Frederick seems like a decent place to be transgender. I’ve lived most of my life in the city, and I’ve been medically transitioning from male to female over the past year.
Misgendering aside, I haven’t had a single negative experience out in public. Since I’ve resumed my studies at Frederick Community College, I’ve had nothing but positive interactions with the students and faculty there. I’m open about being a transgender woman, and I’ve been better accepted than I could have anticipated. I feel relatively safe. Despite all those positives, I can’t help but feel a deep-seated resentment toward this city.
Transition requires incredible patience, both with other people and your body. When I introduce myself as Whitney, I see error messages flicker across faces. It’s kind of funny. I try not to be bothered by the occasional weird look. I don’t have my day ruined when someone tells me, “Have a nice day, sir!” I do hope that people won’t react to me like that forever, but there’s no assurances with transition. It takes two years on hormones to answer questions like this: Can I pull this off? Is this a good idea? How will I be treated? What will I look like?
At 35 years old, I’m worried I won’t like the answers I receive next year. Hormone replacement therapy, a treatment to help me transition as a woman — which in my case, means estrogen — induces more profound changes in younger people. The effects diminish with age. What upsets me is that I’ve been actively seeking and failing to find medical treatment in Frederick County since I was 24. Maybe I’m being unfair, but I feel like Frederick’s healthcare system stole 10 years of my life.
It took me 24 years to tell anyone about the internal struggle I had been fighting since childhood. It slowly ate away at me, and I eventually tried to stop feeling that way – permanently. I’m happy to inform you I didn’t succeed.
Silence sent me to the hospital, so I started talking. I began with the psychiatrist. I needed help. He wrote Gender Identity Disorder on my chart 15 minutes later. I was happy because you can get treatment with a medical diagnosis, right? That hasn’t been my experience. I was put on an anti-depressant and monitored for the rest of the week.
It took this doctor 15 minutes to feel comfortable giving me a new psychiatric medication. That struck me as reckless and ruined my opinion of psychiatrists. More importantly, I had put myself out there and nothing came out of it. I was crushed. I was better. I wanted to leave. I didn’t have health insurance. I couldn’t afford the thousands of dollars they were charging for the room. My anxiety over the bill seemed to be the only legitimate reason for them to keep me at that point. Ironically, or perhaps not, the psychiatric ward was causing my mental health to deteriorate the longer I remained there.
I descended further into depression. I only left my room when I was coerced into group therapy sessions. While I’m not one to question the wisdom of medical professionals, I’ve never understood the logic or benefit of having mildly depressed people mingle with people who obviously experienced a completely different version of reality. I wasn’t receiving any help there.
That’s why I was so fortunate to have met Angela, a certified nursing assistant, who would drop by to visit me every so often. One visit she told me a story about running into a transgender acquaintance downtown, and how surprising it was to see this person in a dress. I went pale. She looked concerned and asked, “Why did the color just go out of your face?” I thought about deflecting the question, because I did not want talk about those feelings to anyone again. My composure crumbled in about 3 seconds. I started bawling and told her everything.
I was discharged from the hospital in good spirits as Angela rolled me outside in the unnecessary wheelchair the hospital required me sit in. As we said our goodbyes, I decided I was going to be a nurse like her. Her compassion had helped heal the trauma that brought me to the hospital, and I was feeling great by the time I left. The antidepressants had dug their claws into my nervous system. For the first time ever, I felt like my lifelong dream was attainable. I visited my doctor in Frederick.
The man who cared for me since childhood refused to oversee my treatment. He wasn’t swayed by the fact he was my only alternative to using black market internet drugs. He offered to monitor my blood levels if I wanted to self-medicate. He was more comfortable with the idea of me using mystery drugs from Vanuatu than prescribing me safe pharmaceuticals from the United States. I learned primum non nocere translates to “first, assume no liability.” I never visited him again.
I soon found out there wasn’t a doctor in the city who was willing to provide this care. The endocrinologists in town wouldn’t take on a transgender patient, nor would the medical spas that were selling vanity hormones to aging men and women. It took 10 despair-filled years to find a practitioner willing to help me.
A decade hasn’t changed much in Frederick. Since Kate Masters of the Frederick News Post covered this issue in August 2018, the number of transgender healthcare providers in Frederick has skyrocketed from zero to two. To those providers, thank you.
Nationwide access to transition-related health care has always been one of the greatest struggles faced by the transgender community. I highly doubt the unwillingness to learn potentially lifesaving information shown by the other health care providers in Frederick county means they are deliberately attempting to facilitate the decline of an at-risk population, but refusing care is essentially the same thing. Please use this LGBT Pride Month to study basic endocrinology so your transgender patients don’t have to.
Whitney is a transgender woman living and transitioning in Frederick, where she grew up.