Denied when you’re most vulnerable: Seeking medical care as a trans person

Many of you have experienced a trip to the emergency room. You find yourself in a state of panic because of the pain or worry and you can’t focus on anything else. You find yourself nervously whispering prayers while waiting for the doctor. Your hands grow clammy as the needles are inserted and the nurse writes this and that on the clipboard. The emergency room is a place full of anxiety and pain. For trans people, it’s also full of confusion and denials.

Every time a new medical professional walks into the room, we must explain a history of transformation. We must validate our gender and our name again and again. We, like you, are nervous and afraid. But through that, we are taxed with the emotional labor of validating our identity. We are confirming a lifetime of decisions to one person after the other. This is the best of circumstances because as we lay there distressed at least we are being treated. Yes, the nurse misgendered me. Yes, this is the third time I told them my insurance has to be billed as female. Sure I had to explain what transgender even was to another nurse. While it was uncomfortable when the one nurse asked why I couldn’t have lived as a butch female, at least she gave me that IV.

We find ourselves grateful in situations where most would be enraged. We find ourselves grateful because we remember Robert Eads, a trans man who died from ovarian cancer after more than a dozen doctors refused to treat him. We know we could’ve ended up like Tyra Hunter who died from injuries sustained in auto crash after paramedics refused to treat her upon discovering she was trans. We try to console ourselves with the idea that times have changed. That couldn’t happen now. But then the story of Shaun Smith is shared on social media, reminding us these things happen now.

So, we lay there under the white, bright light of the ER grateful for subpar treatment because it could be worse.

But it seems that now the Trump administration is set to empower the EMTs, doctors and nurses who have allowed transgender people to die. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division that will make it easier for health professionals to discriminate against LGBT patients, based on their religious or personal beliefs.  

Let me explain something to you. I have already been denied care simply for being trans. In 2007, I tried to obtain an ObGyn appointment in Muncie, Indiana. I sat with a friend and called several different places and explained I was transgender – every single one refused to treat me. We ended our call session when one receptionist said, “We don’t want to get in the middle of all that.” It was clear I would need to seek this type of medical treatment in a bigger city. Fast forward to 2011 where I started receiving treatment at an LGBT center in Philly. It was the first time I wasn’t treated with disdain or over-the-top acceptance. I was a patient. Simple. Today this center is overflowing with patients. It takes weeks to get refills and months to get appointments. So, I found myself doctorless again. I’m now going to a women’s center and they have been lovely. However, I have a mustache and I go to a women’s center.

Our medical community is really struggling to meet the needs of transgender people without the new HHS’s new division. I’m worried. I’m afraid that I’ll find myself in a medical emergency and my first responders will delay or stop care because of my transgender body. I’m terrified that I’ll lay there in pain and distress with insults flying over my head. I’m afraid that my trans family that live in rural areas will continue to suffer because of the lack of medical access.

What can you do? If you’re not trans, ask your doctor/nurses/specialist if they are willing and able to treat trans people and if they are not, ask them to become willing and able. We need your voice and we need your help. But most importantly we need access to proper medical care.


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