A Métis mother is on the hunt for a new doctor after a Winnipeg physician refused to treat her transgender son.
She says the doctor claimed to not know how to care for his health needs, a common issue many transgender people face when looking for a new doctor.
“When the [clinic] faxed my son’s information over there, because this is his new doctor where he’s been told he’s going now, he sent it back to them and said ‘I refuse this person as a patient’,” says the concerned mother.
We aren’t identifying the mother or son due to privacy reasons.
Her son began hormone replacement therapy at the age of 16 under the care of his pediatrician.
Now an adult, his retiring pediatrician referred him to a general practitioner accepting new patients to receive prescription refills and to monitor his hormones levels.
“I’ve spoken to nurses, nurse practitioners, doctors, patients – everyone has told me that it’s simple hormone management and doctors, all doctors, do that for cis people all the time,” says the son’s mother.
But problems arose during their first visit when the doctor said he couldn’t be of help due to lack of education on transgender medical care.
“He right off just told him like ‘I won’t, I can’t do that, I won’t be able to do that,’” says the mother.
She says despite reaching out to his office for more clarity on why the doctor couldn’t address his needs, which she believes are routine, she never heard back.
“From what I’ve learned from the people I’ve talked to is, there is no special training needed,” says the mother. “I had one patient tell me that their doctor was completely uneducated and knew nothing about transgender healthcare. When [the clinic] faxed their information over, they reviewed it for five minutes and have been taking care of them ever since.
“That’s all it takes. If you have managed to become a doctor, then you can manage taking care of transgender people. There’s no reason to be turning people away like this.”
She has a word of warning for other parents of transgender children.
“If your child’s on the rainbow spectrum and you do get sent to a general practitioner, please make sure he’s on board with whatever your child’s identity is and that there’s no bigotry issues there or you could be setting your child up for some kind of trauma in the future.”
Not all Indigenous transgender people identify as Two-Spirit, and not all Two-Spirit people are on the transgender spectrum. A Two-Spirit person may identify as gay or lesbian and cisgender, meaning their gender aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth.
This story is focusing on all Indigenous people who fall under the transgender spectrum.
Accessing medical care as a transgender person in Winnipeg comes with great difficulty despite efforts by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba.
It recently published a guide to teach doctors how to provide gender-affirming medical care to transgender patients.
Written by Dr. Shayne Reitmeier, it states they expect “all registrants to provide respectful care to all patients regarding their sexuality and gender.”
He tells APTN News that doctors can’t discriminate against a patient based on their sexuality or gender and that doctors who feel an area of medicine are out of their “scope of practice” can consult with colleagues.
“Doctors cannot use scope of practice as a way to absolve themselves from providing care to a certain population,” says Reitmeier.
Gayle Pruden, an activist known as the Two-Spirit Kookum, knows the struggles gender-diverse people face when accessing medical care in the city are not new.
She came out as Two-Spirit in the 1980s, a time when information and understanding around gender expression and sexuality was not well known.
“We didn’t have healthcare, we had nowhere to turn to. We just took care of ourselves,” says Pruden.
Back then, Pruden says she and her fellow Two-Spirit friends took care of each other to avoid facing discrimination.
“Coming from reservations, we’re taught how to self-heal, and what to use to heal. So back then, we didn’t care. We tried everything that we could remember off the reserve, how to treat one another,” says Pruden.
But she couldn’t avoid the hospital forever.
Ten years ago, Pruden had double pneumonia and was in a coma with a breathing tube.
She says the doctors and nurses treating her spoke freely, thinking she couldn’t hear them.
“I was so used to being called she, her, being referred to as being a female. Not in there,” says Pruden, “They were always referring to me as “he, him, sir” and I wasn’t used to that, I was really hurt, I was bothered and I couldn’t defend myself. I couldn’t even talk.”
Pruden says her hygiene was grossly neglected and she was ignored when she requested pain control after regaining consciousness.
“I wanted to stop breathing. I just wanted to end my life. I couldn’t take it. It was so awful to be referred to that way and I wasn’t used to it. I never felt like I was male, and I don’t know why they were giving me such a hard time,” says Pruden.
“I was just treated so terrible in the hospital, it was just awful. That’s why today I kind of hesitate, I’d rather suffer at home. And I’m sure a lot of people do the same thing because of that treatment.”
In a 2021 report by Trans Pulse Canada on Indigenous trans health care in the country, they found nearly one in five individuals do not have a primary health care provider and just over half have unmet health care needs.
Pruden says the answer for better healthcare for transgender people is easy.
“It’s simple, we need more trans doctors and trans nurses is what needs to be done,” says Pruden, or even volunteer two-spirit people to go into the hospital instead of being pushed away.”
She says that though discrimination against transgender and Two-Spirit people is an ongoing crisis now, it never used to be that way.
“Society needs to realize Creator is gifting these Two-Spirit. It’s up to the family to know how to raise this child as Two-Spirit because I know, back in the day, of course it’s all written in history books where we were sacred people. And while we still are, society doesn’t see us that way,” says Pruden.
“There needs to be a big eraser somewhere we can erase all that stigma. Send it back to the other side of the ocean, whatever.”
Until that happens, the mother of the transgender son says they are now on the waiting list at a well-known 2SLGBTQ+ positive health centre.
A unique clinic, the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre is “Winnipeg’s only Indigenous Community Health Agency (CHA) that is designed to meet the needs of Winnipeg’s Indigenous Peoples,” according to its website.
The need to find special clinics speaks to a larger issue, says her son.
“Everyone says that everyone is more accepting now – He says that people have just gotten better at hiding their bigotry, rather than actually becoming more accepting. And that, that made me very sad,” says his mother.