Simply put: gender dysphoria is a bitch. It's that nagging voice attacking a person's self-esteem when they look in the mirror, walk out of the shower or gaze down at their body. And it's even louder when a person suffering from it seeks medical treatment that doesn't cater to those anxieties.
Ruth Ellis Center's (REC) new Gender Affirming Care video aims to counter those fears and medical biases. The team leading the video's production, release and promotion spoke to Pride Source exclusively.
"The gender-affirming care video and this entire project is super important for our trans and non-binary folks that are in the LGBTQ community," Celina Ortiz, REC's education and facilitation specialist, tells Pride Source. "It's often the experience of folks who don't identify on the binary spectrum of male or female, or don't identify as cis-gendered, who have traumatic or negative experiences in health care and/or mental health services."
The 25-minute video features narratives from medical providers, as well as LGBTQ+ youth who've come through the REC. All share negative and positive stories about their experiences with gender-affirming care to educate the community on gender-affirming methods.
"This video is for providers, for parents, doctors, therapists — anyone who is serving those who are trans or non-binary to better understand how to serve them, what resources are available to educate themselves about medicine or non-medical transitioning and language that's more accessible to them to serve clients better," Ortiz says.
Since its 1999 founding, REC has been serving LGBTQ+ youth through programs like Integrated Primary Health Services, a partnership with Henry Ford Hospital, and Integrated Behavioral Health Services through the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network.
The REC team decided to produce this gender-affirming video based on client feedback. After documenting and researching their findings, the team discovered a trend. Jessie Fullenkamp, REC's education and evaluation director, explains that "internalized and perpetuated sexism" has "unconsciously or inadvertently created barriers to our affirming care, particularly gender-affirming health care."
The National Center for Biotechnology Information study Barriers to Gender-Affirming Care for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Individuals confirms this evaluation. Transgender and gender non-conforming patients who were involved in the study reported "being asked invasive questions that perpetuated beliefs in only two genders and left participants feeling invalidated" when trying to receive medical services.
"There are a lot of pervasive myths about what it means to access gender-affirming medical care," Fullenkamp says. "There are a lot of barriers — especially for people under 18 — that still exist for accessing puberty blockers and gender-affirming hormones. This is a huge problem."
The team hopes their new video on gender-affirming medical care can serve as a tool for addressing the problem.
"The entirety of our team is virtually going into spaces to provide training on what it means and what it looks like to have gender-affirming health care," says Ortiz. "Though we're not experts on the subject, this is the most information that's out there about gender-affirming health care, and this is what can be done now. Our training and the video are supposed to be a tool, so folks can be the first in their area, in their county, to replicate [the teachings]."
REC will be working with national groups, including the University of Maryland's School of Social Work Institute for Innovation and Implementation and the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, to increase the distribution of the video.
The latter organization aligns with REC's mission to focus on entities serving children and their families in integrated health, child welfare, and housing, says Nazarina Minaya, REC senior development associate.
Toward the end of the film, pediatrician Maureen Connolly poignantly explains the heart of the video's mission.
"Even if we're not familiar with the health care interventions for affirming someone's transgender identity, we have an opportunity to support them and to let them know that we're going to learn more," she says.