Transgender people may have special health care needs. As a queer and non-binary person of colour, let me tell you that getting the proper help when you are queer and non-binary can be difficult, and some doctors are very invasive and disrespectful with their questions. This is why queer, non-binary and trans people tend to fear going to see a medical professional because they fear the judgment of the latter. Below you will find help in understanding these needs and how to address key health concerns for transgender people.
Key health concerns for transgender people
“Transgender” is an umbrella term used to refer to the range of identity and diversity in gender expression. Gender identity is the internal sense of being male, female or neither. It is often an extension of identity that encompasses the manifestation of a person’s gender mindset through social roles, physical appearance and behaviours.
Many health problems experienced by transgender individuals are due to minority group stress, characterized by the following:
- Negative social attitudes and disapproval (social stigma) toward transgender people
- Abuse, harassment, neglect, rejection or unfair treatment (discrimination) of transgender people
- Internalization of social stigma, leading to negative thoughts and attitudes toward oneself (internalized stigma)
Minority group stress is related to the fact that transgender people seek less preventive care and screening than cisgender people of the same age (people whose gender identity and expression match their sex at birth).
This may be due to lack of gender-related coverage by insurance, denial of care, difficulty finding a physician who specializes in caring for transgender people, or fear of discrimination in medical care.
In addition, due to the stress of minority groups, transgender people are at risk for the following:
- Psychological and emotional abuse
- Physical and sexual abuse
- Sexually transmitted infections, viral hepatitis and human immunodeficiency virus
- Substance abuse
- Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts
What to do about it?
See a doctor
If you are transgender, don’t stop seeing your doctor because you fear a negative experience. Instead, seek out a doctor who is understanding and respectful of your specific needs. In doing so, your doctor can teach you ways to reduce your risk of health problems and to identify illnesses. They can also refer you to specialists if necessary.
The WPATH website has a directory of care professionals specifically for transgender people.
Be honest when you talk to your doctor. Share your gender identity. Tell them about medications you are taking or have taken, surgeries or procedures you have had, and any related complications or concerns. Talk about any stress, discrimination, anxiety or depression you are experiencing and how to deal with it. Also let your doctor know if you have an active sex life. The more your doctor knows about your medical history, the better they can help you.
Experts make recommendations for taking care of your health based on your anatomy, regardless of your gender identity or expression. These might include the following:
- Cervical or breast cancer screening
- Prostate cancer screening
- Colon cancer screening
- Screening for mental health issues
- Substance abuse screening
- Human immunodeficiency virus screening
- Hepatitis screening
Other needs may be addressed if you have had surgery or hormone therapy.
Your health is essential, regardless of your gender identity or expression. If you need to have a test or are concerned about your health, don’t delay in seeking medical attention. Early diagnosis and treatment promote long-term health.
Remember, when it comes to transition, this is a long and painful process, so surround yourself with your loved ones and when it comes to choosing a doctor, choose one you feel comfortable with. You can also find a queer doctor who will be able to relate to your situation and will use a more mindful and respectful langauge but who will understand the journey you are on. If you are a doctor, you can start using more inclusive language and ask your patients their pronouns. Remember, not everyone with a penis identifies as a man, and not everyone with a vagina identifies as a woman.
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