The relationship between trans, queer and LGBIA+ patients and their healthcare providers has forever been a shaky one, as the medical community’s understanding of sex and gender has oftentimes failed to keep up with advancements in modern medicine.
Lark Malakai Grey, an openly queer nutritional therapist who specializes in autoimmune and gastrointestinal issues, is making a concentrated effort to mend such wounds, starting first with their own nutritional practice “Transformative Wellness” in Ypsilanti. Here, Grey aims to take a personalized approach to nutrition with all patients regardless of whether they’re queer, a person of color, trans, or of a different faith.
“I’m really deeply embedded in the queer community, and I’d say that 97 percent of my peer group are queer, trans or somewhere in that group,” Lark told BTL. “And so I know that a lot of folks struggle with this, and have had a terrible experience with western medical system as it relates to queer or trans patients.”
“Armed with that knowledge and personal experience, I just want to be really explicit about the fact that that’s not going to happen when folks are working with me.”
One of Grey’s chief beliefs is that emotional and physical health rarely exist in separate spheres – in a Venn diagram, the two would make “a perfect circle,” according to the Transformative Wellness website. Grey’s treatment packages are built around this idea, and include a mix of life coaching and tarot card readings that can be supplemented alongside straightforward nutritional therapy.
Grey currently offers four packages at Transformative Wellness: an integrated nutrition/coaching package, a nutrition-only package, a coaching-only package, and a tarot-guided coaching package. While all four are separate and unique, Grey maintains a consistent approach among each one that aims to treat the root of a patient’s ailment, not just their symptoms.
Grey explained this approach in the context of a patient being treated for irritable bowel syndrome.
“We dig into where this problem is coming from so we can make a treatment plan, as opposed to most of the people I see who have IBS who are told by the doctor they’ll always feel bad, so they need to avoid XYZ foods,” Grey said. “And that’s not really helpful – I’m trying to do the opposite. Don’t just avoid, but try and figure out what’s making you sick.”
They add that the act of adjusting to an illness, rather than facing the root of the problem head on, can put patients in financially unrealistic situations. “A lot of folks in the more natural healing community can get militant, saying this has to be raw milk sourced from a local farm, for example,” Grey said. “I recognize that’s not realistic for so many people.”
Grey’s firsthand experiences provide a foundation for much of their work, allowing them to empathize with patients in ways they believe not every nutritionist can. Grey themself has dealt with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, chronic gut issues, adrenal fatigue and mental illness, while their partner was also treated for severe Crohn’s disease.
Learning how to treat both their partner’s and their own nutritional needs inspired Grey to pursue an official education through the Nutritional Therapy Association, earning them a certification in the field in 2016.
“I have a really good idea of how to keep my body well, and I think that’s really important in the work I do,” Grey told BTL. “Not only because it makes me feel confident that what I do works, but also because it means I can empathize with my clients, both in how they’re feeling when they come to me but also in the process of healing – every step of the way I can genuinely tell them I’ve been there.”
As an openly queer individual, Grey said they’ve also had negative healthcare experiences where intersex people, trans people and other identities are “erased” on patient evaluation forms. Only accounting for two genders tells you a lot about a practitioner, Grey said, and can create an even greater lack of trust between LGBTQ+ patients and their doctors.
“Cis-heteronormativity gets into conversations and erases trans and non-binary identities, not just in healthcare, but the same in any other piece of society,” Grey said. “That then makes people hesitant to ask for services that they need to be healthy.”
“The male female gender question is harmful in so many ways,” Grey continued. “Asking only that question doesn’t make any room for other identities, and puts people in a position to have to come out to their doctors in a way that sucks, or they choose not to, which then puts them in a position of having difficulty disclosing to their doctors…it’s easier to check a box then tell a doctor.”
Heteronormativity is pervasive not only in traditional western medicine, Grey said, but also in the natural healing world, which can be “very gendered” and dismissive of different experiences. This is why Grey makes sure to provide six different gender and sex options on their intake forms, in addition to asking each of their patient’s preferred pronouns.
Grey adds that Transformative Wellness isn’t just for queer clients or alternative identities, but rather an inclusive space where anyone seeking treatment can feel safe.
“I just want to provide the healthcare I want, making sure to put out in the world the care I’d like to receive – that’s what I’m doing.”
Connect with Lark Malakai Grey at Transformative Wellness by phone at 734-548-9978, email Lark@transformativewellnessA2.com or online transformativewellnessa2.com/.