For many people, a trip to the doctor for a physical is a minor blip on the radar of their week. It takes maybe an hour or two, including a 10- or 15-minute drive to the office and some time spent waiting. But for a transgender or gender non-conforming person, a simple checkup can eat up an entire day and bring an onslaught of anxiety that has nothing to do with needles.
The Struggle to Find Compassionate Care
In upstate South Carolina, a clinic called Gender Benders provides professional and expert care to transgender people. Many of their patients drive more than 100 miles to see their doctor here. Why can’t these patients find a physician who’s less than a four-hour round-trip from home? The answer is two-fold.
First of all, transgender patients often fear mistreatment by typical doctors. They’re unsure if they will be treated with dignity and respect in a standard doctor’s office — an insecurity that’s rooted in a valid anxiety that providers will let their own beliefs cloud their professional conduct (because this is a common occurrence). Secondly, even physicians who are compassionate and welcoming to transgender patients often feel out of their element when treating them. These clinicians often just direct trans patients to specialists instead anyway.
The reality is, however, that your average doctor is well versed in hormone therapy. They’re likely treating or have treated patients with low levels of testosterone or those receiving hormone therapy for polycystic ovary syndrome, and transgender patients are really no different. Gender Benders and other comparable clinics are working to educate these physicians so that transgender folks won’t have to take a day off of work every time they need a checkup.
Lawmakers Embracing Discrimination
In a political climate that’s growing increasingly hostile toward the LGBTQ community, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the administration has imposed cruel new guidelines for medical providers. Under the new legislation, providers can refuse treatment to individuals on the basis of who they are. Previous laws allowed physicians to refuse to perform certain procedures, such as abortions or gender reassignment surgery, based on their own religious beliefs — but this is different.
Under the new guidelines, an ER doctor could refuse to set a broken arm because the person cradling it is transgender. These new laws make it even more difficult for transgender people to receive healthcare because physicians will have legal grounds for discriminating against them.
The Issue of Medical Negligence
This legislation further complicates the question of what constitutes medical negligence. You could easily argue that a physician who chooses not to treat a transgender patient based on the issue of their gender identity is being medically negligent, not exercising a legal right. Medical negligence already contributes to an astounding number of deaths per year — if it were accurately reported, experts estimate it would come in as the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer.
With so much at stake for transgender and non-conforming people, the lack of access to healthcare cannot continue. Physicians across the country must step up to the plate and explore new territory to treat all patients with care, compassion and dignity. We also need to speak out against this new legislation; however, discriminatory legislation in place or not, treating those in need should always be part of a physician’s job description.