I Was Shamed by My Doctor for Being Transgender

August 13, 2015
The anxiety one woman felt while visiting her M.D. has haunted her for years.

We live in an age of shaming—shamed for how we look, what we say, who we are. It's so relentless, especially online, you might even say we've become desensitized to it. And yet, when the judgment comes straight from an M.D.—the one person you trust implicitly with your well-being—it shocks you to your core. The health consequences can be devastating, even deadly. Enough! With the help of women brave enough to share their stories and be photographed, WH urges you to speak up and join in as we rally for change.

"When was your last Pap smear?"

Shannon Thompson, 27, looked at the doctor in disbelief. A valid question for many women, sure—but not for all, and not for Shannon. Getting a checkup was loaded enough for the then 26-year-old, what with physicians calling her by the male name on her medical records and the constant worry she'd have to defend her gender identity. Shannon shook her head.

"But how could you not need a Pap?"

Realizing the M.D. hadn't bothered to read her chart, Shannon explained that she doesn't have a cervix, that she's a transgender woman.

"Wait, so you're a woman who wants to become a man?"

The doctor's bafflement solidified an anxiety that had haunted Shannon for two years. Ever since her transition, she'd avoided doctors—skipping recommended checkups and preventive care—out of fear she'd leave an appointment feeling judged or like a freak. She eventually moved cities in search of better LGBT health care.

RELATED: I Was Shamed by My Doctor for Having Multiple Sex Partners

Christine Harris, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of California at San Diego, has studied the doctor-judging phenomenon. The most likely perps, per her research: general practitioners, gynecologists, and dentists, possibly because they're the providers we see most often. The most likely victims: women. In a recent study, 59 percent said they'd left a doctor's appointment feeling ashamed, compared with 39 percent of men. Women also felt worse afterward than guys.

Oft-discriminated-against women are particularly at risk. "Many of the people I see have been doctor shamed," says Madeline Deutsch, M.D., M.P.H., a San Francisco-based primary care physician who specializes in LGBT medicine. Not surprisingly, her patients frequently arrive defensive or even hostile; some haven't seen a doctor or gotten crucial screenings like mammograms, colonoscopies, or Pap smears in years. As a result, they can suffer from conditions that would've been all too easy to treat early.

RELATED: I Was Shamed By My Doctor for Being Black

For more on the dangers of doctor-shaming and other stories from women who've been through it, pick up the September issue of Women's Health, on newsstands now. Plus, take a stand against doctor-shaming by sharing your own experiences on social media using the hashtag #StoptheShame.

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