An Inclusive Guide to Challenging the Cisgender Norms in the Health Care Industry

Posted on March 31, 2016

When I started interning at Planned Parenthood, my small town, confederate-flag-flying family almost lost it. I told them I was joining the fight for women’s reproductive rights. I was going to be the advocate on the front line making sure women had access to every medical procedure they needed, especially abortions. However, my fight for reproductive justice cannot only be for women. That would be alienating to many other groups of people who do not identify as women, but still need affordable, accessible reproductive health services. I knew I needed to remember to include people’s intersectional life experiences in all of my work. Particularly important to me is knowing and acknowledging that abortion services are used by more than just those who identify as women.

Trans and gender non-conforming people already face stigma in the world, they don’t need it in the doctors office. People with vaginas can become pregnant, but not everyone with a vagina identifies as a woman. There is very little exploration into the experiences of Trans men and gender non-conforming folks, because these gender identities are seen as taboo and typically erased in popular media. The latest statistic shows that there are nearly 700,000 Trans folks in the United States. It is important to realize that this is not an accurate estimate, as there are some folks living stealth (someone who is accepted as female or male well enough to live without divulging their trans status) and others that are not yet out. According to the Rape Response Service, approximately 50% of Trans people will experience sexual violence in their lifetime, that is literally half of this population! It is important to remember that Trans folks have varying anatomy which means that they could very likely become pregnant as a result of their sexual assault. As the Reproductive Rights movement works to erase stigma, we need to learn better ways to include this population in our movement. So, here’s a list of how all of us in the movement can make all people seeking abortions feel safe during their process.

Follow the Patient’s Lead:

Listen to how the person talks to you. What language are they using? What terms are they using while talking about their body? There are some people who refer to what women call their vagina, as their front hole. Even if this sounds odd to you, guess what, it’s not your place to try and correct them. You can check out this Trans Man’s guide to visiting the gyno for more information: http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/trans-mans-gyno/.

Ask for Everyone’s Personal Pronouns:

No matter who walks through your door ask them what pronouns they use. Some people may present themselves as female, but that may not be how they identify. It is your job to make them feel as comfortable as possible.

Waiting Room Etiquette:

Waiting rooms can be terrifying, no matter who you are. Making sure you have magazines that are diverse and encompassing of a variety of populations can be helpful. When looking around, you want to make sure the patient can identify with some aspects of the waiting room. A good place to start is hanging up posters including People of Color, gender non-conforming folks, same-sex couples, and an array of people with disabilities. Another great option is subscribing to awesome magazines like… FTM Magazine (http://www.ftmmagazine.com/), Ebony (http://www.ebony.com/), or Out (http://www.out.com)

Re-evaluate Your Forms:

What options do you list on your required medical forms? Do you only list binary genders? Create a list, and make sure you leave a blank space, in case you did not list a gender someone uses. If listing sexual partners is important to the visit leave it blank so the person can fill it out themselves. Page 12 of the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association is a great resource! (It’s like two clicks away, you know you want to see it! http://www.glma.org/_data/n_0001/resources/live/GLMA%20guidelines%202006%20FINAL.pdf)

Train your Staff, Push them to understand:

As a professional agency it is important to stay up-to-date on best practices. There are really awesome organizations to turn to! Forge Forward, Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and Human Rights Campaign (HRC) are just a few. Intersectionalize your life, people have more to offer than gender.

Not a Doctor, You Can Still Help:

Maybe you’re not a doctor, maybe you’re a cis folk, meaning someone who has a gender identity that aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth, waiting for a doctor’s appointment. You can still help! Talk with your doctor about the forms mentioned above. Share with them how alienating those forms are for those who do not identify with gender and sexuality binaries. If you don’t want to speak with the doctor in person write them a letter. Remember, even if you are not a physician or nurse you can speak out against the erasure or oversight of Trans identities in the medical field.

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