Doctors, facilitators share stories of what it’s really like to be trans in the Canadian health care system

*Content warning: the following article includes content on self-harm and suicide*

To gain a greater understanding of LGBTQ2 health in Canada, the federal government has invited experts and advocates to submit evidence to Members of Parliament.

What the data shows is that queer Canadians continue to fall short when compared to their straight, cisgender peers — on mental health, access to care, STBBI rates, and more.

But along with this research, witnesses at the hearings are also sharing lived experiences of Canadians to help illustrate how government could step in to help, and why intervention is so important — especially for trans Canadians.

I wish I could say that this youth found support and then lived a happy and full life. He did not.

“I have a transgender patient who really needed a doctor, and I agreed to take her on as a patient,” said Dr. Tinus Wasserfall at the May 2 hearing. “She came in with a bit of trepidation — I suspect she experienced a lifetime of prejudice, and in the medical system, not always having optimal communication and being asked uncomfortable questions.”

Dr. Wasserfall is a family physician in Vancouver who works specifically with the LGBTQ2 community. Still, he says that even though his clinic works to make everyone feel their most at-home, there are moments when prejudice from the larger medical community comes through.

“When [the patient] had to go for a routine colonoscopy, she went to a local hospital. I get the report back and my heart sank because the report said that a 56-year-old male patient was seen. I actually knew those physicians, and they're great people, but there's a systemic problem in how medical professionals get educated around LGBTQ health issues, and how they communicate. If you ever met this woman, you would never refer to her as a male, and that was an atrocity.”

This kind of treatment is especially concerning when queer people are intersecting with the health care system at moments of crisis.

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Crystal Fach, co-founder of Diversity Ed.

 

“Early on in my career, I was working with an amazing transgender youth, 17 years old,” said Crystal Fach, co-founder of Diversity Ed.

“His parents were very unsupportive of who he was. He was assaulted [after coming out] and hospitalized a few days later for a suicide attempt. While in the hospital, I started to visit this young man. Nurses called him by his dead name and misgendered him. The psychiatrist did not give him a referral to any type of doctor who would even begin to talk about hormones, and the parents threatened his post-secondary education if he did not fall in line. I wish I could say that this youth found support and then lived a happy and full life. He did not. He died by suicide within six months of leaving the hospital.”

But not every story has a sad ending. Loretta Fearman, facilitator with PFLAG Canada, shares the experiences of a transgender teen named Tom who was able to receive care with the help of his family, and the effect that had.

“Tom had top surgery, [and when] the surgery was successful Tom became a different person. Today Tom is a confident boy who no longer needs mental health counselling for body dysphoria. He no longer takes prescription medications for his depression. Tom doesn't need to waste a half hour every morning taping and every evening removing the binding tape from his raw skin.”

Yet, Fearman notes, even though Tom’s experience is a successful one it still required a tremendous amount of money and patience, and the need to navigate the healthcare system of multiple provinces.

To help ease this burden, all the witnesses suggested a need for medical and support staff to be cognizant of using correct pronouns, preferred names and current terminology — and that gender and sexual diversity be part of medical training in Canada.

To hear the full testimony of all presenters at this meeting (No. 141 HESA - Standing Committee on Health), review the evidence or read the minutes, visit the links below to the HESA webpage:

 

 
As an individual
• Dr. Tinus Wasserfall, Family Doctor, Spectrum Health
Diversity ED
• Crystal Fach, Co-Founder
Kelowna Pride Society
• Dustyn Baulkham, General Manager
Pflag Canada
• Loretta Fearman, Chapter Facilitator, Barrie-Simcoe County
 
     
 

Listen on ParlVU  -  Evidence  -  Minutes

 

Disponible en français.

CBRC

About CBRC

Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC) promotes the health of gay men through research and intervention development. We are inclusive of bisexual and queer men (cis and trans) and Two Spirit people.
Doctors, facilitators share stories of what it’s really like to be trans in the Canadian health care system
Doctors, facilitators share stories of what it’s really like to be trans in the Canadian health care system
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