Providing gender-affirming care is so important to the transgender community. This may include a different journey for each person, but any health-care professional must be engaged in the work to make true allyship possible. Being an ally to the transgender community involves being a consistent, trusted, and accountable presence to the trans clients we serve, as well as disrupting transphobia whenever we come across it.
If you grew up in the United States, you have been socialized to learn rigid gender roles. We are taught that women are the homemakers and caregivers in the home, while men work to provide financially. We are taught girls play with dolls and boys play with trucks, that girls are emotional and boys should toughen up. We question when men and women step outside of those roles—we degrade women who are in power and we make fun of men who express their emotions. We are taught to see gender dichotomously—as two distinct, biological states we are either in or out of. However, research shows us that gender actually exists on a continuum and expressed fluidly. While we have a sex assigned at birth, we are not born with a gender. Some people’s gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth, which is known as cisgender. Those who do not identify their gender with their sex assigned at birth may identity as transgender.
Health-care providers have a long history of engaging in oppression against transgender individuals. Mental health professionals may pathologize someone questioning their gender identity. It can be more difficult for transgender individuals to get access to appropriate health-care, which can be detrimental to a potential transition. The judgment and discrimination experienced in health-care settings may lead a transgender person to feel isolated, lonely, and ashamed. Ultimately, these experiences do not lead many transgender individuals to have a good experience with health-care.
If you identify as cis-gender and are a health-care provider, you can take steps to providing gender-affirming care in some of the following ways:
1. Reflect on your own gender socialization. How has your gender identity been reinforced throughout your life by forces outside of you?
2. Uncover unconscious bias. What did gender socialization lead you to believe about men, women, and transgender individuals?
3. Acknowledge your privilege. As a cisgender person, you have access to privileges the trans community does not. You are able to use public restrooms without fear, do not have to worry about how others will react to different pronouns, or defend your medical decisions around your gender expression.
4. Educate yourself. We should not expect the trans community to educate us on what it means to be transgender and all the language that is gender-affirming. Take the time to learn on your own.
Potential educational resources include:
A Clinician’s Guide to Gender-Affirming Care: Working with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Clients by Sand C. Chang, Anneliese A. Singh, and lore m. dickey
If you want to speak to a mental health professional and are in the Chicagoland area, free to contact Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc. at 708-633-8000.
Written by Kathryn
2021 Graduate Intern