Taylor Field '15 Receives National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship

May 18, 2016

Kasey Cheydleur

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has selected Taylor Field ’15, currently pursuing a degree at University of Michigan, to receive a graduate research fellowship for her research on the parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children.

The NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) provides three years of financial support, a $34,000 annual stipend, and a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for students in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines pursuing research-based degrees. In 2016, the GRFP received 17,000 applications and made 2,000 awards, 30 of which were in sociology.

Field, a sociology and gender, sexuality, and feminist studies double major at Oberlin, began her research in 2013 as an independent winter-term project. She interviewed 60 parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children. She recruited her subjects from PFLAG, a national support group that provides a model of "activist parenting," and one of the first national organizations to include “transgender” in its mission statement.

She developed her research in private readings and summer research assistantships, receiving the Jerome Davis Research Award and the Comfort Starr Award. She was invited to present her research at PFLAG chapters in California, traveling there in winter term 2014, where she was interviewed on public radio and conducted further in-person interviews. In 2015, she completed her sociology honors thesis and GSFS capstone, PFLAG Narratives: Parenting LGBT Children, making public presentations at Oberlin Celebration of Undergraduate Research and the Center for Learning, Education, and Research in the Sciences, and the Northeast Ohio Undergraduate Sociology Symposium at Kent State University.

In April 2016, Field published the first piece of her study, “Parenting Transgender Children in PFLAG,” in the peer-reviewed Journal of GLBT Families with coauthor Greggor Mattson, associate professor of sociology. The article analyzes 14 of her interviews with the parents of transgender children who recounted four ways in which their parenting experiences were more difficult and isolating than those of the parents of lesbian, bisexual, or gay children: the physical changes their children undergo, the lack of media representations of transgender lives, the effect of their child’s gender transition on their identity as a parent, and the tensions involved in their child’s successful transition in public settings. The isolation faced by parents of transgender children is imposed not only by anti-trans prejudice and lack of information, but also by the unacknowledged and undiscussed ways in which a child’s gender transition affects parental gender identities. Her study found parental isolation may be alleviated, however, by recognizing four unrecognized similarities shared among parents of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children: adjusting to changes in their child’s appearance, the process of grief and mourning, the tendency to hierarchically rank parental difficulties, and fears of being a bad parent.

During her time at Oberlin, Field served as a promotion and campus sustainability outreach worker for the Office of Environmental Sustainability. She also held positions at the Oberlin Review, serving as managing editor for two years and as the web, outreach, and layout manager.

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