FERNDALE – AIDS prevention, art therapy, anti-aging, hair removal, gender reassignment surgery, support groups, free health care and counseling were just some of the services presented Aug. 28 at Michigan’s first-ever Transgender Health Fair, held at Affirmations LGBT community center in Ferndale.
Transgender Michigan and Affirmations teamed up to organize the event, which brought in locals interested in gathering information and resources, as well as attendees from Indiana and Ohio, who commented that there has never been a trans health fair in their home states either.
The event connected FTMs, MTFs, allies and people considering transition with service providers.
“A lot of transgender people are afraid to go to the doctor of hospital because there are a lot of horror stories,” said Transgender Michigan founder Rachel Crandall, who coordinated the event. “We hear from people all over the world, but even in my personal experience I know a transperson who went to a doctor for an exam and was sexually molested. Another friend told their doctor they wanted to start taking hormones, and the doctor’s response was ‘I’ll give you 30 seconds to get out of my office before I call the police.’ These stories really happen and they get spread around.
“But today is not about that,” Crandall continued. “Today we let patients know there are trans-friendly service providers out there, and also to let doctors and businesses know there are a lot of friendly transpeople out there.”
One popular booth at the event was for the FernCare free clinic, which opened Aug. 7 at a temporary location in Ferndale’s Kulick Community Center. The clinic sees patients ages 19-64 without health insurance twice a month for non-OBGYN-related medical issues.
“One of the first things we considered was that if we were going to open in Ferndale, we’d better make sure that our volunteer doctors and nurses knew how to address the concerns of the transgender population,” said Board President Ann Heler. “We found out that trans issues are not even taught in medical school. Not five minutes is spent introducing these doctors and nurses to a segment of the population that has their own health issues, and needs basic health care just like the rest of us.”
FernCare recruited local doctor Neal Wilson, M.D., to be on-call during clinic hours to answer patient or physician questions about transgender health issues. The nonprofit organization also had Michelle Fox, founder of Transgender Detroit, come to speak to the doctors and nurses about the transgender experience. “We are so grateful to be in this place, and to have people like Michelle and Dr. Wilson to give us the guidance we need so that every patient can feel comfortable coming to the clinic,” added Heler.
Other services catered specifically to the mind, body and spirit of transgender individuals. Licensed esthetician Heather Engbarth of the Be Well Medical Center in Berkley provided samples of beauty cremes and information about hair removal, botox and other services offered at the center. Electrology expert Tracy Lynn is an MTF who does permanent hair removal, wigs and other beauty treatments designed to make the transwoman feel pampered and beautiful. Her electrology treatments are permanent, whereas laser hair removal is only effective for about a year.
Alfreda R. Rooks, administrative director of Comprehensive Gender Services at the University of Michigan hospital, was on hand to answer questions about surgery, counseling and other issues of concern. “Insurance is a big issue,” Rooks said. “They consider chest surgery to be for cosmetic purposes and not medical ones. In FTMs in particular there is a disparity in coverage, and it’s really hurtful to them to look in the mirror and see a part of the body they don’t feel reflects who they are. Doctors are getting more accustomed to male-to-female surgeries because they’ve been around longer.”
U of M offers basic medical care for transgender patients as well as mental health counseling, surgery, workplace support and therapy groups. They have also just added a transgender support group, which is held on the third Tuesday of each month at 2025 Traverwood Drive, Suite A1 in Ann Arbor. For more information go to www.med.umich.edu/transgender.
In addition to the successful health fair, Transgender Michigan is celebrating the opening of their first office in the Community Pride Building in Ferndale, which is also the home of Michigan AIDS Coalition.
Alex Krasicky, who will be managing the Transgender Michigan office through a position with AmeriCorps, says she’s excited about her career path. “There are so many misconceptions out there about transpeople,” she said. “Because of the Internet, things are changing quickly. It used to be that the average age for transitioning was in the 50s. Now there are more and more young people who make the decision early in life, before they have all the family and legal issues to deal with. I’m glad I can be a part of this time of change, and maybe make a difference in the lives of other transgender people.”
For updates on Transgender Michigan’s news and upcoming events, visit http://www.transgendermichigan.org.