Pictured above, Adrian Carli.
~ By Kaitlin C. Meier, student writer for the College of Arts and Humanities
Adrian Carli, a communication student who recently received her B.A. from Fresno State, presented her piece “Mourning the Living: Grieving a Transgender Relative’s Previous Gender Identity” at the Western States Communication Association’s 15th annual Undergraduate Scholars Research Conference Feb. 16, in Santa Clara.
The inspiration for “Mourning the Living: Grieving a Transgender Relative’s Previous Gender Identity” came from Carli’s own experience as a transgender woman. She expressed that her transition put some initial stress on her family:
“For the first several months of my transition, my mother would look really sad whenever I wore something feminine or mentioned being transgender around her,” Carli said. “When I finally asked her why, she told me ‘I feel like my son has died.’ This struck me because, while I was no longer her son, I was still very much alive and much happier than I’d ever been.”
Upon speaking with other transgender people, Carli found they had shared similar experiences with their family members.
“Knowing that this sense of grief over a loved one’s previous gender presentation was also experienced by other families made me want to figure out why this happened, and that’s how I chose this topic for my project,” Carli said.
The piece began as a final project for a Family Communication course Carli took last spring with Dr. Falon Kartch, assistant professor for the Department of Communication, who suggested that she submit the paper for the conference.
Kartch has been supportive of Carli through her project development process, stating, “She is a great example of what our passionate, motivated students can achieve!”
Under Kartch’s guidance, Carli further developed the project into the fall by conducting more research and collecting data, including qualitative interviews with 14 people about their experiences with a relative’s (child or sibling) transition.
Though Carli found that interviewing on a personal topic can be an emotional process, she enjoyed the research being conducted:
“Part of what I liked most with the interviews was having a list of questions I would ask every interviewee, but most of the time the conversations would lead to all different kinds of trans-related things,” Carli said. “It showed me that academic research doesn’t have to be this rigid, structured thing — it can be super dynamic and lead you to all kinds of different places.”
This year, the WSCA conference, which engages students of various academic levels, had a theme focused on “Mindfulness and Communication,” where Carli presented in panel three of the second session.
Carli’s research is relatively new in the communication field she is exploring:
“To my knowledge, I’m only the second person in the communication field to research mourning a living transgender relative, so I knew I would be able to give thoughtful, intelligent answers to audience member’s questions,” Carli said.
This was Carli’s second conference. She has also presented her previous work at the Far West Popular Culture Association 2017 conference in Las Vegas.
Now that she has completed her B.A., Carli hopes to enter graduate school this fall to work toward becoming a collegiate communication instructor and researcher, focusing on gender and transgender issues through the lens of communication and finding practical, applicable solutions to problems transgender people face.
Carli also presented her work in one of the four “Fresno Writers Live” performances at the Rogue Festival Sunday, March 4. The annual festival showcases independent artists and takes place March 1-10 at the Spectrum Art Gallery, 608 E. Olive Ave, in Fresno’s Tower District.