When I was first dealing with being transgender, I was 21 years old, in college, and nearly failing out because I was so confused and distressed about my gender. I needed help. I needed to talk to a professional that understood what I was dealing with. I called and made an appointment with a counselor at my university’s health center. I didn’t know what to expect going into that appointment. I wasn’t even 100% sure what I was feeling at that point, just that I was an emotional wreck and had to do something. The therapist called me into their office and asked me what was wrong. I embarrassingly explained my situation, that I thought I might be transgender but wasn’t sure. I felt like I should’ve been a girl, or wished I could become one. The therapist listened as I bared my soul to them, then told me, “I’m sorry but we can’t help you.” This was my first introduction to transgender healthcare.
It was shocking to have a healthcare provider flat out tell me they weren’t equipped to treat someone like me. It wasn’t like I had some undiscovered disease, or a brand new form of psychosis. I mean, transgender people have been around forever, and here at the dawn of the 21st century this counselor at a university health center couldn’t help me?
Thankfully, they were able to recommend me to a wonderful organization that specialized in gender dysphoria and gender identity issues. But the fact of the matter is that, 16 years later with all the strides that transgender individuals have made, access to safe, accurate, unbiased care for transgender people is still hard to come by. In 2011, The National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released a study of 6,000 transgender & gender non-conforming individuals reported serious barriers to health care. Due to discrimination and disrespect 28% postponed or avoided medical care when they were sick, and 33% delayed getting preventative care. Likewise, 50% of of those that answered the study said they felt their provider lacked knowledge about transgender related care. You can read the study here.
To be fair, healthcare providers do have a lack of understanding when it comes to the trans community because transgender care is often barely covered in medical training. Unless a provider consistently sees transgender patients, or specializes in treatments for transgender and gender non-conforming folks, then they are often at a loss with how to properly meet the needs of trans patients. But even when healthcare providers go into specialized fields like endocrinology (the study of hormones and the endocrine system), which can be critical or even lifesaving for trans people, many doctors are still uncomfortable or unwilling to treat transgender patients.
That’s why on Monday, April 4th I will be be presenting “Making Your Practice Transgender Friendly” at a conference for healthcare providers and their staff or anyone who wants to know more about how to improve their own understanding of the unique needs of trans people in health care settings. The conference is called “What Aren’t They Talking About?: Sex and Identity in Clinical Practice” and is sponsored by the Tool Shed and the Alverno College Women and Gender Studies Department.
The conference will also look at three other populations that often have difficulties discussing or accessing compassionate care: seniors, people with disabilities, and people who engage in kinky play. The other speakers at this event are Joan Price, who is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50 – How to Maintain-or Regain!- a Spicy Satisfying Sex Life ; Sofia Chase, who is a professional dominatrix and owner of Chicago Dungeon Rentals; and Robin Mandell, a writer and advocate focusing on the connections between sexuality and disabilities. This one day conference will provide continuing education credits (CE’s) for the Wisconsin Physical Therapy Association (WPTA) and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).
Full conference details and registration can be found by visiting: www.mkeshare.com.