Dignity and Safe Medical Care for Transgender People

A striking and important piece in this past Sunday’s New York Times exposes the perils of unregulated "pumping"–the insertion of silicone into various body parts to obtain a body image that conforms to one's gender identity. The harrowing experiences of those who undergo this procedure and the isolation and poverty related to their harsh treatment is a call for scientifically sound and safe medical care for all transgender people.

Although the reporter treats trans women with dignity and is careful not to mock or pass judgment on the women in the article, the narrow focus on silicone implants reduces all transgender health care needs to a desire to “look beautiful” through invasive surgery. The truth is that while transitioning, many transgender people seek forms of surgery and many do not. There is a wide spectrum of transition-related medical interventions–hormones, mental health services, basic reproductive health care, etc. Of course, with rare exceptions, these services are prohibitively expensive and inaccessible to most transgender people. Furthermore, transgender patients face a fundamental barrier to healthcare; the vast majority of medical care providers have no idea how to work with transgender people. There are no universally recognized medical standards for treating transgender patients.

Although the article did not address the broader barriers trans men and women face, it did reference the national transgender discrimination report by Open Society Foundations grantees, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, to illustrate the social and economic vulnerability of trans people: “According to a 2011 discrimination report [PDF] released by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 19 percent of transgender people experienced homelessness because of their gender identity, 57 percent were rejected by their families, and 41 percent had attempted suicide.”

An article that sheds a respectful and compassionate light on the transgender experiences in a mainstream newspaper such as the New York Times is laudable. Thanks to the work of Open Society Foundations grantees such as NCTE, the Taskforce, the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, and the Audre Lorde Project, we can look forward to future reporting that addresses the full spectrum of the challenges of the transgender experience and the communities uniting to overcome them.

Add your voice