The audience at Affirmations on Saturday, Sept. 17 was a diverse one. There were confidently smiling transwomen, well-dressed and softened by years of estrogen. Others sat anxiously, taking notes for themselves or for the sake of a friend or family member. There were plenty of young gender nonconformists, each with their own label or identity, and each in various stages of the transition process. All were hungry to learn more about what goes on when one decides to take the plunge and transition.
The second annual Transgender Health Fair educated attendees about hormones, safe sex, gender reconstruction surgeries, counseling, laser hair removal, prescription drug coverage and supportive organizations. Transgender Michigan hosted the event, filling Affirmations’ front gallery with rows of informational booths, seminars and forums. More than 100 attended.
Counselors Rachel Crandall and Robin Seaton shared their experiences both as transgender women and as counselors. Crandall, who is also co-founder of Transgender Michigan, began her transition fourteen years ago. Seaton started her hormones eleven years ago.
Both women agreed that at least 4-5 sessions with a client are needed before they will consider recommending hormone treatment. “Generally you don’t have to convince me you’re transgender,” Seaton said. “It’s more about making sure you’re ready for what you’re getting into.”
Crandall explained that it’s the role of counselors and doctors to make sure that patients are prepared before they jump into major physical changes. “I’m not trying to discourage anybody, but there are losses when you transition,” she said. “I lost my job. I had a lot of friends and family that I lost. But fortunately I had a good counselor who warned me about the losses I would face, so it made it easier.”
Seaton explained that doctors will require blood tests before and after beginning treatment. “Hormones are not as expensive as you might think. I pay $4 a month,” she said, “but another expense is blood tests and office visits.” As for counseling, many counselors offer sliding scale services.
Seaton and Crandall warned against starting treatment without a doctor’s guidance. “One dangerous thing people do is starting their hormones and stopping them,” Seaton said. Inconsistent treatment stresses the body and can cause mood and physical disorders.
Crandall said that some people obtain hormones on the Internet or in the bathrooms of gay bars: “This is bad for you because you never know what you’re getting. You can’t tell if it is mixed with anything else or if it is even safe. And your body needs to have a regular amount of the hormones. It is safer to start when you are in a position to keep doing it with a doctor’s supervision and in steady doses.”
Transgender people can find trans-friendly providers at LGBT health fairs, through the Pride Source Directory, or through contacts on the Transgender Michigan website.
Other presenters gave more in-depth information on hormone usage and effects, and Michigan AIDS Coalition shared safe sex information. Allies in the community, like Paul Schiavi of Rite Aid Pharmacy in Troy, came out to show that transpeople are welcome. He also brought along four pharmacy students from Wayne State University to give them first-hand experience meeting diverse customers and answering drug and hormone-related questions. The students also gave free blood pressure tests.
FernCare, the free health clinic in Ferndale, is another resource for trans-friendly care. The clinic provides free care to people without health insurance who are between the ages of 18 and 65. FernCare works directly with transgender-friendly counselors and counselors to provide free services or low-cost referrals for services that the clinic cannot provide, such as surgery.
Other resources for transgender wellness and support can be found at the Transgender Michigan website at http://www.transgendermichigan.org.