In the past decade — and, in truth, even just the last year — there has been a lot of progress regarding LGBTQ rights. The transgender community, however, is too often left in the shadows, and is still struggling to obtain fundamental rights and protections. "Vanessa Goes to the Doctor," a video released by the LGBT Cancer Network, aims to educate medical care providers on the right (and wrong) ways to interact with transgender patients. Access to basic medical care remains a huge barrier to the transgender population, much of which has to do with how trans patients are treated. This video underlines not only how to be more trans inclusive in the medical field, but also why it matters.
Before we discuss the specifics of the video (which are all great!), I think it's important to clear up some key points. What exactly does it mean to identify as transgender? In simple terms, it means the gender assigned to a person at birth doesn't match the gender they identify with. Why is this an issue? In short, it shouldn't be an issue, as everyone's identity is their own to claim, as well as their own private business (unless, of course, they want to share it).
The reality is, however, that as a marginalized group, the transgender community faces extreme obstacles and hardships and have few legal protections against discrimination. For example, in 32 states, you can still be fired for being transgender. Only 17 states grant housing protections for transgender people, and one in five transgender people report experiencing discrimination when trying to find a home. Roughly half of transgender people report experiencing harassment at work. One in five transgender people experience homelessness in their lifetime.
Unfortunately, receiving equal and safe medical care is often a battle for the transgender community, in addition to everything else. Luckily, steps are being taken to make medical environments safer spaces for the transgender community, and this video provides some great pointers on how to respond to transgender specific issues — both in medical settings and in the world in general. Scroll down to watch the full video.
1. Be Ready to Expand Your Vocabulary
As is shown in the video, sometimes even simple paperwork can make for a very uncomfortable moment if you're in an environment which is not trans inclusive. Be ready to educate yourself and expand your vocabulary beyond the traditional notions of sex and gender, but above all else, be ready to expand your mind to whatever the person in front of you is saying. The only person who can claim anyone's identity is the person themself; it's not your job to change it or question it, but to accept it and (if necessary) learn more about it, to better help serve them.
2. Use The Name People Ask You to Use
Most people have a pretty easy time calling someone by a nickname, a last name, or even a middle name. Often, people don't question why someone prefers being called Kate or Katie, and rarely does someone insist on calling them Katherine. With the transgender population, it's no more appropriate to question why someone goes by one name or another. For many people, it's a huge act of courage to even come out as transgender, so remember to lean on the side of respect; also remember that this person has taken the leap and trusts you with their name. It's important to respect and accept the name someone asks you to call them.
3. Use People's Preferred Pronouns
This relates easily to the previous point, but deserves its own mention: Use whatever pronoun someone prefers. A preferred pronoun doesn't need to be qualified, and there's absolutely no need or call to ask whether they've had a certain medical procedure, or if they're taking certain supplements, or what sex is listed on their driver's license. Their pronoun choice is theirs, and you need only respect it and use it. If you make a mistake? Do as the video instructs: Apologize, correct yourself, and move forward with the conversation.
Think pronouns don't really matter? If you're cis gender (that is, if you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth), it's probably never bothered you, and that's OK. But remember: Everyone wants to have their identity validated and taken seriously, and when you misgender someone — especially if they've told you their preference — the experience can feel very hurtful and demeaning. The transgender community is more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety; furthermore, studies show roughly 40 percent of transgender people contemplate or attempt suicide in their lifetime. That's almost half of an entire marginalized group. But kindness and decency can help: Be aware, be considerate, and remember that for the transgender community, even the most basic needs (housing, medical care, employment) can be a heavy obstacle.
Check out the full video below:
Images: liz margolies/YouTube (3)