Monday, June 16, 2014

The Struggle to Find Non-Binary Health Care

I’m not crazy, just non binary.

At one point in their life, most people have to find a primary doctor. This may come when you move to a new city, when you gain access to insurance, or when you’re just too old to be seeing a pediatrician. I’m about to be too old to be seeing my pediatrician.

Several years ago I found myself using one of Teen Link’s “Where To Turn For Teens” guides, I was able to find a counselor in my area. Accessing counseling has been a bit of a breeze for me, but the thought of finding a new doctor was somehow different. In my mind, my mental health and physical health can be related, but require two different doctors. So here came my dilemma; I have always seen this doctor. All of my siblings have seen this doctor until they were too old as well. And at my last check up, I sat awkwardly next to a play area with toys for toddlers and was jokingly handed a sticker on my way out. I knew that I needed to find a doctor of my own, but the thought loomed over my head.

Since the check up, I have seen half a dozen doctors looking for, what my mom has been calling “the right fit”. Each and every time I walk down those sterile hallways with a little less optimism, because I know that sooner or later someone will hand me the form.
So far most of the doctors that I’ve seen have boasted safe space emblems. Yet every time I have been handed a form that inquires about gender, when giving only two options: male or female. This is where the conversations begin to go south. Either the doctor or a nurse will try to return the form, thinking it was a mistake. I’ll grit my teeth, and explain that my gender does not fit in either of the two options provided, and they will lean back in confusion. I may live in the progressive city of Seattle, but people are still being diagnosed with a mental illness for being trans*. Believe it or not, the diagnosis remained in the DSM when it was last updated in 2013.

There seems to be confusion between identity and mental illness in the medical community. While I do not think all medical professionals are transphobic, I believe that identities are being silenced all too often from the fear of being stigmatized. Having to fight to separate physical health from mental health care can be really disempowering, and being nonbinary is only one of many factors that can provide barriers to accessing healthcare. Over the years, I have found incredible support from a variety of agencies in the field of mental health, and almost all have been incredibly supportive of my gender identity. My current task is to find a physician that is as open as them.

One thing that has really helped me in my process of feeling more comfortable with a doctor, has been the Q card. The Q Card was developed to help empower LGBTQ youth to become more active participants in their healthcare and to start real and important conversations with health care professionals on how they can better support queer youth with their medical/mental health needs. The card has a tri-fold design with blanks for people to fill in their name, pronouns, sexual orientation, gender identity, and list any concerns or questions they have for their health care professional. It goes over youth rights of confidentiality and gives providers tips on how they can provide better, more inclusive, and supportive care to queer youth. I filled mine out and just gave it to my doctor when she walked in. It helped get a lot of unnecessary and triggering questions out of the way and we were able to talk about how I wanted to be treated. To learn more, check out the Q Card Project.
Finding a doctor or counselor can be stressful. Luckily, Teen Link has many resources for youth serving agencies in the King County area. If you want more information about counseling or local public health clinics, or just want to talk it out, you can call or chat Teen Link any night of the week from 6-10pm. Teen Link is anonymous, confidential, and nonjudgmental. Anyone who answers calls or chats is a local teen, and no problem is too big or too small. The number is 866-TEENLINK and our website is


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