The Journal Gazette
Monday, November 25, 2019 1:00 am

Still work to do

Medical field better prepared for trans patients, but education remains essential on both sides

Melissa Damerell

Allow me to preface this by saying it's not my intention to upset anyone. This is meant to educate and help break down the wall our current political climate is creating.

After a recent trip to the hospital for a scheduled surgery, I was made aware of how uninformed the medical community still is in regard to trans health. It is my hope to encourage the medical community to overcome their fears and bigotry. It is also my hope to encourage the trans community to do its part and have a civil dialogue with providers. For the social justice worriers, you're not helping.

In the 1980s there were two groups, transsexuals and the start of recognition of transgender in the 1990s. Yes, we had cross-dressers in their own group. Drag queens, effeminate men, butch women and androgynous individuals were basically part of the LGB community. There was really no T in LGBT in the '80s. I have left intersex individuals to themselves.

Today, we have a group called the “transgender umbrella or community.” It lumps in anyone who has ever questioned their gender. This gives the community its 2% population number, making it just large enough to be a political movement. That's important because the historical rate of transsexuals is 0.004% to 0.006% male to female and 0.002% to 0.003% female to male. Since I am a transsexual, I write this from my perspective.

The medical community needs to understand the diversity of this community and that many of us are not the activists they see screaming on TV. To the community, being misgendered hurts emotionally, I get it, but it's not worth screaming about. Education is the answer.

There is also a difference between tolerance and acceptance, and we need to learn the difference. Another policy I see hurting our community is the affirmation policy of treatment. The “gatekeeping” that most scream about these days was a safeguard.

There is more to it for the medical community than asking someone whether they are “trans” or “transgender.” Medical schools need to train their students, and there need to be some courses on our community. They spend more time studying rare diseases than the patients more likely to end up in their offices.

Community members need to identify themselves better than just saying they're “trans.” Also, don't start a pronoun war. Some people make honest mistakes, move on. You're there for your health, not to start a battle with the staff.

Use the situation to calmly educate. The needs of a transsexual (commonlypost-surgical transition, but maybe waiting for surgery), transgender (not only a community title, but also the politically correct term for transsexual these days, both surgical and not), gender non-binary, gender non-conforming, cross-dresser, drag king or queen and on, are all unique. We all have different reasons for being and different needs.

There are also needs while in the hospital for nurses to understand when it comes to things such as catheters and bladder location. Medical staff need to understand the different medical procedures transsexual and transgender patients might have had or will have and how that might affect them. With a transsexual woman who has had reconstructive surgery, the nurse probably won't be able to tell and even a gynecologist may not know without close inspection. My medical record or status is not something to be shared among all the nurses on the floor. If you ask me a question that seems out of bounds, I may ask you why you need to know. Give me a valid reason and I will answer truthfully. Remember, most of us have had horrible experiences with medical staff and hospitals. If someone has respectful, honest questions, I'm willing to answer, but please appropriately time them.

Being “outed” carries real-life consequences. The more people who are made aware of our medical records, the more people outside the medical community learn our histories. HIPPA should stop this, but the reality is different.

When staff pronoun usage shifts from female to male while someone is reading my file (which is unfortunately common), this is either ignorance or willful spite. It happens almost every time we get to prior surgeries. I have moved through the past 30 of my 57 years without being missgendered, except by medical staff. Please allow that to sink in.

Please train your staff; it starts at the front door.

I was at reception, checking in one day, when I saw the little sign that stated: “If you are transgender please let us know each time you visit so we can better serve you.” I'm 30 years past transition and my doctors know, so I'm not going to tell her, but I smile thinking we've come a long way in 30 years. The receptionist leans over with a colluding grin and says “I know what you just read.” I thought, “Well, not so much.”

I do see improvements but it's a failure of individuals or training of all staff that's the issue. This will not get better without an effort from both the medical and the trans communities.

Melissa Damerell is a Fort Wayne resident.

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