Dear healthcare provider

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In two weeks, on both December 1 and 2, I will have the privilege of visiting Indianapolis’s branch of Indiana University, to speak with students in their dental school. The professor recognizes that LGBTQ folks might or do have special needs and concerns, and that these prospective dentists would be well-served to be informed. I am most grateful for this.

Here are the things I have in mind so far, most of which I have experienced in both positive and negative ways. As Gina, I have been in the following places which I put under the general heading “care giver’s office.”

The places I have been

General practitioner in private practice
Endocrinologist at IU Health
Sex Reassignment Surgery surgeon at IU Health
Two plastic surgeons in private practice
Optometrist in partnered practice
Ophthalmologist in partnered practice
Dentists in family practice
Endodontist in family practice
Electrologist in private practice
Four therapists, in both private and partnered practices

These offices have varied widely. At IU Health, the doctors are in large office buildings. My regular dentist is the only occupant in the building. My electrologist’s office is connected to her home, in a residential neighborhood.

I park in parking garages, on city streets, in small and large parking lots, and in a residential driveway. While any of these care givers probably have little or no control over a patient/client’s parking, it would be good for them to be aware that leaving and returning to a vehicle can be a challenge for some trans folks. Sadly, some of these areas can be danger spots, where a person might be accosted.

First impressions

Entering an office, it is important for receptionists and others to react to us, and treat us, as any patient. I am pleased to report that I cannot recall a single office person making wide eyes at the sight of me, so I have been able to approach them with confidence. Sadly, not all trans folks are able to report the same, at times feeling under a spotlight for the reactions they have received.

We long for the same smiling faces, friendly good mornings, and what-may-I-do-for-yous that every patient/client desires. When we receive those, we get off to a good start in that environment.

The name game

Many are in transition who have not had their name legally changed. It can be very hard for us to tell you our legal name. For some, whose lives have been filled with great angst, even trauma, their birth name is dead to them, unspoken by them to anyone. Yet, if it remains their legal name they have to use it for official purposes.

They will ask you to record and use their preferred name. It is vital that you have a system in place to include a person’s preferred name. At IU Health, where I began going before I had my name legally changed, they had a place in their computer system for my preferred name, which showed up on each form so that I was always called Gina. At some other offices, they did not have this option, and wrote in my preferred name on any form that would be seen by aides and nurses and doctors.

Sometimes, their system worked. Sometimes, it did not. When it did not, I suffered for it.

In one of the larger offices, with perhaps a dozen folks in the waiting room, the person calling for me rang out with “Greg Eilers?” Rising and walking to a male name, when I clearly was presenting as a female, was no fun. As soon as we were out of the lobby, I corrected the situation. In both cases, “Gina” had been handwritten above my printed name, but the person did not see it. In other words, that office’s system doesn’t work and I paid for it.

Thankfully, I don’t feel stabs as deeply as some. I have in mind a couple of trans acquaintances who are not so blessed, who are shy and timid, who, if this happened to them, might hesitate making a future appointment in that place.

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He, she, and they

Pronouns. Pronouns. Pronouns.

Pronouns. Pronouns. Pronouns.

Guess what my next topic is? Pronouns. Pronouns. Pronouns.

Please, never assume our pronoun. Some of us will assume you should know it, by how we present. Others of us might not desire the pronoun which you would automatically use. Be aware that more and more opt for “they/them” over a feminine or masculine indicator.

Pronoun usage is problematic for many, perhaps most, trans persons. Here are three examples of wrong pronoun usage which I have experienced:

  1. In an office, where trans women are not uncommon, a nurse referred to me as “he.” I noticed that she caught herself—the uncomfortable pause before she continued—but she did not correct herself or tell me she was sorry.
  2. I am referred to as “he” very naturally. My voice, I am told, is the problem. Depending on the situation, I gently correct. At my regular dentist, everyone has been very attentive to this and are doing a good job of getting the pronoun right. The dentist, specifically, was messing up. He has worked hard at getting it right and, because I’ve been there so much this autumn (!) he has had ample opportunity. He is good-natured and will say, “Did you hear that I got your pronoun right?!” and I appreciate his friendly manner with me.
  3. I have listened to a number of doctors and others use “Gina” only to immediately use “he.” It is unfathomable to me, but they don’t seem to get the disconnect between female name and masculine pronoun. At the grocery store, where many now know and use my name, the messed up pronoun doesn’t surprise me. In an office with professional people who are trained to work with patients/clients, my expectation is higher.

