQ+ youth, who often face misunderstanding and lack of support within their family.

“Parents, especially fathers, are often consciously aware of trying to make their sons live up to hegemonic ideals of masculinity, and mothers often assume their children are heterosexual, discuss love and dating in terms of heterosexuality, and may erase LGBTQ+ people from their children’s lives,” the authors write.

Mitigating LGBTQ+ youth homelessness

Furthermore, the research underscores the severe challenges faced by LGBTQ+ youth, particularly those of color, in terms of homelessness and housing insecurity. The alarming statistics from studies by The Trevor Project and the University of Chicago point to the heightened risk of housing instability in this demographic, making the role of supportive extended family members even more critical.

In addition to providing shelter, the study notes the emotional support and safe space these othermothers offer. They act as confidantes for LGBTQ+ youth. They also allow open discussions about their dating lives and experiences, which is often not possible within the nuclear family setting.

The findings of this study are a call to reevaluate the focus of LGBTQ+ studies. This perspective shifts the traditional focus away from solely parent-child dynamics and to uncover the vital roles played by other family members in the support network.

“This study joins other scholars in not only decentering the nuclear family but also in interrogating what is missed in the lives of LGBTQ youth (and youth more generally) if scholars only focus on parent-child dynamics,” the authors said. “One thing missed is potentially how adult nonparental relatives can be a main source of social support, including housing support, for youth.”

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