What’s In A Gend-ER

Yesterday was a bit of a nightmare day: my themfriend had a series of incredibly painful back spasms, and we wound up taking an ambulance to the ER because there was no other way to get them the care they needed. Right now they are doped up and asleep on my couch, and prognosis looks good for a full recovery. With their permission, however, I want to offer you the gendering of that experience, so you can understand how the medical field is a problem for non-binary people.

Three caveats:

  • The care given by all members of the medical team was excellent, and this post is in no way meant to diminish that. Most of the people we met thought they were genuinely being as kind and respectful as possible, and that came across clearly.
  • I am not going to tell you what pronouns and names were used, I’m only going to tell you when they were the wrong ones and when they were the right ones.
  • There are some medical instances when the biological sex or genital configuration of a patient NEED to be known. I am not saying that information should not be available to hospital staff when it is relevant, only that to maintain the humanity and dignity of patients, staff should also use correct names and pronouns for all their patients.

That all said, here’s a list of the people we came into contact with trying to access medical care, and how the name and pronoun situation shook out:

  1. The 24-hour nurse line. Wrong name, wrong pronoun, even when alerted to the fact they were talking about a trans person, and even when the correct pronoun was used in conversation.
  2. The 911 dispatcher. Refused to transfer me to an ambulance service until I specified whether the patient was male or female. Would not accept any other answer.
  3. Ambulance services. Didn’t even ask, just sent help straight to us.
  4. Right name, wrong pronoun until alerted, and then they worked hard to get it right, even asking how to call in ahead respectfully.
  5. Intake team. No idea – I had to go in through the other entrance, and my themfriend was in too much pain to even remember what they’d said.
  6. Patient bracelet. Wrong name.
  7. Physician assistant. Wrong honorific, wrong pronoun. Did not stop using when alerted, or when another pronoun was used.
  8. Asked about gender identity but not about pronouns, then proceeded to use the wrong pronoun and wrong name. There is – if you’re curious – no non-binary option on their drop-down gender menu, although there are binary trans options.
  9. Several nurses. Wrong name, wrong pronoun even when alerted and when another pronoun was used in conversation.
  10. Wrong name, wrong pronoun.

So…. that’s a lot of people getting it wrong. Even when given the right name, or hearing the right pronoun, or when specifically alerted to the fact that the patient in front of them was transgender. Yes, I get that an ER is a very busy space, and the people working there are often going to look at the charts and go on in. But that’s why it’s VITAL to make sure that those charts are correct – that they list the name someone uses as well as the name they’ll be under in hospital records. That’s why it’s vital that registration has a question about pronoun use as well as about gender, and that people actually pay attention to the answers to those questions. That people as a whole learn to hear when someone is using a different pronoun to describe themselves or their partners and make the appropriate conversational shift.

If you look at number two, you’ll see that I was not allowed to even speak to ambulance services until I had actively misgendered someone I love. I was put in a position where I either had to deny the reality of their existence or deny them care. It’s especially ironic because the actual ambulance services were the best and most respectful team we encountered. You probably cannot imagine what that feels like, but let me tell you it is heartbreaking. Especially when they are there in the room and they can hear you do it. No-one should ever have to do that in order to access what could be potentially life-saving interventions. No-one should have to give up their gender so that they can get into a hospital.

There are cis people out there, and possibly even trans people, who will tell you that they wouldn’t be bothered by that, or that there are reasons for this behavior, or that ….. trust me, I’ve heard it all. Just because non-binary and trans people live in a world where most people haven’t learned how to respect us yet does not mean we should be content to be erased. Please listen for the pronouns and names people use for themselves. Please use them. Please start looking for us, because otherwise you are going to step on us, and we are tired of that kind of hurt when there are so many other kinds out there to deal with.

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