The Unsaid: The Transgender Community and Their Health
Why is there a glaring gap between the health and wellness of the LGBTQ+ and the transgender community and how can we help?
The basic design of a progressive society is based on a steady foundation of acceptance and acknowledgement. Uplifting the strata of society has never been more important than now, so we come together as a large, well-informed community. To know about far and beyond, we need to know more about the people around us, starting today. While this has always been discussed at length, we would like to know what we know about the LGBTQ+ community? Why should it matter to you, us and everyone who believes in the basic principles of humanity?
Learning about the term LGBTQ+
The best way to learn is from the beginning. So, what does LGBTQ+ stand for? Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (a person who identifies outside the mainstream heterosexual) and plus that is any other sexual identities e.g. questioning, gender fluid, pansexual, asexual etc.
This acronym is an umbrella term that is presently used to shelter a diverse and wide range of sexual identities, orientations and groups.
Breaking Down the Stigma and the Difference between Gender Identity and Sexuality
Gender Identity is something that is a person’s own sense of self and may or may not align with their biological sex or what we call physical characteristics.
Sexuality is the creation of sexual knowledge, thoughts and emotions. This is how we identify our relationships and has little to no relation with how a person identifies themselves.
While previously this has been known as two related concepts, according to science, they are distinct and unique in their own way. For example, a transgender person, who identifies as a male/female (gender identity) may be attracted to male/female or both. Though this can be confusing at first, it is a fair concept of gender equality and equity.
Now, we have laid our ground on the fundamentals of the LGBTQ+ community. This article will be discussing the gender identity of a distinct group of this community, i.e. the Transgender community. It will also reflect upon their health and nutritional needs.
Transgender is a term used to denote people who do not conform with the biological sex assigned to them at birth or even be considered non-binary (do not confirm with either male or female). So, the pronouns of a transgender person can be he/she/they/them. The new age world has accepted the practice to share their pronouns. These are through social media, in email signatures etc. as a sign of respect. So, if you are referring to a new person, it is always better to use gender-inclusive language.
Furthermore, any transgender person can identify themselves as male, female or non-binary according to their gender identity and gender expression.
Decoding Gender Transition
Gender Transition is the process of transforming yourself and leaning towards living your life as the gender you confirm with, rather than what is assigned to you at birth. It is a critical phase of one’s life to unlearn the basics and start afresh. However, by following a suitable roadmap, this process can be incredibly valuable for the person who is transitioning and others. There are majorly four steps involved in the process of transitioning:
- Mental Health Evaluation: During this process, a mental health professional evaluates and confirms if one has ‘Gender Dystopia’. This also involves analyzing one’s ability to cope with the process. Furthermore, identifying if one has informed mental and emotional support at home etc.
- Hormone Therapy: This is a pivotal step that one needs to go through during the process. Since hormones play a vital role in determining one’s gender, these hormones are altered and prescribed. Masculinizing hormone therapy is for one who wants to transform from female-to-male. Also, feminizing hormone therapy is for one who wants to transform from male-to-female.
- Gender Reassignment Surgery: The third step is to opt for surgery to alter one’s physiological self to the one they identify with. However, people do not choose to go for this, because it is long, expensive and risky.
- The After-care: The post-operative and medicative care is essential for people who go through this process. With regular medical follow-ups and continuous use of medications, one must be under direct observation by a medical professional.
The Primary Care for Transgender Adolescents
Adolescence is an age of curiosity and learning. It forms our basic understanding of the world and how we perceive it. Therefore, there exists, confusion, chaos and complexity. This is an age that must be dealt with the utmost consideration. As for trans adolescence, this can be even more difficult without proper guidance and a well-accepted environment.
A child’s understanding of themselves and their surroundings is inherited from their parents. Therefore, it must be understood that it is equally challenging for a trans adolescent to comprehend one’s gender based on the grasp of their guardians.
