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The Importance of Gender-affirming Care

What is gender-affirming care and why does it matter? 

Gender-affirming care is any kind of health care where a person’s felt sense of gender is acknowledged and respected. You probably already provide gender-affirming care to your cisgender* clients. If you use their pronouns (she/he, her/him, they/them) and treat them as the gender they identify with, then you are providing gender-affirming care already! We usually talk about gender-affirming care with trans, non-binary and gender diverse clients, because sadly, these folks still experience health care that is non-affirming; that is, health care where workers use legal/birth names and pronouns rather than the names and pronouns these clients actually use and identify with. 

*People who felt sense of gender matches the gender they’ve been assigned at birth 

Trans person sitting in cafe

Where do I start? 

When meeting a client, provide your name and pronouns and ask them to do the same. While many of us feel like our outward presentation shows our gender, this is not true for everyone. If a person tells you their gender and it is different than you expected, (perhaps because of their clothing, their body shape or their voice), believe them and proceed to provide care using the correct name and pronouns. Understand that gender is about an internal sense of self rather than biology, fashion or aesthetics. 

What else do I need to know? 

Gender-affirming care is not just about pronouns and names. It’s also about space. We need to recognize the importance of providing a safe space beyond rainbow stickers. What makes a space gender affirming?  

One way to provide an affirming space is to provide individuals with access to a restroom that fits their identity. This means having a gender-neutral bathroom. Only providing two options (male or female) restrooms excludes those who do not identify within this binary and further reinforces the discrimination these individuals already face in their daily lives. Gender-neutral bathrooms are a necessity in providing gender-affirming services.

Gender neutral bathroom sign

Why is any of this important? 

Trans, non-binary and gender diverse folks have significantly higher rates of mental health issues including suicidal ideation and attempts. Lack of access to gender-affirming health care also leads to issues with physical health. Trans, non-binary and gender diverse people will avoid health care because they fear their gender will not be respected and they may be deadnamed (when someone uses the name the person was given at birth) or misgendered (using the wrong pronouns) or their transness will be deemed a mental health illness. With less screening opportunities and access to care, trans, non-binary and gender diverse people are at greater risk of complications from later stage diagnoses of things like cancer, heart disease, etc.

Pride flag

Trans, non-binary and gender diverse folks need health services, but currently there is limited access in York Region. CMHA-YRSS’ Gender Affirming Health Clinic is the only holistic health program in all of York Region that is focused on this population. Due to a lack of funding, the clinic faces an uncertain future and a waitlist that has been closed for months. If all health care becomes gender affirming, we will need fewer services dedicated to this population and instead, this community will be able to access all services and not have to worry about how they will be treated.   

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