In my continuing life saga of ‘What will the universe throw at me next?’, my eldest kid fell out of a tree at a friend’s house onto their back the day after school let out for summer. (Happy spoiler: they were not seriously hurt.) This necessitated a trip to urgent care and then an ambulance ride to a hospital emergency room (ER) for further evaluation.
Being trans and getting emergency or non-emergency medical care is fraught when you’re trans. From examples like Tyra Hunter’s unnecessary death in 1995 due to non-treatment by emergency personnel at the scene of the accident and in the ER to #TransHealthFail on Twitter, we know to be wary when engaging with medical practitioners. Even as the medical establishment inches towards an informed consent model for trans medical care, being along for the ride instead of being the patient still has its land mines.
This was my third trip to the ER just this year as a patient advocate and each has had its moment of uncomfortableness. The first was taking my youngest in after they were poked in the eye by a pipe and having to spend a few minutes untangling my dead name from my insurance record. The second was caring for my mom in her final days and being outed over and over at random by my family.
This most recent trip started with my youngest appearing breathlessly in the front yard after running from the neighbor’s house to tell me what had happened. My phone doesn’t always ring or get texts right away where I live, (I’m looking at you AT&T,) so the frantic texts and call from the friend’s parent came while I was scrambling to find my car keys and a femme sweatshirt to throw over the old, baggy, men’s tee-shirt I was wearing without a bra to mow the lawn. Because I was mowing the lawn, I was sweaty, smelled a bit ripe, hadn’t put on any makeup because I knew I’d take a shower after I was done mowing, and my unkempt hair was pulled back from my face in a pony tail.
For my cis readers who are wondering what’s notable about all that because it sounds like any mom mowing the lawn, in addition to the fear my kid had broken their back, this was an anxiety-provoking, almost-nightmare scenario for me.
I’ve been misgendered wearing a dress with a push-up bra and full makeup. To go somewhere without makeup, with a hairstyle of either ‘look at my big forehead’ or ‘hair metal band member after a bad night’, and wearing gender neutral to masculine clothing chosen for comfort instead of emphasizing curves and minimizing a bulge required a huge, deep breath on my part to not take five minutes to change clothes, slap on some mascara and lipstick, and brush my hair.
That my kid needed to go to urgent care and I had to consciously made a choice between rushing them to care right away and femme-ing up my appearance out of fear of my kid not getting timely or proper medical care because I might distract medical personel is supremely fucked up. Just about every trans person can tell a story of when medical care was derailed because some care provider was meeting a trans person for the first time and wanted to ask questions about being trans instead of about being injured or sick. That doesn’t even include fears and experiences of receiving sub-standard care due to hidden trans misogyny or bigotry.
The good news is me being trans didn’t seem to impact care for my kid. The not so good news is that there was still friction.
There was friction at check-in when the lady behind the counter seemed confused my kid had two moms and asked who I was twice, even after confirming I was the Heather on the insurance card. This could have been due to either less than stellar lesbian/gay family awareness or me not looking like a Heather, or both.
There was friction after we were told an ambulance ride to the hospital ER was necessary for a CT scan to check for a potential fractured vertebrae and our youngest couldn’t come along. I called their birth mom and she offered to come pick him up and follow us to the hospital. The ambulance arrived before she did and we asked again if the young one could ride along and the driver said that would be okay. I told them to hang on a minute while I called their other mom to inform her and got a funny look.
There was friction as I sat across from the ambulance medical technician for the 40 minute drive when he stared at me a few times across my kid strapped to a gurney before reaching some sort of internal, satisfactory conclusion about me and then talking much less.
There was friction in the ER, when the triage doctor looked at my ex and asked, ‘Are you the mom?’ and then looking surprised when my kids called me ‘mum’.
There was friction in the ER financial office after they pulled my ex in first and she told them I was responsible for the medical bills and I popped my head in the door to have the financial counselor hesitatingly ask me, ‘You’re Heather?’
In the grand scheme of things, these were trifles and everything worked out in the end. My kid only had some scrapes and the wind knocked out of them.
Yet these small events are illustrative of the additional emotional labor all trans people are required to process at some point. For some, this happens multiple times a day, every day in stores & schools and offices & out in public. During an emergency, the grain of sand of being accidentally misgendered can feel like a boulder dropped on your head and intentional hostility can trigger the fight or flight response, short-circuiting rational decision-making.
I still fear ending up in the ER unconscious and being unable to advocate for myself. I can only hope that as more and more people in the medical field meet trans people and become more familiar with our particular issues and needs in care settings, everyone will be able to focus fully on the medical issues at hand instead of being distracted because someone in the room is trans.
Please consider supporting my writing by buying one of my poetry collections from the Kindle store. Thank you!