Fourth-year NYU/Bellevue psychiatry resident Dr. Laura Erickson Schroth has witnessed the failures of the medical profession to serve LGB and especially T (transgender) patients. Inspired by “Our bodies, Ourselves,” published in 1971—a groundbreaking book published in 1971 on women’s health and sexuality, Dr. E. Schroth was inspired to write a book specifically addressing the needs of transgender individuals in North America. “Each of the chapters is written by a trans or genderqueer* author,” said Dr. Schroth. The collection of essays, “Our Trans Bodies, Our Trans Selves”, is set to hit bookshelves in Spring 2014.
CIR: How did the idea to put together this book come to you?
LES: I was in medical school and at the time a couple of friends were coming out as trans. I was also talking to friends who often told me they were afraid to go to the hospital because they thought would be treated badly. There’s all this history between trans people and physicians that makes it really difficult for people to interact. There wasn’t a comprehensive place for people to go—a resources guide.
CIR: What do you see as physicians’ role in social justice?
LES: It’s different for different people. Some people are more into public health or into advocacy and others are more into clinical work. Both are valuable because when you meet someone clinically you’re changing someone’s life a little but when you do advocacy work and teach other medical providers about LGBT health, it can change lots of people’s lives at a time.
CIR: Were there essays or stories that surprised or stood out to you?
LES: There’s a story in our health chapter about a trans man who becomes pregnant and has an abortion. These are just issues that you don’t necessarily think of but that have happened to a number of people. There’s another story about a guy who had grown up in Africa. Within his tradition there was a naming of the child ceremony and a connection to the ancestors. People from that particular region and this person talked about the family receiving messages from this trans man’s ancestors that showed that the ancestor he was most connected to was male; that helped the family to understand that his soul or his spirit might be male. It provided a way for him to explain who he was in a way that made sense and connected him to his family and his culture.
CIR: What types of solutions do you think would help alleviate some issues for trans communities in accessing quality healthcare?
LES: We’re not trained well in medical school to understand the basics of sexuality versus gender; the same goes for race and ethnicity. Because of the discrimination trans people have faced in the healthcare profession, many end up using street hormones or injecting silicone, which can be very dangerous.
There’s a lot of talk within trans communities about the effect the Affordable Care Act will have on trans patients. There’s also a bill that’s been pending for a long time called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit discrimination against LGBT workers —the same way that we protect classes like sex, race and religion. On another track, there are systems in which you don’t have to pass legislation to make changes. For example, the LCME or ACGME can make requirements for what physicians are being taught and have residency programs follow them.