Breaking the Cycle: Oral Histories of Trauma & Resilience among Unhoused Queer & Trans Youth in Ontario, from the 1970s to the 2010s

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Barrow, Steven
Queer , Houselessness , Homelessness , Youth , History , Trauma , Community
This dissertation is about queer and trans folks who experienced houselessness during their youth, between the 1970s and the 2010s in Ontario, Canada. These archival and oral history stories serve to mobilize knowledge about community building, poverty, and identity-based discrimination through a history of the present. They also reveal connections between people, organizations, policies, and historical patterns of dispossession that produced the conditions which caused or continue to perpetuate houselessness. My methodological framework is informed by several major theorists, notably Kiberle Crenshaw’s intersectionality, Eve Tuck’s desire-based framework, and Michel Foucault’s and Andrew Gorman-Murray’s analyses of space, power, and sexual embodiment. These approaches highlight the subjective uses for public space and provide ways to understand the impact of historical themes of dispossession on living, breathing people. With a focus on “houselessness” rather than the more traditional term “homelessness,” I emphasize the material scarcity associated with not having safe or stable housing, while acknowledging that many folks found a sense of home on the streets. Beginning with an analysis of these historical patterns, Chapters 1 and 2 discuss poverty in Canada from the 19th century onward, with a gradual focus on the construction of postwar heteronormativity and its impact on youth. Chapter 3 expands on themes of identity-based displacement through an analysis of the field of youth work and the question of cultural competency within service provision for queer youth. In Chapter 4, I explore the role of physical and conceptual space, with a focus on how people come together to form community. This togetherness and mutual support forms the backdrop for an analysis of trauma in Chapters 5 and 6, which ultimately posit a theory of resilience in history. In contextualizing these historical themes of poverty and disconnection with the agency of people to redefine the meaning of the past for themselves in the present, such a theory holds space for contradiction, temporal non-linearity, and reflexive understandings of personal and collective history. Taking this more fluid and discursive approach is necessary to conducting community-based work and knowledge mobilization with marginalized folks, whose subjective experiences and interpretations can often transcend traditional disciplinary approaches.
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