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This week, hospitals and health care centers will begin scheduling non-emergency procedures and appointments that were postponed to allow the health care system to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For many transgender and nonbinary people, the cancellation of long-planned gender-affirming procedures or appointments has been devastating. Our communities experience higher rates of anxiety and depression than our cisgender peers, and that was before this pandemic. We are also five times more likely to be living with HIV compared with the general population. Forgoing gender-affirming care and routine appointments over the last two months may have exacerbated any anxiety or depression we were dealing with. And our chronic health conditions may have worsened.
So now is the time to reschedule those visits. You may still be worried about exposing yourself to the coronavirus by visiting a hospital or health care center. You’re not alone. Fear of exposure has become so widespread that Gov. Charlie Baker and the leaders of three hospitals in the Greater Boston area spent time during Baker’s April 23 press briefing reassuring the public that it was safe to seek care for urgent conditions.
“We’re decontaminating our surfaces, we’re practicing social distancing, we’re using masks and we’re doing everything we can to keep you safe,” Dr. Michael Apkon, president and CEO of Tufts Medical Center and Floating Hospital for Children. “If you are ill,” please call your physician to seek care.”
All three health care leaders said that urgent care visits had dropped by over 50 percent and gave disturbing examples of the lengths to which people were avoiding treatment for emergency conditions: a child with a ruptured appendix after toughing out several days of abdominal pain, patients with diabetes needing limb amputation because of untreated leg ulcers, stroke victims not coming in until they were long past the point at which physical damage could be mitigated, and increased cases of advanced cardiac and gastrointestinal disease.
We know that trans adults are more likely to rate our health as poor or fair compared with the general population and more than one in five of us has at least one or more chronic conditions like diabetes, arthritis, or asthma.
As trans people, we must always be vigilant about our mental and physical health. But it’s especially important now, when we know that a compromised immune system and pre-existing health conditions may put us at greater risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19 infection.
So, if you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to call your doctor. We get that it’s sometimes easier said than done. Even in the best of times, many trans and nonbinary people avoid medical care altogether due to stigma and fear of discrimination. But know this: discrimination against transgender people in the MA health care system is unlawful. You have rights. If you have concerns about any mistreatment that you experience during this public health emergency, please reach out to us at the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC) or contact GLADAnswers.org, the legal information service at GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD).
But don’t put off getting the care you need. In the meantime, the best way to ensure your continued health during the pandemic is to practice safety measures and good hygiene. If you must go out, per the governor’s order you are required to wear a face mask. Keep a safe distance from others—at least six feet. Wash your hands thoroughly (scrub for at least 20 seconds) or use hand sanitizer if you have been in public and touched an item or surface that is frequently touched by others—door handles, tables, gas pumps, shopping carts, touchscreens, etc. Keep your hands away from your face, as germs enter our bodies through our mouth, nose and eyes.
And stay connected. It’s a difficult and scary time for everyone. We need each other. Keep in contact with loved ones and support networks via telephone, email, text, Zoom, etc. No matter your age, if you are feeling isolated there are options for you to seek and receive virtual support from within the LGBTQ and trans and nonbinary communities.
Fenway Health and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) are each maintaining helpful lists of information and resources to help you stay safe(r) and healthy during the pandemic. Here are some resources specifically for our elders,
Check out the MA Trans Health Coalition’s Guiding Principles for Gender-Affirming Care During COVID-19 and the Validation Station, a new free service that sends validating and affirming daily text messages to transgender and nonbinary people during this crisis.
A quick Trans Day of Visibility message from MTPC executive director Mason Dunn. For all those who can be visible – thank you. For those who can’t be visible – we love you and support you. For those who have no choice but visibility – we stand with you. #EveryoneWelcome #TransRightsNOW!
The secret is in the crust. I found a recipe that uses shortening to make it flakey and vodka (Russians!) to make it smooth. As much as I love to cook, baking is not a task that comes easily to me. But I do especially love eating pies, and Thanksgiving just doesn’t feel right until I tuck into a slice of pumpkin pie with a healthy dollop of whip cream.
I recently learned that when Franklin McCain sat down at that Woolworth counter in February 1960, he asked for a slice of apple pie. Four black students seeking integration in public accommodations chose eating as an act of protest, and by doing so they shifted the narrative of civil rights. This is such a rich image in my mind; apple pie is often touted as the symbol of Americana. And in that moment, four black men having a slice of pie in a public place became a statement about who does or doesn’t belong in that image of Americana.
Only a few years later, in 1965, the LGBTQ community in Philadelphia held a sit in at Dewey’s Lunch Counter. This action, sparked by the owner’s new policy to deny service to those in “gender non-conformist clothing,” brought out approximately 150 trans and gender nonconforming people, led predominately by people of color. Together, they sat and ordered pie, risking discrimination, hostility, and abuse for their right to share a meal. And this, (followed later by Compton’s Cafeteria riot), occurred years before the well known Stonewall Riot.
Fast forward to July 2016, to the day the Transgender Public Accommodations bill was being debated in the Mass State House. Representative John Fernandes in his speech supporting the bill made the connection again to the civil rights movement. “You can’t tell people it’s OK to work at the diner, but it’s not to sit at the lunch counter. We learned that a long time ago.” He was the first of many legislators who would go on to vote in favor of the bill becoming law.
But then I left the chamber, and walked into the public foyer. There I watched as dozens of citizens verbally sparred about human decency, often grossly assuming that transgender people were the herald of sexual violence; I myself engaged in one such debate. And even though I was horrified by what our opponents were saying (and indeed shouting), I realize only now, that I was doing the same thing to them that they were doing to me. I was making assumptions about who they were, their upbringing, their ideologies and their morals. I cast them as the villain in my own hero story.
But just like a good piece of pie, the truth is so much more layered and rich. On paper, I have many ingredients that define me and make me into the queer trans man of color who I am. And rather than make assumptions about the wrapper, I always ask that people speak to me so that they can learn more about who I am and what I hope for. But I also need to be willing to swing that door in the other direction as well. The person who I engaged from the opposition was Asian, and because of her age and our shared race, she reminded me of my own mother.
In the past several weeks we at MTPC have seen some very scary harbingers of what’s to come. The law that we all worked so very hard to pass is already vulnerable to a ballot recall, and in 2018, everyday citizens will be given the choice to repeal it. In light of this, I am asking for your help to shift the narrative of civil rights. If I had the chance to sit with that woman and engaged with her as a unique human being, in short treated her the way I treat my mother, would she still have the heart to reject our pleas? If we could sit down and share a slice of pie together, would she still be a stranger to me? Because as I’ve said in the past, only a stranger would deny us our rights.
So bake a pie and share it with your next door neighbor. Listen to them when they talk about their hopes and dreams. Chat about what makes us all human in this crazy and illogical world. Find out the secret to their pie crust. And enjoy a slice of pie for me. Happy Pie Day.