Seeking medical care is already something that people put off out of fear. How much harder is it for a transgender person to explain to a medical professional about their physical body when society is conditioned to expect gender binary expression? It’s extremely difficult, and many transgender individuals go without basic medical care due to poverty and homelessness. With the fear of impersonal treatment and shaming added to that, it can be a terrifying ordeal.
Careful, considerate treatment by medical professionals goes a long way towards making transgender patients feel comfortable seeking necessary medical care.
For Medical Professionals
When greeting a new patient, the easiest way to establish a respectful, honest relationship is to ask the name they wish to be called by, how they identify and what pronouns they want used. This indicates to your patient that you’re ready to consider them as a person, not simply a physical body.
Be ready to use terms your patient is comfortable with when referring to their physical body. If a transman requires a PAP smear for basic health reasons, he may prefer a gender-neutral term when referring to the physical vagina. If you accidentally use the wrong term or pronoun, apologize. This will help your patient understand that you’re making an effort to accommodate their needs.
Avoid any unnecessary physical examinations, but recommend screening for sexually transmitted diseases and preventative care for your patient’s physical body. Emphasize that care relating to the biological reproductive system is to ensure overall physical health—avoiding ovarian cysts or prostate cancer, for instance—and not reflective of your patient’s gender identity.
Be clear about your gender identity, the name you prefer to be called and your pronouns. Accept apologies when they’re given; some people may struggle with remembering to use the correct pronouns in place of ones they’ve used for much of their lives. If you’re having physical issues with your body, explain as clearly as possible and remember that your body does not define you—if your genitals are showing signs of infection, be sure to tell your doctor. Hiding the situation to avoid a physical exam can cause great danger to your overall health.
Ask questions if you don’t understand why a certain medication or procedure is being recommended. It’s your physical health and you have a right to know what’s going on with your body. Remember that you need to have your body—and the anatomy it has—cared for; preventative care for genitals and reproductive systems will keep your body in good health.