Trans* Awareness Month: My Journey to Living Authentically

The following guest post comes to us via Kelley Dupps, public policy manager for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

standwithpp picNovember is Trans* Awareness Month — an awareness focused on the lives and experiences of those who identify as trans* (the T in LGBTQ) or queer or questioning (the Q).

It’s important to point out the dubious character of the word “queer.” While used as an epithet to shame LGBTQ people, the word has been reclaimed by many members of the community as reflective of their identity. Remember, Facebook allows more than 50 ways to identify one’s identity and orientation; and for many, “queer” is seen as less restrictive than many of the other letters in the LGBTQ alphabet soup.


When we love someone, gender doesn’t matter.


Planned Parenthood historically has been there for the LGBTQ community — from supporting the early liberation movement to compassionately working with HIV/AIDS patients, to today addressing the issues continually chipping away at equality for all. Planned Parenthood continues to stand with the LGBTQ community in calling for continued equality in all aspects.

Planned Parenthood has always believed in one’s autonomy over one’s own body, identity, and decisions — and that is no different when it comes to supporting and fighting for trans equality. But what are we talking about when we say “trans*”? Identifying as transgender means that one’s own gender identity is different than the gender assigned at birth. The term “trans*” serves as an umbrella for other transgender identities, such as genderqueer and gender fluid to name a couple of examples. Many folks know of Caitlyn Jenner’s decision to come out and live her life authentically. She was honest that she could no longer fake it through life — the toll was too much on her soul. It was a sentiment that I could identify with. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Gardasil and Gendered Double Standards

male female teens largeDespite the fact that it’s been approved for males for years, Gardasil is still largely seen as a vaccine for girls, and human papillomavirus (HPV) is still thought of by many as a virus that only impacts the female population. The fact of the matter is that HPV can have serious consequence for boys and men, and Gardasil is an important tool in protecting their sexual health. Why, then, does the association between girls and Gardasil persist?


Let’s stop thinking of Gardasil as the cervical cancer vaccine. Gardasil is a cancer vaccine, period.


Before Gardasil’s introduction, the pharmaceutical company Merck launched an HPV-awareness campaign to get a buzz going for their upcoming vaccine. Their talking points could be boiled down to one simple fact: HPV causes cervical cancer. Outside of the medical field, HPV was a little-known virus, and Merck strove to connect HPV and cervical cancer in the public’s mind so that, after it hit the market, Gardasil’s value would be easily recognized.

So the origins of the association between girls and Gardasil lie in its marketing — and the fact that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initially only approved its use in females. From its introduction in 2006 until 2009, Gardasil was only FDA-approved for use in girls and women, and its routine use in males was not recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices until December 2011.

While Gardasil’s website is currently gender neutral, archives show that before FDA approval for males, it contained photos of young women and female-specific language. This initial focus on female recipients could have “feminized” Gardasil, entrenching its association with girls and women in the cultural imagination. Some scholars say that, by only recommending it for one sex, the FDA implicitly assigned liability for HPV transmission to females, and advertisers framed the woman as a disease vector in taglines targeting females, such as “spread the word, not the disease.” Although a male’s sexual history is a major predictor of a female partner’s HPV status, girls and women were assigned sole responsibility for their HPV status while boys and men were not similarly burdened. Such messages downplayed the male role in HPV transmission as well as HPV’s effect on males. Continue reading

Toward Improved Care for LGBTQ Patients: New Guidelines Shine Spotlight on Addressing Health Disparities

doctorsOn January 5, Florida became the 36th state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage, joining a movement that is sweeping across the United States. With federal judges striking down same-sex marriage bans left and right, it seems inevitable that we will soon live in a country that recognizes the freedom to marry. Yet, although more Americans than ever support marriage equality, the fight for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals in our society is not over, as they continue to face significant barriers to quality medical services.


Full equality includes access to high-quality medical care, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.


The obstacles that have historically prevented LGBTQ patients from obtaining medical care continue to plague our modern health care system. Sure, the American Psychiatric Association no longer considers homosexuality a mental illness. But a concerning number of health care providers still refuse to serve LGBTQ individuals, and until the passage of the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies were not required to extend domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples. Moreover, the stigma that surrounds homosexuality prevents many patients from disclosing their sexual orientation to doctors. Because the LGBTQ community faces higher rates of certain conditions, including depression and substance abuse, failing to discuss sexual activity can lead to inadequate treatment.

