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Sunday, July 12, 2015

An Essay on the Transgender Healthcare Experience

Today I would like to share an essay that I wrote for a contest for the University of Virginia health care system. Unfortunately, I missed the deadline to submit my essay, but I think that my readers would like to read about my experience interacting with health care in the United States during and after my transition. Here is what I wrote about my experiences:

 Identity seems like such a simple thing, but it can be anything but that. Identity can be as simple as seeing a beautiful bird and thinking, “Oh! There is an indigo bunting!” or seeing a piece of crystallized rock and saying to a friend, “That’s quartz.” Sometimes identity is not so simple; does this fish have 17 dorsal spines in its fin or are there only 16? It can make a difference in what species of fish you are identifying.

Identity in the health care system is something that we hold to be so important that a whole canon of law on how to go about correctly identifying a person, about protecting that person’s identity as well as her identifying health care information has emerged.

What happens when someone whose true identity has been hidden for many years, perhaps almost all of one’s life suddenly becomes known to the health care system? This is the situation a transsexual finds herself in when she makes the decision to live an outwardly authentic life that reflects her true identity. It is also the situation health care systems find themselves in when the patient who has always been identified as male becomes a woman outwardly and legally, matching her experience of her internal identity with her outward appearance and her day to day social life.

When a person such as myself transitions and begins to live authentically in public after many years of maintaining a false pretense, it is not necessarily easy, especially at first. However it becomes natural after a relatively short period of time. I have always known who I was, the difficulty was in shedding the layers of armor built to protect anyone else from knowing who I was. It didn't take very long at all though to feel as natural and comfortable as any other woman in my daily life.

Fortunately, I was able to recognize that while my very public transition was voluntary for me, it was not voluntary for my coworkers and patients as well as my loved ones. Those who have remained in my life, thankfully almost everyone who involuntarily transitioned with me did so with fairly little difficulty and successfully made the transition with me.

Yes, mistakes were made along the way. What I found to be most helpful in facilitating my transition for these people was to grant them grace and not get upset when mistakes were made by using my old name or using the wrong pronoun in referring to me. Being mindful of the involuntary nature of their position was a way for me to extend good will and gratitude for finding acceptance and understanding with my transition.  They were getting a more open and authentic person to work with. Who wants to work with someone who has to live a lie? I wouldn't and I would feel sad for that person and would want them to be who they are and be all they can be. It’s why I do what I do for a living.

Working in health care as well as being a recipient of health care has been an interesting experience in becoming public with my identity. For most of my life a change of public gender identity, was just not done. Health Care, just as the rest of society, is slow to react to the truth that not as rarely as we once thought, poorly understood biopsychosocial factors create a split between gender identity and a  body habitus that does not match one's gender identity. My experiences have ranged from inconvenient to mildly embarrassing to being subjected to flat out discrimination by Health Care. Mostly my experiences were those of being inconvenienced and on one occasion it was rather embarrassing. On that occasion I was pretty sick with the flu which only added to my misery at the the moment.

Because I work in healthcare, I also transitioned on the business side of the organization and I can only say wonderful things about my supervisor and Human Resources. The transition happened with very little fanfare which is how I hoped it would be. I am very thankful to my employer.

Getting the health care system to identify me correctly was not as easy as managing the rest of my legal identity. It was a pretty simple process to get the world to legally say that Lauren Tancyus is a female. Legal name change: file the court form that I filled out myself and pay a fee. Driver’s license: one form to be signed by a health care professional to change my gender to female on my license and one form to get my legal name on my license along with a small fee. The court notified vital statistics in the state I was born and my new birth certificate (unfortunately with the WRONG gender due to that state’s laws) was sent to me with my new legal name. I went to Social Security and filled out the form to have my name changed. I notified the Board of Social Work and they changed my name and gender on my Social Work license for free. All in all it was fairly simple with no frustrations along the way to become legally identified as who I am.

