“I’ve always been chronically ill. It took many years and lots of doctors to diagnose both my mom and I with the same condition: Ehlers Danlos Syndrome— a genetic connective tissue disease. So I didn’t grow up in a conventional situation. I missed out on a lot of activities. I was always in the hospital, sick, or doing testing. But I managed to make it through. However, it continued to get worse as I got older. Especially since I found out I had an underlying progressive neurological condition as well.
Growing up I always knew my life and my body wasn’t like other kids. Mentally I didn’t feel matched up either. I came out as trans around 13-14 years of age. I didn’t have a lot of support or resources. Especially not from my parents. The journey towards transition has been an uphill battle. Surgeries, medications, mobility devices, and complex rare conditions into a transition make everything muddy. It was incredibly difficult to make my body work and coexist with all I was throwing at it and all it was throwing back at me. It just kept feeling like being kicked down again and again.
Yet I kept standing back up. I’ve always been a determined person. A committed person. When I set my mind to something that’s it, I’m going to do it. I made a promise to myself I’d learn to be ME and to love myself for ME. I promised to embrace transition and move with the constant evolutions of myself.
When you’re chronically ill you get to see a different side of the medical field. One you could live the rest of your life without seeing. Unfortunately, when you’re in and out of the system you don’t really have a choice. You get up close and personal with all the horrors revealed. You learn sometimes doctors don’t care. Sometimes they’re abusive, dismissive, and cold. You learn they can make huge and life threatening mistakes. You start to understand money has a lot to do with it and it often rears its ugly head in insurance phone calls and arguments. You realize sometimes you fight tooth and nail to obtain life saving treatments that either don’t work out or insurance won’t cover. It’s a lot to take in. You try to breathe it in and keep moving forward but I’m going to be honest, sometimes it gets really hard to clench your teeth and move on.
Recently I had a destructive moment like this. This entire month I’ve been in and out of the hospital with feeding tube complications. This past time I arrived at the ER was for one of these tube complications. This is my regular and local hospital I normally go to and have good staff relationships with. Unfortunately, I had the displeasure of meeting a doctor I hadn’t seen before. I lifted my shirt to show him the tube. Accidentally I lifted it a bit too far, revealing my scars from top surgery. He stared. I knew he was staring. After a couple of silent minutes he asked, ‘What parts do you have?’
I said, ‘Excuse me?’
He repeated himself.
I mentioned he was welcome to read my medical chart stating everything about my transition, but I was uncomfortable being interrogated about this.
He continued to argue with me and pressure me into saying it out loud.
I kept refusing.
Instead of doing the right thing and going to read my chart he decided putting his hands on me was the ‘right’ thing to do. But since I refused to answer him, he decided sexually assaulting me was the way to go, so he could find out for himself.
I wish this scenario was rare. But it’s happened to me and a number of trans folks too many times. A lot of medical professionals and people in general don’t know how to appropriately interact with transgender individuals. Instead they let bias and misconceptions rule their thoughts and actions. They walk away unscathed, but it’s us who suffer and leave with more scars than we started with.
So what can we do? How can we treat transgender patients better?
•Ask about preferred names or pronouns: Make it clear to the patient you want to respect them and acknowledge them appropriately during their stay. If you feel uncomfortable asking or are hit with defensiveness from the patient, resort to using they/them pronouns or don’t use any and instead just refer to their name.
•Use caution when asking sensitive questions: Sometimes it’s necessary to ask for a pregnancy test or about contraceptives. Keep in mind this might be a sensitive topic for a trans patient. Use open minded speech and be patient with their answers. Make it clear to the patient this information is pertinent to their health. Try to refrain from using words that specify certain genitals. If you see a doctor/nurse disrespecting or asking unnecessary questions report them immediately.
•Trans broken arm syndrome: This is the assumption any and all medical issues are a result of being trans (even a broken arm). You come in for a headache and suddenly you’re lectured on how it MUST be the ‘hormones you’re on’. This is one of the ways the medical field fails trans individuals. We are repeatedly unheard and not treated properly due partially to this phenomenon.
•Don’t deny healthcare: The laws surrounding trans patients are very unclear. We don’t obtain a lot of protection or privacy from the government. Private practices often get away with slipping bioethics into their clauses to deny trans patients. However, hospitals can NOT turn away a trans patient in an emergency setting. Be an ally and stand up for trans patients in emergency settings.
We have a long way to go. Don’t turn the other cheek if this doesn’t affect you. No matter who you are you should be disgusted at how other human beings are being treated in these scenarios. If you’re a medical professional: keep learning and growing. We need you to stand up and be an ally. Teach your colleagues what you know and spread the word. Thank you to all the medical professionals already doing the most and standing up for trans patients. I see you and I know you exist. Your actions and efforts are not in vain.
If you’re a trans patient: don’t give up. The more you learn the better educated you’ll be to advocate for yourself. Always keep up to date with the newest laws and research available. Remember you’re never alone, there’s so many people behind you.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Julian Gavino of Florida. You can follow his journey on Instagram here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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