Communicating Organizational and Transgender Intersectional Identities: an Ethnography of a Transgender Outreach Center
Author(s)Eger, Elizabeth K.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies
Organizational Behavior and Theory
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AbstractThis dissertation examined the communicative construction of identity by members of a transgender outreach organization. It focused on how members’ communication created and modified organizational identities in relationship to participants’ individual identities. Through my three-year ethnography of and volunteering with the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico (TGRC), I conducted 415 hours of participant observation, 64 hours of semi-structured interviews (n=36), document analysis, and over nine hours of creative focus groups (n=5) of one of the only transgender-centered organizations in the United States. I investigated how TGRC members negotiated the significance of relevant individual and organizational identities, their relationships, and their implications for transgender organizational outreach. I argued that TGRC’s transgender-centered organizational outreach and their emic, ambiguous emphasis on their members’ intersectional identities revealed important complexities for organizational communication inquiry. My data analysis reviewed two salient identity intersections for many TGRC participants: (1) homeless and transgender identities and (2) indigenous and transgender identities, which both tied to other identity intersections. Next, I presented TGRC organizational identity ideals responding to participants’ transgender intersectional identities: (1) TGRC as family and (2) TGRC as support for all facets of transgender living. I then examined four communication constraints for sustaining those organizational identity ideals: (1) family tensions, (2) non-binary critiques, (3) Harm Reduction Program competition, and (4) Nonprofit Industrial Complex hegemony. My dissertation revealed theoretical and practical recommendations for studying the communicative construction of organizational identity for transgender intersectional outreach organizing. Specifically, we need increased understanding of how organizational members create organizational identities that account for complex, intersectional participant identities as they simultaneously organize around a strategic, focused identity category. This research offered a unique examination of the complexities of constructing organizational identities for an identity-based organization—collectives advancing outreach and justice for members “sharing” one or more social identities (e.g., race, disability, sexuality, etc.). I offer three future extensions for organizational identity research grounded in prior scholarship and in my ethnographic findings: (1) contrasting communication, (2) detypification, and (3) crystallized organizational identity using ambiguous intersectionality. I end by calling for future engaged transgender and intersectional organizational communication research.