Now getting the health care system to recognize me as female and my legal name change was not as smooth and seamless as getting my legal identity changed. I knew that my medical information needed to reflect who I am. I coordinated with my wonderful office manager Carmen to change my identity in the system with permission from our Health Information Management department. I provided the needed legal documentation which was entered into the system. All seemed right with the world!

About 5 months later, I went to one of my health care system’s prompt care outpatient offices on a weekend. Imagine my surprise when I registered with my legal female identification and my health insurance card reflecting my correct identity, only to be called back by my male name by the health care professional who would treat me. It was extremely embarrassing to me. Much worse was when I got to the pharmacy and found the prescriptions in my male name even after I explained to the treating physician that my legal identity was now female. I did not have any old identification with me and felt too sick to go home and come back. My only option was to out myself to the pharmacy staff, personal and private information they did not need to know to perform filling these prescriptions, if only Health Information Management had performed this task correctly when I gave them my new legal identity information.

  Fortunately, they were wonderfully kind and under the circumstances quite merciful to me in not insisting I go home to get the old identification in order to fill my prescriptions. They also made no issue of my gender transition. That at least, was a very positive experience during that unhappy episode of my health care.

I contacted Health Information Management about this experience and told them how embarrassed I was on top of being pretty sick at the time. They investigated the complaint and found that while some things had been changed to reflect my gender and name change, others had not which resulted in my unpleasant experience. I was assured that policy and procedure would be updated so that this did not happen again to someone else. I was also given a very sincere apology from the director of medical records. As far as I’m concerned, in correcting this problem, health care worked well and I consider my grievance with the health care system resolved. I think that this reflects my attitude in that for Health Care, my transition was involuntary for them while it was voluntary for me. Health Care can be behind the curve in this area, but I do see an effort being made to change these problems and get up to speed.I'm glad that my experience will pave the way to make life easier for someone else in the future.

In all of Health Care, there is only one area that the transsexual interacts with that fails most of us catastrophically. It is within the domain of Health Care Insurance, or for me at least with my health insurance to be subject to bigotry and discrimination and that is the failure to cover my health care expenses related to the treatment of my gender dysphoria. Not a dime of my treatment was or is eligible to be covered by the insurance coverage I have through my employment in Health Care. Even though my condition is medically recognized and the treatments I have had are considered medically necessary, I am left with no avenue to become whole. I am blessed however that I was able to personally pay for most of the medical care that I need. There are so many more like me without the resources even to do that. Imagine how they must suffer! I can certainly say that my quality of life would be so much better even as improved as it has become. To deny my healthcare insurance coverage for transgender health care is unconscionable. It puts medical care out of reach for some of my most important health care needs.

The message received is that as far as my healthcare insurance company is concerned, my identity is not a valid identity. It is a very stigmatizing message from my insurance company, in my opinion.
In terms of providing quality health care for transgender people, I would give my health care organization pretty high marks. I have one of the largest mental health practices in Virginia serving transgender patients and generally see 5 or 6 individuals a week. I have been able to successfully coordinate other health care services for transgender people to be provided by our organization. We offer speech therapy, endocrinology, aesthetic dermatology, psychiatry and gynecologic services all leading to referral for gender reassignment surgery and we provide the necessary services for after care post gender reassignment surgery. We offer every needed service except for gender reassignment surgery itself all in one system. I see this as tremendous progress for people whose identity changes in the health care system and I am very proud of that accomplishment for Health Care.


  1. It's not easy living in a world that doesn't accept that some people aren't comfortable in their original body, so they need to make changes in order to live a happier life. The healthcare system is one that should be willing to accept the changes as it's often a part of the transition process.

    Jason Hayes @ DECORM

  2. How fascinating and inspiring to both go through the transition process oneself and work with others who are experiencing these same things in life! So many people would be focused entirely on self - and nothing wrong with that, per se - but what an amazing and strong soul it takes to deal with not only the personal issues during such a journey but as mentioned, the legalities such as seeing to being identified correctly following transition in the professional community. Kudos and so much respect to you or your strength, kindness, and incredible humanity.

    Modesto Culbertson @ DZ Law Group