Exploring the physical education experiences of transgender and gender-nonconforming adolescents: Findings from the Playbright theatre-based research project


The unwelcoming nature of physical education for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) has been thoroughly established through research relying on retrospective accounts with LGBTQ+ adults. Our recent scoping review of empirical research focusing on LGBTQ+ student experiences in physical education further demonstrates that our understandings of adolescent transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) students’ experiences are grossly underdeveloped. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore how self-identified TGNC adolescents understand and express their experiences with physical education. We convened Playbright, a two-week playwriting program with 5 TGNC adolescents (Mage = 15 years), which involved activities, discussions, and writing with prompts related to a variety of physical activity settings and scenarios. Data relevant to their physical education experiences are derived from discussion transcripts, the products and discussions surrounding a collaborative poetry writing exercise, and facilitator reflective notes. We undertook a reflexive thematic analysis and identified five main themes that characterized participants’ physical education experiences: (1) exclusion and marginalization, (2) a general lack of inclusivity where physical education is for fit white cis-het neurotypical men, (3) bullying and social hierarchies, (4) neglect of mental health, and (5) desire for personal improvement and alternative activities. The discussions and poems were characterized by an interplay of resignation and resistance which signaled the participants’ grappling with their charged physical education experiences. These findings provide insight into how TGNC adolescents perceive physical education programming and how to support more positive, inclusive student experiences across the gender spectrum.