Going To The Doctor Can Be Difficult For People Who Are Trans And Non-Binary, Experts Say

Aug 12, 2019

Barriers continue to exist for transgender people seeking medical treatment, according to experts who spoke at a conference Monday called, "Becoming a Trans Knowledgeable Provider."

Speakers at the UPMC event discussed the history of how trans people have been treated by the medical industry; in the past, they were often categorized as sexual deviants. 

Keynote speaker Jules Gill-Peterson is an English professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and the author of the 2018 book "Histories of the Transgender Child." Gill-Peterson is trans, and said she's had negative experiences trying to seek gender-affirming care through UPMC.  

Gill-Peterson said she was denied a letter from a clinician to get laser hair removal surgery because he didn't deem her "trans enough." 

"I was devastated," she said. "Perhaps, he suggested, I should wait until my transition was more convincingly trans-female and then we could try again."

The delay in getting this letter amplified her feelings of gender dysphoria, Gill-Peterson said. Gender dysphoria is when a mismatch between someone's gender identity and their biological sex causes discomfort or distress.

In a 2015 survey of U.S. transgender adults, about a quarter said they did not seek care they needed because they feared mistreatment. A third of respondents said they had at least one recent negative experience when seeing a health care provider, which included being harassed or refused treatment because of their gender identity.

Dana Rofey, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Pitt and a clinician at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said it's incumbent on health care providers to educate themselves about trans issues.

"The thing that I hear the most from my patients is that they don't want to be teaching their therapist what things mean," Rofey said. "It's highly demeaning."

Rofey said clinicians should get in the habit of asking every patient their preferred name and pronouns, not just trans patients.

"We want to ask everyone how they self-identify, every single person that we meet, it's a good chance to educate everybody."

WESA receives funding from UPMC.