Tory Smith
On the 31st of March, we celebrated Transgender Day of Visibility. The day takes place each year and serves to celebrate transgender lives and highlight our experiences; both positive and negative. Many of these experiences are positive. For example, every year on this day transgender individuals of all identities flock to social media to share their smiling faces. There is no doubt that transgender individuals are as visible as ever. In many states, we are protected from discrimination based on our gender identities and gender expression. In some states, our coverage of our healthcare is required of insurance companies. We are visible on television shows and in the media. Some of us have access to human services and medical care that is designed for us.

Unfortunately, there is a negative element to this visibility. While we are as visible as ever, we are also being attacked at an increasing rate. Every element of our lives are believed to be up for debate. Politicians are even restricting us from using the bathroom we feel safest in, under the guise of protecting women and children from sexual assault. This takes the accountability off those committing rape and put in on us based on an age-old stereotype. Transgender individuals have experienced a long struggle with being attacked — both verbally and physically — in public restrooms. Just a few days before Transgender Day of Visibility, The New York Times ran a report on a transgender woman who was allegedly sexually assaulted at the historic Stonewall Inn.

One of the most critical issues we face is the need for supportive and inclusive health care, particularly reproductive health care. Gender identity and our physical bodies come together in a variety of ways, but this idea is lacking among healthcare providers. As a transgender person who is heavily involved in the activist community, I have witnessed individuals process the experience of being discriminated against by their health providers, I have spoken to individuals who were forced to jump through seemingly endless hoops to gain access to reproductive health care, and I have had the experience of having to decide between traveling 4 hours to find sensitive healthcare or neglect it all together. I was fortunate enough to be able to make the decision to rely on self-paid telemedicine for therapy and travel 4 hours for primary and clinical care, but many of us are not as privileged.

This lack of inclusive care has devastating effects on our communities. Transgender individuals are often afraid of being discriminated against or even denied services. A survey within the last ten years published by the Transgender Law Center reported that 15 percent of the 646 transgender individuals surveyed experienced being denied gender-specific care, 10 percent have experienced being denied primary care and an overwhelming 70 percent have experienced discrimination and blame from healthcare providers. This is startling considering that there are at least 1.5 million transgender individuals living in the United States.

This lack of competent healthcare is particularly frustrating for individuals in rural communities, where reproductive health care is already hard to access and facing funding cuts, harassment of patients and even terrorist violence. The addition of barriers created by the lack of transgender inclusion makes accessing family planning services even more difficult for us. Transgender individuals are in just as much need for reproductive health care as anyone else, not only because they — like people of all genders and sexes — want to become parents, but also because they are victimized by sexual assault at disproportional rates.

The experience of transgender individuals seeking reproductive and other related health services is one that is often not discussed in any activist circles. Reproductive justice communities are often abortion centric and inadvertently exclude transgender experiences from their discussions. Transgender communities are often too taxed by the need to provide basic awareness efforts and education on our identities to the general public. Both of these communities could greatly benefit from the inclusion of transgender experiences in conversations about reproduction and reproductive health.

According to a 2014 study of 41 transgender men released by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists many transgender men desire to have children and are fully capable of doing so. The study indicated that the struggle lies not in their body’s capabilities, but in society’s willingness to give them the care they need. The men in the study reported that they had been disrespected, referred to with inappropriate pronouns and even denied care when navigating a pregnancy or family planning.

It is my hope that more healthcare providers follow the advice of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and work towards a more competent practice by adopting nondiscrimination policies, providing gender-transition related services and participating in trainings to improve their knowledge of transgender health needs. Lastly, I await the day that transgender identities are no longer used as comedy. I hope that pregnant men are no longer seen as irregular, but are recognized and given access to the care they need.

* This post appeared in the Huffington Post on April 21, 2016.