Willits: As a Patient at the Transgender Center, I Urge You to Stand Up for Health Care

A sign from a protest in Jefferson City for transgender rights. | Reuben Hemmer

A sign from a protest in Jefferson City for transgender rights. | Reuben Hemmer

“She did it for the kids.” Taken in any other context, this might have been a good thing. But this was part of a conversation I overheard in a coffee shop in south city, and it was far from good. Two humans, both presenting as women, were discussing Jamie Reed’s essay calling out the Washington University Transgender Center for bad practices and mal-efficiencies in patient care and operation procedures.

I knew the heart of their discussion, and I knew it well. I also knew that the way those six short words were voiced across the table, over two freshly poured cups of coffee, that those ladies were about to settle in for a long talk and that the coffee wasn’t the only thing heated at that table. I decided my to-go cup and I needed to sit for a minute and took a nearby seat.

What I heard echoed so many of the shared posts that have been bouncing around social media since Reed’s piece was published on February 9. A lot of feelings can build up in people in two months; a lot of information can be shared across internet platforms in that time and so can a lot of untruths. Half the vitriol-filled posts I’ve seen on any given day in recent weeks could have been the script for this pair’s coffee klatch.

It’s one thing to scroll past the online posts, but to hear people discussing Reed’s trumped-up story in a setting where others would only hear only snippets as they passed, and quite likely use those snippets as fodder for the continuous and ugly game of “Did You Hear…” was enough for me to realize that I’d been quiet long enough.

First of all, you are entitled to your opinion. However, no matter how right you think you are, no matter how much good you’ve convinced yourself you’re doing, no one has the right to put another human being in harm’s way. And while this may seem pointed at Reed, I assure you I am also addressing anyone who believes they know how to better care for a transgender human than the parents, the licensed mental-health professionals, the licensed physicians, the medical-facility administrators, or even the trans human living the experience. A medical community has made nationally and internationally recognized standards of care for trans humans, but, sure…throw in your two cents.

Full disclosure, I met Reed in 2019 when, as a freelance writer for a trans-centered online magazine, I attended community meetings hosted by the Transgender Center. We are not friends, nor have we remained in contact. I am also a patient at the Transgender Center.

So, when you read Reed’s accounting of the trans experience or even watch the video circulating social media of her sharing her experience working at the center, understand this: Her position at Washington University did not afford her the luxury of speaking on behalf of transgender humans or their families. She was a case worker. She was not the mental-health professional providing care to patients, nor was she the medical doctor treating folks or making recommendations for treatment. To my knowledge, she formed her opinions based on case files, not from being in the treatment rooms with patients. Not once as a patient has anyone other than a medical professional or a student with prior authorization by both the teaching physician and me been allowed in the exam room.

If you are relying on someone to make a life-altering diagnosis for your child’s care or your own care, and you are turning to estimations thrust on you by the state attorney general or your state legislators or your neighbor who voted for so-and-so based on information from a disgruntled case worker; none of whom hold medical licenses, who are you helping? You are advocating a cattle-call version of care where everyone is given the same diagnosis and the same treatment. No longer is the child an individual.

The last time I looked, no two kids were the same. And when it comes to transitioning, no two humans take the same path. This is not a “one transition fits all” game. That’s exactly why we need facilities like the Washington University Transgender Center and why there are currently around 100 other facilities available across the United States providing gender-affirming care. Truthfully, that isn’t nearly enough. When we turn to science — as we should — we understand that gender-affirming care is life-saving care. We lean into the science for nearly every other medical treatment, yet those who would have you believe the anti-transgender rhetoric are telling you the science is wrong here and that trans health care is unnecessary.

Listen closely, people, because they are talking out of both sides of their mouths. They are using scientific findings about mental health concerns among transgender people to argue against medical interventions. If folks were using science in an honest way, they would see that medicine supports gender-affirming health care. Some truly bad actors say that there’s no scientific evidence that transgender people exist at all.

Opponents of gender-affirming care conveniently forget to tell you that the same respected major medical associations that support trans care are the ones on which you have relied your entire life. These are the same doctors and medical associations that have given you medicine for an infection, treated your high blood pressure, or diagnosed your diabetes or cured your cancer. Like all other treatments, gender-diverse health care is evidence-based health care. To deny any human basic health care is not only wrong, but also dangerous and life-threatening. You would not knowingly withhold medical treatment for any other health-related diagnosis if you could improve the well-being of an individual, would you?

Well, Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s Emergency Rule does just that. It will prevent both youth and adult transgender humans from receiving necessary basic health care and put lives at risk. It ignores science.

So where are we now, folks? Some of you following this story may already know that the Transgender Center has had an independent study conducted to address the concerns Reed brought forth. All of her points of contention were unsubstantiated. Reed, of course, stands by her allegations. But her voice is not the end-all-be-all of this issue. Lambda Legal, the ACLU of Missouri, and Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP were able to block Bailey’s emergency rule at least through May 15.

Not only are many of you or people you know currently madly trying to figure out their next step for health care, many are considering moving out of state. I’m not there yet. Admittedly, I don’t know if my next prescription for testosterone will be filled. I have a surgery scheduled for May at the Transgender Center which is currently on hold, and my doctors at the facility are not optimistic that it will even take place because of this Emergency Rule. But what I do know is this: The Washington University physicians at the Transgender Center are not only renowned in their fields, they are also educators. These are the humans who are making sure the next generation of gender-diverse kids have health care professionals to care for them. That they also get to treat your friends and family in a consistently award-winning facility at Barnes Jewish Hospital is significant. And that those same doctors have been standing together to support the trans community speaks to their commitment. They are the doctors I want on my side.

So now what? It’s time to get vocal and stay vocal. Contact your legislators and make your voice heard with your vote.

It’s time to stand by the center and the doctors that stand by us. Listen to your gender-diverse friends and family when they tell you who they are and what they need. Trans rights are human rights.

It is not hyperbole to state that if we do not change the culture now, humans will die.

RELATED: DeWald: A parent’s perspective on transgender health care


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