New journalism series highlights the simple mundanity of transgender healthcare

The wonderful journalists over at Defector have launched a new series called "Histories of Transition" that does something simple but profound: it just tells the stories of trans people, who have received the healthcare they needed, and were able to thrive.

That's it. It's great.

This shouldn't be a revolutionary concept. But in a time when popular media outlets are consumed with "debates" around whether trans people deserve the same basic, fundamental, inalienable human rights that everyone else gets to enjoy, it's quite profound. Talking heads and pundits and professional transphobes tend to overlook the fact that trans healthcare, like reproductive healthcare, is still just a form of healthcare. It's medicine. We know how hormones work. Sure, there are plenty of healthcare professionals who are in the dark about the details — but that's a problem with society, and pedagogy, not with the actual treatments, which are just as safe as anything else.

Consider this conversation that one of the Histories of Transition writers, Casey Plett, regales about her first visit to a doctor about going on hormones in 2008:

[The doctor said,] "If you don't smoke and you're generally healthy, most people do pretty well, and then you're just another dumb woman. I recommend you take a baby aspirin every day, helps prevent cancer. We don't really know what hormone therapy can do. You can have health problems. There's a higher risk of cancer, though most patients I've had who got cancer smoked—but we just don't always know what can happen. If you don't smoke and you take a baby aspirin every day, most people do pretty well. And then you'll just be another dumb woman." 

Again: The higher risk of cancer thing hasn't born out to be true, and we do know what hormone therapy can do. But I guess she was mimicking the lines of the times, like the doctor in New York would a couple years later.

What sticks in my mind, though, is what she repeated over and over through the visit. Most people do pretty well. And then you're just another dumb woman. It kind of offended me at the time, like maybe I chalked it up to her having "internalized misogyny" or something. But now, when access to hormone therapy has turned into a sensationalized political battle, it's funny to turn that phrasing over. Like: Most people do do pretty well. I amjust another dumb woman. I tried some drugs to fix a problem, discovered they were good for me, so I kept taking them. And, well, I'm not dead.

Most people do pretty well. And then you're just another woman. Sometimes it really is that simple. You walk into a doctor's office, and they go "Okay cool," they give you some medicine, and you go from there.

Music writer Niko Stratis recently wrote a similar story about her own experiences. Stratis and I are similar ages, and had similar musical upbringings that profoundly shaped our lives — which, among other things, means we both discovered the NOFX song "My Vagina" right around the same time. Back then, I found the song interesting; shocking and edgy and vulgar with an underscoring of humanity, in that way that NOFX often was. For Stratis, however, it opened her eyes to a world of possibility:

NOFX were idealists and ironically detached nihilists struggling against the tide of a system they could not rightly name and so was I, a comrade in their war against normalcy. "My Vagina" felt like a natural progression into a space where all could be deconstructed and rebuilt in whatever perfect image we desired for ourselves. 

The line and when I wipe my ass, I go from front to back, 'cause I don't want a bladder infection haunted me. I worried that someday I would have to use this information and also worried about forgetting it. I already knew how to properly wipe but when it gets spelled out so bluntly it becomes real and a portent of danger all the same. 

I feel no mocking and misfortune in here either, I have never once listened to this song in all the years since including the day I had my own surgery and felt like the trans woman created in the world of this song is the center of a joke with all judgment fingers pointed towards her. Rather, she is given life and breath and a chance at something real. Not real in the way that so many rainbow logos in June want to sell you a story but someone that felt real and lived in and raw. A woman with tattoos at a lesbian bar with a clockey voice and a brash sense of humour. A trans woman who has seen some shit and is still here to sing about it. 

I had not enough information to parse all I was processing but I knew then that the way I felt at odds with myself now made sense, that I could be like Roberta Muldoon and the woman created in the the 2 minutes and 36 seconds of "My Vagina" became something more.

Sometimes, it's just that simple. Like a random TV commercial that tells you to "Ask your doctor to try HRT," followed by a brief list of side effects that, again, aren't all that different than any other form of healthcare.

Histories of Transition [Defector]

Operation, Paid Up Front [Niko Stratis / Anxiety Shark]