We hear every wrong pronoun. Each one hurts. Suffering gender dysphoria is terrible. Transitioning is challenging. The more we hear wrong pronouns, the more they stab us. Conversely, the more we hear correct pronouns, the more we rejoice. Indeed, at our trans group meetings folks love telling their stories of being correctly gendered, always speaking with beaming smiles.

Blending, passing, and fitting in

Many of us don’t blend in with the sex with which we identify. Look at me—not even close! Oh, that I were five inches shorter, shaped like a female, and way prettier!

When every person, at every stop in a physician’s office—from reception to assistants to nurses to doctors to billing—looks at us and treats us as the typical patient, no matter how we look or are dressed, it makes a world of difference. (This is true for every person, right?)

It is not uncommon for a trans person to feel like he or she or they are under a microscope. I’ve seen some stares and heard some giggles when out in public, and I always feel them in a negative way, and some of them have hurt. I should never hear them at a healthcare provider.

The more we are treated like regular folks—and we so want to feel like and be regular folks—the more self-confidence we will have. Setbacks can come swiftly and be severe. The last place a trans person—any person—should have a setback is in the office of her or his or their doctor, dentist, or other place where they are supposed to receiving healing, not hurting.

Rx for prescriptions

When we have to give a list of the medications we take, we can feel sensitive discussing our hormone replacement therapy (HRT) prescriptions. I was on HRT before making public that I had gender dysphoria, using HRT to hopefully calm my brain, and it did. Preparing for toe surgery, I was asked meds I take. When I named the HRT ones—especially the estrogen—the nurse reacted, “What are those for?” I don’t know if she were supposed to ask that, or if it were a knee-jerk reaction. Thankfully, I had prepared for it and was able to answer, “Those might seem odd, but they work in me like depression medication.” It really was true, but who thinks of HRT that way? Thankfully, the nurse immediately moved on.

We understand that you have to inquire about what meds we take. When we name one or two that seem odd, please be professional, even if you are required to ask for what the medicine has been prescribed. You don’t like being in an embarrassing spot; do your best not to put us in one.

We are on our way

I am pleased to report that healthcare professionals have been my allies, not only those I see as a patient/client but also my friends who are nurses and work in offices. I would like to think that the suffering they witness, and the reasons they went into health care, are behind their treating trans folks well. I hope so. I hope all trans folks are able to report the same.

When each step in the process with our healthcare provides goes well, we experience what everyone desires, that our good health is their concern, that we are respected, and that we can be optimistic about future visits to these offices and, by extension, when we need to engage new providers we can begin on a hopeful note.

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11 thoughts on “Dear healthcare provider

  1. Ugh. I know full well what time it is. Julie and I are not adapted to the time change. We were up at 5:00. I was asleep last night not long after 9:00.

    As for the time I posted this, remember: I post on Facebook at 7:00. I post on my blog whenever the heck I feel like it! 🙂

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  2. good morning gina joy. this is amazing!
    as i began to read, i popped over to my work schedule app with fingers crossed that
    i didn’t work the 1st or the 2nd, because i was going to contact the school to see if i could
    sit in on the event! dang i have to work. why must we work so much???hmmmm. but then
    i began to read and knew that i was getting it all right here. (time to schedule some eats and laughs)

    all this info is a gift. it is what is needed.

    and this is why this is so important. it is all about just taking a little time, take a breath and move in the direction of considering the person you stand in front of. i can totally recognize that you have this spirit about
    you, where i am pretty sure your attitude leans towards half full. and some due to personality, abuse or family history arent there yet. the sting or maybe the mistreatment comes in a more steady manner

    i have thought of you and julie quite a lot this last week. my cousin’s wedding was one of the sweetest and deeply meaning that i have been to. every single person behaved and there was nothing but love in that room. it really had me thinking about how we treat one another as humans. last week was a bit dark for me, but when i woke up wednesday to so much shock and dismay, i gave myself an hour to sit in the mud. and then i lit a few candles for our worlds health. my prayer is that each is treated with kindness, love and fairness.

    thank you for always being here, bright and early. sharing for freely.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My dear Kelly, you have not only brightened my day, you have exploded it into joy!

    Beginning at the end, it was interesting that you used “mud” to describe where you sat last Wednesday. I always counseled my members to mourn, or whatever the case might be, but not to allow themselves to get stuck in the mud of it all.

    Oh, yeah, I’ve always been a half-full person, an optimist, one who trusts others until they do something to lose my trust. I don’t know where the following came from, but I’ve always had a keen sense of justice, and always quickly and deeply affected by acts of injustice. (That’s what prompted the piece about the girl with the crooked smile who killed herself.) When I was young, I was even troubled by sitcoms, like The Beverly Hillbillies, when people were not understood and the situation went wrong for them because of it. I knew it was for laughs, yet it bothered me.

