Transgender Health Care Needs to Be Holistic and Driven by Trans Voices

Transgender Awareness Week is a time when transgender individuals and allies come together in solidarity to discuss and highlight achievements, disparities and everything in between. As access to health care continues to be difficult for many members of the TGNB (transgender and non-binary) community, we — two voices from the TransWellness Centers at Montefiore Health System — share our perspectives on achieving equitable, comprehensive gender-affirming care now and into the future.

A Transgender Health Coordinator’s Perspective:

As a Black woman of transgender experience, I would be remiss if I did not discuss the turmoil that could be brewing for our demographic. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 28% of trans people avoid seeking care at all due to stigmatization and harassment. Our country’s current political situation could potentially make accessing health care even more difficult for TGNB individuals.

As a transgender health coordinator, I understand the importance of having access to quality health care. I am legitimately afraid of going back to the times of black-market hormones and surgeries, which were the only choices available for a transgender person to live authentically.

[Read: Why We Must Train Doctors on Transgender Surgeries.]

I recently underwent a facial feminization surgery and was refreshed by the respect with which I was treated. I recognize how lucky I am to be alive today, where both public and private insurance cover access to the life-affirming health care necessary on our journey. I believe access to this care should be a human right, with access to all other medical care. However, our community has continuously had to battle a heteronormative and cisgender-centered medical system, deciding whether we deserve these services rather than listening to the transgender voices who need them.

And, while I feel lucky to be alive today, as an advocate who believes in bodily autonomy regardless of how one identifies, I do not recall ever being so afraid of the unknown as I am now.

I am afraid for my life and the well-being of my community. Right now, we need all accomplices, allies, families and friends to protect the access to health care for TGNB people — because we deserve to live in our authentic truth unapologetically.

When looking for medical care as a TGNB person, it is essential to find a team that provides affirming care at every step of a patient’s experience.

It’s also essential that our community’s voices are being heard. That’s why we have created a Transgender Health Working Group at MHS. We meet monthly to ensure we continue to provide holistic care with a patient-centered approach, all with guidance from the community.

Every day, we work to tailor our care to everyone who chooses our services. It is critical to understand how vital this attention to detail is for a community that has been ostracized while trying to obtain basic levels of care.

[See: How Social Workers Help Your Health.]

A Surgeon’s Perspective:

In an effort to tailor care to our TGNB community, I committed to developing a surgical program for transgender patients at MHS four and a half years ago. I was graced with the opportunity to participate in what can be a very overwhelming aspect of a person of trans experience’s life journey, and for some, the most critical and lifesaving. Without question, they are the most emotional operations that I perform — knowing how important the functional and cosmetic outcomes are to the patient, and the trust instilled in my team and me.

From my perspective, a fully trans-inclusive health system requires a system-wide approach, including: training for new associates as they onboard; improved access to mental health services, primary and adolescent care, endocrinology, social work, HIV care and education; education of staff; electronic medical record improvements for gender affirmation of patients; and community involvement.

The TransWellness Centers at Montefiore has a staff composed of allies and TGNB community members. Our TGNB associate voices are centered. Their experiences with the health care system are always considered when working with our patients.

Developing the TransWellness Centers at Montefiore has made me very aware of how my own white, cisgender and heterosexual privilege opens doors that may be closed to TGNB associates and patients. Knowing this privilege and working toward a more equitable future for our associates and patients has made us more successful as a program.

[READ:Reducing the Stigma of Mental Health Care]

To deliver genuinely trans-competent care, we need to listen to trans voices and work across departments to create a seamless experience across all aspects of gender-affirming care. Achieving comprehensive health care is critical now more than ever when many of my patients’ anxiety levels are extremely high due to fear of losing the care they have worked so hard to achieve. If you are interested in learning more about services available at the TransWellness Centers at Montefiore, please contact transwellness@montefiore.org.

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Transgender Health Care Needs to Be Holistic and Driven by Trans Voices originally appeared on usnews.com

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