Doctors and Nurses and Techs, oh my!
During my extended absence from these pages, I had the most extensive interaction with the medical profession that I’ve had in my entire life, by far. Indeed, likely every other previous encounter combined would not have amounted to a quarter of what I’ve experienced in 2014. This experience covered the full range of treatment from surgery to nursing to rehab and has given me a very fresh insight into what it can be like as a trans person to interact with that profession. The potential pitfalls are many and can be more pronounced depending on your specific circumstance – more on that in a bit – but it’s also been worth noting that the tendency to assume the worst does not always apply, at least it didn’t in my experience.
One of the things that has to be said from the very first is that there seems to be no specific pattern that will help you anticipate what you might expect. One of my good friends on Facebook this in the Pacific Northwest in a city well known for its inclusiveness. Yet she experienced a very unaccepting and hostile reaction during her hospital stay. By contrast I live in the proverbial heart of the Bible Belt and yet my six weeks of inpatient care were, almost without exception, the very model of how a professional staff should interact with the trans patient.
I cannot speak to the details of her experience, but I will tell you a little about mine. First off, the stay itself was not directly related to my transition (as in, for instance, breast augmentation) therefore there was no direct interest in placating the trans customer specifically. Beyond that, I can report that I had direct interaction with a neurological surgeon and his staff, then several days with the general hospital staff while in intensive care to the severity of my injury, and then some 4 to 5 weeks of inpatient rehab. While there were obviously occasions when I would have to remind someone who was new to me about the proper name/pronoun to use, as might be expected, the willingness to happily respect that desire was almost universal. I can only think of one member of the professional staff who seemed stubborn and reluctant to comply and even she did so grudgingly. But in the overwhelming majority of cases, the staff took it as a given that they were dealing with a female to the extent that my inconvenient anatomy allowed. Moreover, as I am of the school of thought that holds that out trans people should be ambassadors of equality able and willing to engage the uninformed in conversation to provide them with enlightenment about our condition and situation, I was pleased to repeatedly find nurses and caregivers and therapists receptive to these discussions and eager to learn in order to better serve their potential trans patients.
It is of course true that oftentimes the trans person who is more physically “finished” may have a better reception, or one that is further along in the process of legalities (such as changing one’s name) will have removed some barriers, but ultimately it’s very hard to be stealth in a medical setting. All you can actually do is perhaps avoid some of the more obvious triggers that promote hostility. Even so, in my case I am far from finished physically or legally and yet I receive every professional courtesy and was treated entirely as any other female up to and beyond the call of duty. So don’t make the mistake of assuming that if you have to face medical care that you are doomed to deal with mis-gendering and abrasiveness.
One final thought, though. I ask several of my therapist if they had taken any course work at all which prepared them to deal with transsexual or gender nonconforming people and only one reported that she had, and in her case it was only one classroom discussion about dealing with diverse people in general and not trans specific. I would strongly argue that the education provided to medical professionals as they massive blind spot that regard.
Photo by: Christiana Care