Photovoice: A user-centered design method to understand apparel needs of Female to Male (FTM) in gender identity and expression

Morris, Kristen
Teti, Michelle
Young, Cole
Rolbiecki, Abigail
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Apparel plays a significant role in gender identity and expression. For females who are transitioning to male (FTM), clothing can be used to decrease stigma, discrimination, and body dysphoria during periods of transition. This project involved transgender men as active participants in a user-centered design process, known as photovoice. Photovoice is a participant-driven qualitative research strategy in which participants use images and discussions to express themselves, share ideas, and shape future apparel design by visually describing their design needs. To date, no apparel researchers have used photovoice methods for apparel design. Therefore, the purpose of this project was to use the photovoice method to understand trans apparel needs to make apparel a health-supportive part of the FTM transition experience. Sixteen FTM participants took part in the study in four focus groups of that lasted approximately 90 minutes each. Through the data analysis, it was revealed that the two primary roles of apparel in FTM identity are to reduce body dysphoria and help people "pass" as their desired gender. These findings were further broken down into symbolic and functional values where it is acknowledged that the symbolic and functional values are not mutually exclusive. The symbolic values were: Clothing can reveal group membership and grow self-confidence through self-expression while attempting to achieve body satisfaction. The functional values were: For FTM Individuals, clothing can be the source of physical and physiological discomfort and body shape and fit issues. Most of the clothing items used by participants to "pass" as male do not have any negative health implications. However, improperly wearing a chest binder can result in physical and physiological discomfort. Because of the intense pressure of the garment on the body, participants in our study experienced restricted breathing, reduction in arm range of motion, and thermal discomfort as it cannot be ventilated easily. In this exploratory research, both symbolic and functional values of apparel for FTM were addressed. Through the photovoice process, the participants were able to visually express the relationship of gender and clothing, possibly better than through dialogue alone. The next stage of this research will use the results of this data to specify design features that can be used to address symbolic and functional properties to inform novel design concepts for FTM.