One of the U.S. health care system’s most serious shortcomings is its failure to prepare doctors to work with LGBTQ patients. Young doctors are emerging from medical school ill-equipped to deal with the specific needs of the LGBTQ community. A 2006 study published in Family Medicine surveyed 248 medical students, finding that the vast majority of students held positive attitudes toward LGBTQ patients and hoped to provide them top-tier care. Unfortunately, the same group of students failed spectacularly when tested on LGBTQ-specific health concerns. Another study revealed that most medical schools throughout the United States and Canada devote minimal (if any) instructional time to LGBTQ issues, and that the quality of such instruction varies drastically across institutions. And significantly, many doctors report that they feel uncomfortable discussing sexual behavior with LGBTQ patients. Continue reading

The 45th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots: Still Here, Still Queer, Still Not Used to It

The Gay Liberation Front, pictured here in 1969, formed in response to the Stonewall Riots. Image: PBS

The Gay Liberation Front formed in 1969 in response to the Stonewall Riots.

In 1969, homosexuality was illegal in 49 states. It was classified as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, and it was not unheard of for those who identified as homosexual or transgender to undergo extreme treatments such as lobotomies or castration in an attempt to “cure” their conditions. If it was discovered that you were gay, you were blacklisted. Doctors and lawyers lost their licenses. Your home address was published in major newspapers. You were dishonorably discharged from military service. Non-gender-conforming people were refused service in public establishments, found it difficult to receive health care, and were routinely arrested for indecent behavior — behavior that was often simply being transgender. Society expected that you assimilate with heteronormative ideals by presenting as the gender you were born with, marrying the opposite sex, and having children.


Saturday will be the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. We have come a long way since then, but still have more work to do.


In the late 1960s, Greenwich Village was a progressive neighborhood in New York City that also served as a respite for the LGBTQ community of the time, including the poorest and most disenfranchised. The Village was also home to numerous establishments frequented by LGBTQ patrons in a time when they could not publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation or identity, lest they be arrested. These establishments — which included the Stonewall Inn (a mafia-run bar) — were often the subject of police raids.

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn was raided by the New York City Police Department, just as it had been many times before. This time, Stonewall patrons did not allow themselves to be shoved into the backs of police cars. Forty-five years later, details of the riot remain conflicting and vague, but what is agreed upon is that Stormé DeLarverie — also known as King Stormé, a drag king in the drag group Jewel Box Revue — is credited with throwing the first punch in reaction to being shoved by police. With this punch, the Stonewall crowd exploded into a full-blown violent demonstration. Participants saw the violence of which they were so often the recipients suddenly being turned back on their oppressors. Continue reading

Becoming a Woman

Vagina. It is a fairly innocuous word, don’t you think? But in today’s America, it has become more than a correct clinical term for female genitalia; it has become a naughty word. Suddenly, in a presidential election year notable for its lack of substance and abundance of acrimony, the vagina has taken center stage. The rules, however, for its inclusion seem to be muddy. Countless state legislatures have passed increasingly draconian laws that relate directly to the vagina. Ironically, the majority of people who have been most vocal in anti-vagina activities do not have one. In Michigan, at least, it has even become a word whose use can get you banned from speaking on the legislative floor. Love, lust, empowerment: These are all words that describe feelings different people have about vaginas. But what about envy?


The closer I am to getting a vagina, the more I understand that I don’t actually need one to be the woman I am.


A few days ago, I received a private Facebook message from a dear friend. It began, “I got to see my vagina today. For the very first time, my vagina. I know you know how significant that is and I only wish the same for you and soon. It will change your life.”

My friend, Natasha, sent this from her hospital room in Montreal, where she is recuperating from the most significant surgery anyone like us can ever undergo: gender affirmation surgery. We are transgender, which, for those few of you who might not know, is the phenomenon where the gender identity that is programmed into the brain of a fetus does not coincide with the physical sex into which that fetus develops. To make a million long stories short, it is unarguably one of the most painful conditions imaginable, largely because the person suffering from it has to fight tooth and nail to make people understand that it’s real. Continue reading