Being transgender while hospitalizedPosted: February 23, 2015
I was in the hospital for 4 nights (5 days) a little over a month ago, for psychiatric reasons. Although this was a very trying time and I was in an extremely vulnerable head-space, I was mostly treated with respect and dignity (as much as seemed possible, given the conditions). In terms of my trans-status, I was treated with respect and dignity across the board.
While in the Emergency / Admittance Area, my family and friends present must have spoken behind-the-scenes, on my behalf about the fact that I am transgender, because I didn’t mention it at all at that point. My friend later told me the intake leader (don’t know his exact title) told her that he has a transgender son.
Also my partner later told me there was signage throughout the hospital about their non-discrimination policies. I found this to be accurate in the way they run things. Everything was by schedule and protocol, no special treatment and in general no immediate response to a want (like, “can I get a pencil?” “Can I get a snack” elicited a quicker response.) At times, I found the ways they were doing things to be confusing, and I wasn’t explicitly told how things are run (when mealtimes are, when med times are, what is allowed and not allowed, etc.) I just picked up that information as I went along, as best I could. Not sure why that kind of stuff was never conveyed to me, but it all did make sense in terms of treating everyone fairly.
I got the sense that not every staff member got the memo about male pronouns, but the more “important” positions definitely did, and they took the lead on that when conversing with other staff members. For example, one of the team leaders asked an overnight staff person to “open the shower area for him,” and that staff member said, “What?” and looked confused. The team leader just repeated herself and no problem arose.
I was in an extremely fuzzy, drug induced state the first 24 hours of my stay. As I started to pull out of that and notice my surroundings, I picked up on certain things. If you woke up early enough to make it to the morning meeting at 8am, you could get non-decaffeinated coffee and also information about the day! I was surprised how few people came to the meeting (it felt like one of the highlights of each day.)
On the first day I was capable of making it to the meeting, I was still very much in my head and not at all with it. An out-of-character-for-me event happened. I interrupted the team leader 1 minute into the meeting. I stood up and went to the front of the room. I said I’m new here and introduced myself. I said I’m transgender and could everyone use male pronouns? (If only all comings-out could be this easy!!!!! I feel really proud of myself for this one.) Another patient asked excitedly, “What’s transgender? That means you were born a girl, right?” He seemed ready to continue conversing at length, but another staff member made attempts to derail him and get the meeting back on track, which worked immediately. I wasn’t done with my spiel yet though. I concluded with, “And there are no knives allowed – I heard that early on!” before sitting back down.
I also chatted with another patient about my transgender identity at one point.
The first day I was there, I did not have access to Androgel, but that seemed part of protocol – it takes time to clear personal belongings including prescriptions, maybe? I did not yet have my street clothes or reading material or slippers either. The second day, the nurse brought my Androgel and seemingly played dumb with how to apply it and how much. I told her I apply 1-2 pumps daily (I apply 1 pump, but my prescription states 1-2 pumps). I told her it’s supposed to be applied to your upper arms, but I do my thighs. I told her I have to go into my bathroom (in private) to apply the gel, and she waited for me. The other times she came with it, she referred to it as a spray and also as a patch. She was vague about my dosing. She let me do my thing and then hand it back to her. Although this all felt confusing, I think it was an attempt to convey, “this is your thing and we trust that you will take care of it. We don’t care what you are doing in this regard.” It felt validating.
Although the hospital was far from a pleasant experience, and I would say there were a couple of instances while I was in the emergency department in which I was treated as less than a person with dignity, in terms of my trans-status, they got it right, every step of the way.