World Health Day 2015
The United Nations have labelled April 7 World Health Day. A day to pay explicit attention to health issues. Since our focus is trans* and inter*, or differently (and more universally) put: gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics, this is what we will look into.
For transgender persons, or trans* people, or gender variant/diverse people, having a good health is often a luxury they cannot afford. Because they are not recognized as a group in need of specific health care (or even health care at). In many parts of the world including enlightened Europe, wishing to adapt your body’s sex characteristics is a frowned upon phenomenon. Both the general public and the medical sector may despise you for your needs.
The next issue is getting the health care covered by insurance. Of the countries that provide health care to relieve the plight of trans* people, most cover maybe the ‘basics’ and then still often on extraneous conditions. These so-called basics are not by definition what the trans* person asks. Because being trans* does not only concern those people who need to ‘switch’ genders for their well-being, but every trans* person who is in need of any health care to increase their well-being with their gendered and sexed body. Some people may need hormone replacement therapy because their natal sex hormones don’t agree with them. Some need to only get rid of (the largest part of) their breasts. And given the choice, the percentage of trans* women that insists in getting rid of their original genitals is not that high. In the Netherlands only 12% of the whole trans* population (estimated at 2 to 3% of the population) decides for medical assistance. Communication from Spain indicates a similar percentage.
In most countries doctors don’t agree with prescribing hormones or doing surgery upon a patient unless a psychologist has done a thorough assessment of the care user’s mental health and observes the presence of “Gender Identity Disorder” or “Gender Dysphoria”. That process of establishing the diagnosis can easily aggravate the presupposed dysphoria (a word that actually refers to severe depression, and by virtue of that is not a good term). When left to the discretion of a prejudiced medical profession, that has no good understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity (and expression) phenomena, they will try to explain things away, but not legitimize the existence of gender diversity. The higher the level of morals conservatism, the higher the chance trans* people will meet this fate and only can progress medically assisted gender transition with a diagnosis of severe mental disorder.
Also in the progressive Netherlands you cannot easily enter medically assistance with gender transition. Where the Standards of Care for transgender health care states that informed consent is the way to go, the Amsterdam gender team still insists in a lengthy psychological evaluation and in case you may encounter practical trouble (intensifying ‘dysphoria’, growing life problems for non conforming ..) they may prolong evaluation or when already on HRT, suggest you to lower the dosage. As if that were the issue. Doing so leads to iatrogenic increase of mental instability. Which in turn leads to a decrease of the patient’s health.
Another issue that weirdly is coupled to a trans* person’s health, is Legal Gender Recognition and the preconditions for that. In Europe 33 countries require psychological or medical interventions before recognizing a trans* person’s wish to change their gender assignment; 19 still require sterilization and genital realignment. Only two states in the world give the possibility to change one’s gender assignment with no strings attached: Argentina, and Malta. Denmark comes next, but still requires a half-year wait (and being over 18 y.o.). Everywhere else, where there are regulations, psychological assessment is the least invasive requirement, also in the Netherlands. Only two to three countries take trans* people seriously. And only one of these has provisions for a non-male/non-female reassignment.
Laws and regulations can have an important effect on trans and inter* persons’ well-being. They regulate the conditions for legal gender change, for medical assistance: which interventions are available at all, which ones are insurance funded? For intersex (or inter*, because it can also be an identity and those more ‘intergender’ and the asterisk in both inter* and trans* indicates a vastness in possibilities). Only one state in the whole world, one state out of more than 192 states, prohibits explicitly that sex characteristics get adapted to a social ideal of having genitals clearly distinguishable as male or female. Everywhere but in Malta this is still legal, and standing practice.Progress
Engaging in these usually non-consensual surgeries is a gross violation of a person’s dignity and personal autonomy. Intersex genital mutilations – usually performed on minors – equals forced sterilisation of women for belonging to the wrong ethnic group (forbidden by the European Human Rights Court en the UN!). When asked a paediatrician they sometimes agree that in the past many errors have been made, but nowadays medical science is so much better that the results are incomparable with the sorry state of technique and results of twenty-five years ago. By using that argument they still deny people their right to bodily autonomy, to decide for themselves about their body. They preclude being OK with those genitals (or gonads or chromosomes), with their body and their life.
The health of a person considered physically or mentally deviant is the explicit object of power play, of medical, psychiatric and legal paternalistic laws and practices. That goes against the most basic rights and that alone already is pretty bad for one’s health.