My Transgender Son’s Health Depends on Inclusive Medical Providers
As we walk into the urgent care clinic, my stomach begins to knot. It’s a weekend, and my son has a bloody nose that will not stop. What is a mundane visit for most people is not for us, because my son is transgender. As we check in, uncomfortable memories of previous interactions with medical professionals wash over me. We have been at this for 15 years, but we are still never sure what to expect when we visit a doctor’s office.
Unfortunately, every time Sam seeks medical care, these feelings appear. Even at practices he visits regularly, there are always new employees–nurses, doctors, lab technicians, receptionists–who do not know Sam’s background and inevitably voice their questions and confusion out loud. They are not being malicious, but that does not make the experience less stressful. Other interactions are more hurtful, with many medical professionals voicing their curious questions in invasive and judgmental ways. There are those who question our decisions regarding Sam’s transition, loud enough for him to hear. But the truly horrible experiences involve providers who refuse to treat him, citing personal beliefs. Those interactions are psychologically scarring to my son and many times leave him worse off than when he arrived at their clinic. By doing our research, we can avoid practices like that in our local area, but we risk encountering these types of providers when we are traveling and Sam needs medical care.
Cisgender patients do not have to think about any of these situations. In fact, most patients (myself included, before I had Sam) have no idea how different a trip to the doctor can be for trans people. A common question I field from medical professionals is: ‘As a mother, what how do you suggest we make our practice more inclusive for your child and people like him?’ The following are my recommendations for providers wanting to build a more transgender-inclusive practice.
Educate your entire staff
Every person who might interact with your patients should have training on what it means to be transgender and how they can contribute to creating an inclusive environment. This is not a one-time discussion; you should offer training opportunities on a regular basis, and ensure that you are always modeling inclusive practices. The positive experiences we have had come from medical practices where the staff, from the receptionist to the billing department, understand my son’s gender identity.
Be aware of your own biases
We all have biases. However, the act of acknowledging them and working to set them aside will help ensure that all patients feel welcome and well cared for. If members of staff continuously demonstrate inappropriate behavior towards transgender patients, consider asking them to leave the practice.
Offer inclusion cues
Visual cues can help signal to trans people and their families that they are in a safe environment. Examples include restrooms that can be used by all genders, bulletin boards that display LGBTQ-friendly posters, rainbow pins worn by staff, and information about local LGBTQ resources such as support groups and social gatherings.
Update your software
Make sure your electronic medical record allows pronouns and names to be changed with ease and incorporated into any document. Imagine Sam’s embarrassment when an employee calls out “Samantha” in front of everyone in the waiting room because their form was not updated to indicate the name my son uses.
Use the correct name and pronouns
By allowing patients to provide their chosen name and pronouns in your electronic medical record, you will be able to address them correctly. If you still are not sure, just ask. The simple act of asking demonstrates respect for your patient.
Don’t be nervous
Treat trans patients the same way you would take care of cisgender patients. While some doctors have removed their hands from his body abruptly when told or reminded he is transgender, Sam has had many doctors who have respectfully demonstrated an understanding of his identity. Regardless of his gender, Sam needs the same high quality medical care as anyone else to stay healthy.
As the mother of a transgender son, I cannot tell you how much your commitment to understanding and supporting the health care needs of this community means to me and others who walk the same path. I hope that, one day, it will be the norm for all medical providers to provide high quality, affirming care to their transgender patients.