As trans* people, we often find ourselves in the healthcare system in order to access testosterone or gender confirming surgeries. We also need doctors the way the rest of the population does, because we get sick just like everybody else. Even when we aren’t seeing the doctor for trans* related care, our trans* status can come up and complicate things. What if you’re otherwise stealth and experiencing uterine problems? What if you’re worried you might have diabetes but feel uncomfortable going to the doctor to find out? A lot of us have had negative experiences with the medical system that makes us uncomfortable accessing healthcare, and even if we haven’t we may worry about having a negative experience. Here are some tips:
1. Know your rights. If this seems like our #1 piece of advice with almost anything, that’s because it is incredibly important for a lot of different issues. It is illegal in the United States for a health care provider to turn down health care to a person because they are transgender. This doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but it does mean that the law is on your side in these types of situations.
2. If you can, find a doctor who is supportive and understanding of trans* people or at least someone that you feel comfortable with and who you can trust. A good doctor should not make you feel uncomfortable about your anatomy or treat you differently than a cis patient. You may want to find a doctor who has experience with trans* patients, even if you are not going to see them for trans* related care. A GP who has experience with trans* patients may be more knowledgeable about the effect hormones can have on your health and be on the lookout during your check-ups for potential issues. You also might just feel more comfortable with a doctor who is used to trans* bodies. Remember that your doctor is providing you with a service that you are paying for (even if insurance is covering your visit). You do not need to put up with a doctor who is treating you poorly or who makes you feel uncomfortable. You can look up reviews of doctors on sites like healthgrades.com or ask around for more trans* specific reviews and recommendations on sites like fuckyeahftms, fuckyeahmtfs, Laura’s Playground, etc.
3. Be honest about the medications you are on and about other information you share with your doctor. You never know when your hormones could affect or be the root of a medical issue you are having, particularly if it involves your liver. Your doctor just isn’t someone you want to lie to or keep things from because it keeps them from doing their best job keeping you healthy. This is another reason to try to find a doctor that you trust and who is understanding, because it is important to share things with them (even sensitive information as it relates to your health). Remember that your doctor is obligated to keep this information confidential.
4. On the flip side, recognize that there are certain questions that are NOT medically necessary for your doctor to know the answer to that you don’t have to answer if asked. It’s definitely your doctor’s business if you’ve had bottom surgery if they are recommending an exam of that area, but not if you’re at the podiatrist. Doctors should know better, but sometimes they ask rude questions. You DON’T have to answer questions like those, and should let your doctor know (if you feel alright doing so) that they are making you uncomfortable.
5. If you can, bring someone who is supportive with you to be your advocate. If you are going to a new doctor or going to the hospital, it can be a good idea to take someone with you who can help you make sure you are treated appropriately and given the best care possible. Medical situations can be incredibly stressful for some trans* people, and so it can also just be nice to have a calming and supporting presence with you.
Great advice! A lot of transgender patients report having to educate their providers. For more trans health resources, check out the left-hand column on our Trans Health Program page.