This is why transgender people deserve better from the people who treat them.
By Sam Dylan Finch
September 27, 2019
In this op-ed, Sam Dylan Finch recounts his experience of being misgendered by doctors after attempting suicide, showing why it’s critical that doctors do better for transgender patients.
It was seven words, haphazardly scrawled on a piece of paper, that landed me in the emergency room: “I can’t do this anymore. I’m sorry.”
Social workers, nurses, doctors would all ask me what I meant by “this,” but how does one explain the feeling you get when you look in the mirror and start searching for the zipper along your spine, fully convinced you must step outside of your body? As if I could explain how I was sure that zipper should be there each and every time someone uttered the words “she” or “woman” to describe me. As if I could capture the obsessive thoughts, the conspiracy theories that I tried to ward off by knocking on wood 30 times, hoping to quell the panic overtaking me.
The note was found by a roommate who wasn’t supposed to be home that day. This is tidily summarized in the paperwork created when I was involuntarily committed. “REASON: Suicidal ideation. Gender Dysphoria.”
After they found the note, I was taken by ambulance to a psych ward in a town I’d never heard of. “That’s one of the nice ones,” the ambulance worker told me. “They’ll take care of you.”
The first morning in the ward, I was woken up by a nurse standing over me with a small cup of pills. She didn’t tell me what they were, and I didn’t ask. Instead, I stared at the bandage wrapped around the crook of my elbow.
“Did someone draw my blood while I was asleep?” I asked.
She shrugged. “My shift just started,” she said. “I don’t know.”
The nurse shifts rotated every 12 hours or so, which means as soon as the staff learned my pronouns and managed to use them, an entirely new team would clock in, and the process would begin all over again. I told everyone who would listen that I was transgender, that my pronouns were he/him — not because I enjoy disclosing this, but because I cannot stand the thought of being misgendered in a place I can’t leave.
“It’s important for my sanity,” I told them. “Please.”
This was not an exaggeration. In a study looking at transgender people in Canada who had contemplated suicide, a gender-affirming environment — in which people abide by a transgender person’s pronouns and chosen name — was shown to reduce suicidal ideation by a staggering 66%, and among those with ideation, the rate at which they attempted dropped 76%.
For trans people receiving psychiatric care, then, transphobia is literally a matter of life or death.
Still, my request for a basic dignity was met with mixed reactions: sympathetic nods, raised eyebrows, but for most, it was like the words disintegrated the moment they came out of my mouth, swatted away like fruit flies.