    How I wish you could be with me on the 1st or 2nd! The event is being organized through IU. The woman, who coordinates the trans panels at IU Bloomington, is who the IUPUI professor contacted regarding this. She told me she’s trying to get one or more LGB or Q folks for the discussion, too.

    My question for you is, have I missed any key area? I surveyed my experience for the items I listed, but have I not experienced something which would be important to include?

    Loving our current weather, I will once again go running this morning in shorts and shortsleeves. Woo hoo! I hope your day is filled with the kind of sweat that gives you that wonderful feeling of fulfillment for the work you do. xoxo

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  4. Clinics assume that everyone arrives by car. Websites and directions include parking info, but rarely info about the nearest bus stop. Receptionists rarely have that information. A copy of the bus schedule at the front desk would be very nice.
    If a person must walk or catch a bus, having the wrong name publically a ounces could put a person in danger.

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  5. i feel like you always cover both sides and most situations. the other day i had the pleasure of hearing the guy who started “open for service” talking. it was just a normal conversation, but i really listened. it amazes me that in today world, we seem to be going backwards in the area of human rights. our country seems to want to strip anyone who they “fear” of their dignity and basic rights.
    a friend and i were talking about how this just shocks us.

    regardless of where were are when we are put in new situations, we get to carry within us, a light. and if that light doesn’t warm others, then we need to work on it. whether we are in a store, dr’s office, school or rest stop restroom.

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  6. Echo, echo, echo every word!

    I regularly recall a poster that adorned a manager’s office door, where I worked before becoming a minister. It said: Your influence is either positive or negative. It is never neutral.

    How shall I shine my light? That is the question! (It’s even biblical: Matthew 5:16, one of my kids’ confirmation verse.) Will I illuminate with it, or will I set things on fire and burn them down?

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  7. I am very confused… maybe because you are or were a priest.. that you counceled my parents every week. and maybe you can explain the situation.? I dont think it talks about this in the bible. But, how do you figure that it is ok? or that you can change your sex, when God made you who he did? I’m just curious.

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    1. Hi, Kelly~

      Thank you for asking, because this is important to understand.

      I did, indeed, spend a lot of time with your folks. We grew very close. They remain dear to me.

      If you are interested, I have answered your question in many of my blog posts. Look for titles that sound like they fit your curiosity. For now, I will give you a concise outline of how all this came about.

      I had issues with my gender identity since I was very young. My desire to be a female consistently grew throughout my life. When I hit my fifties, I began to grow to hate myself. In 2013, I crashed to where I suffered suicidal thoughts. I would say, “You hate being a man. You can’t be a woman. Just kill yourself.”

      It seemed the most ridiculous idea that I might transition to female. Besides, I wanted to remain a pastor, and be the husband and father and brother that I am. But, I kept growing worse. I began seeing a therapist and studying my condition.

      I learned that it was likely that my mother took a drug, which is an artificial estrogen, when pregnant with me, to keep from miscarrying. The drug is suspected of causing my condition, in which I essentially formed as a male, but my endocrine system—the body’s hormones—were messed with, causing the desire to be a female.

      The basic idea is that I was born with the hormone structure of a female, but everything else of a male, which created the male/female struggle. I can’t prove this as it can only be seen by having my brain cut open, as in an autopsy.

      Before retiring from the ministry, I began taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT), to see if lowering my testosterone and raising my estrogen would help to calm the storm in my brain. It did. But living as a male felt worse than ever.

      That the HRT helped my brain told me two things. First, that my mental struggles were more than “in my head.” Second, I came to understand that I am intersex, a combination of both male and female.

      So, I was not simply created a male. Because the brain is in charge of the body, and my brain tells me I am female—and because my self-hatred kept worsening to where I truly believed I was going insane, that to remain male would mean I would have to be heavily sedated all the time, which would render me dopey and useless—I attempted living as a female in order to see if it would prove helpful. It has. I am at peace with myself. I am healthy, productive, and able to live a full life.

      I had to retire from the ministry, which still bothers me, but I took to this blog so that I could educate about being transgender, and to show that I am the same Christian that I always was.

      This has had a huge impact on many people, but it has gone way better than I feared before I went public about it. Julie and I continue to have a marriage which is rock solid. My children struggled, but have been able to come to understand that the dad they had, whom they feared they were losing, is still the same person.

      I don’t claim to have every answer. I lean on the Lord for His love and forgiveness, and I continue to study the science of the body. In the end, I view my transitioning as the same as a person having surgery or taking treatment for any illness or disease.

      The Lord be with you! Give my love to your folks.

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