By Elijah Black, Alexa Rodriguez and britt walsh
Communities of gender variant women have vastly different experiences with regard to their transition. Whether it’s medically, socially, or emotionally related – access to medical and behavioral healthcare can sometimes be filled with barriers and stigma. However, sometimes it can be filled with support systems and teams that are there to help you achieve your personal health goals.
It’s important to remember that every healthcare journey is unique. When navigating care, gender variant women can desire different results from gender affirming services. This could include hormonal therapy, surgery, both, or neither. They can also have hugely different experiences expressing their identities within their respective communities and families of origin.
As is true with all identities, there is no one way to be trans or to be a woman. What this boils down to is that trans women, and communities of gender variant women, must be given space and support to define themselves and their needs. They cannot exist within ideologies imposed upon them or assumptions of what others believe to be “in their best interest.” Individual experiences must be recognized and respected. That said, here is information that might be helpful to you in your wellness journey.
Understand your rights and privileges: Many people go without getting their basic needs met because they do not realize what is rightfully available to them. Access can look different depending on your class, race, immigration status, etc., but please understand that you do have rights and while it’s not always easy to navigate, it is important to try and understand what they are. If you have questions about access to services like healthcare, legal support, social networks, advocacy groups, among some other items, there may be free support out there. Consider asking a friend, ask the internet, call your local health clinic and get connected to the things that make you feel whole.
Advocate for yourself: We live in a world where – especially as gender variant people – we are constantly apologizing for just existing. You are allowed to know things and you are allowed to take up space if it means you get to tell your own story. If decisions are being made that affect the lives of transgender women and gender variant women, you should have the opportunity to represent yourself and your community. So whenever possible, be vocal about the things you need and the things that will improve your quality of life.
Let yourself be vulnerable: Often times, the narrative is that transgender people are so strong and brave, but in reality transgender people – especially Black and Brown transgender and non-binary women – have the most to fear. According to the Transgender Day of Remembrance website at tdor.translivesmatter.info, in 2019 at least 22 transgender people were murdered in the United States, 91% of those people were Black transgender and non-binary women. It is a fact that trans women of color are more likely to contract HIV, experience homelessness, engage in sex work, face discrimination, and be a victim of harassment. Please, if you can, be gentle and loving with yourself in spite of society’s pressures and transphobia.
Find committed allies: For many reasons, it’s just plain scary to be visible and advocate for yourself. Surround yourself with folks who are willing and able to make some noise on your behalf, if you cannot. There’s no shame in not being able to do everything, so let others who have less to lose help out when necessary.
Remember, your priorities might look different than someone else’s, and that’s okay. There is no wrong way to meet your needs especially when it is improving the quality of your health and life.
Elijah Black and Alexa Rodriguez are Trans Care Navigators at Whitman-Walker Health. britt walsh is the Director of Gender Affirming Services at Whitman-Walker Health. Together they operate as part of the Department of Gender Affirming Services at Whitman-Walker helping patients and clients navigate gender affirming healthcare.