- An affirming approach- Guardians must be attentive to their child’s behaviour at this age. Trans adolescents need additional attention since they are still figuring out their way. It is also necessary for the guardians to be supportive or the child to be in the care of a supportive group. Seeking therapy must not be denied as the child should be free to explore his/her gender identity.
- Aligning with the Diagnosis- A concept-based model of exploring one’s identity was carefully designed. This is to identify the association of gender dysphoria. A medical professional familiarized with the guidelines of Psychological Practice with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People is adept to diagnose a transgender adolescent. So, frequent medical attention is required.
- Cater to Psychosocial Wellbeing- Surveys have shown the prevalence of depression, social anxiety and substance abuse among trans adolescents. So, a general discussion and checking on their mental health should not be missed.
What is Gender-Affirming Care and Why is it Important for the Transgender Youth?
Once the above points are addressed at an early stage, it is time to incorporate gender-affirming care for the individual. It is a multidisciplinary approach that is needed to help an individual feel happy, safe and inclusive. This is a combination of social, legal and medical interventions. These can be implemented to help one align their outward characteristics with their chosen gender.
This is essential for any individual to feel free and liberated in themselves. While this can be a demanding and emotionally draining experience for a transgender person and their families, it has shown excellent results in the long run. A step closer to the yearning, so one can actualize self.
Does the Nutritional Requirement of a Transgender Person differ from a Cisgender person?
The nutritional requirement of each individual is unique and differs from one another. It is subjective and depends on various factors like height, weight, age, underlying medical issues and of course gender. However, this question about nutrition is the last thing that strikes one’s mind when we talk about transgender health. Spreading awareness also means to shine the spotlight on issues and challenges that a community faces as a whole. Health should always be the primary focus for any community. Also, the basic knowledge around wellness is certainly the primary channel for thriving.
So, is transgender nutritional requirement different from that of cisgender people?
The answer is not that simple. If a transgender individual is not going through any transitional therapy, they can make dietary changes to alter physical appearances. Like protein intake to build up muscles and in case, one wants to lose weight, have portion control.
However, if one is undergoing hormone replacement therapy or have opted for gender assignment surgery, their nutritional requirements would be quite different to cisgender people. Certain foods that improve/lower estrogen and testosterone levels in the body. So, if one is or has undergone hormone therapy, one needs to be careful about what food to eat and avoid. Hormones are an essential part that helps a body function, alterations in those, directly impact metabolism and thus, what you eat and how you use your energy directly impacts your body. However, medical professionals help you with the nitty-gritties of this process. One also needs to acknowledge that this is a complex process and must be adopted under the strict observance of dieticians and other medical professionals.
Nutrition also plays a crucial role in maintaining mental health. It is undeniable that transgender individuals much like cisgender people need specific nutrients to fulfil their bodily requirements. So, yes, to answer the question, transgender nutrition requirements are different and yet similar. Though there is only limited evidence that backs up this concept, it is believed that the clinical judgment to make dietary recommendations should be kept with the healthcare practitioner.
Settling the Debate about People Who Bleed
It is only recently that we have battled through the obvious and marched towards destigmatizing menstruation. While we do so, have we been missing out on the point that menstruation is not a gender-exclusive term used for women or cisgender individuals? Breaking the taboo of the 21st century, it is urgent and necessary that we realize that the trans and the non-binary community are equal participants in this phenomenon. However the menarches from this community have a bitter-sweet association with it, as one celebrates it, marking their journey to womanhood, others find it upsetting as it does not align with a gender identity that they identify as.
Whatever may be the case, the association between gender dysphoria and menstruation cannot be denied. It is also said that not every transgender individual has similar thoughts about the construct of menstruation, so it cannot constitute an opinion for all.
The Pride Community
The month of June is known as the ‘Pride’ month and celebrates the cultural concept of self-affirmation, equality and honourability of the people associated with this community. The rainbow-coloured flag is known as the international symbol of Pride and every member takes immense pride in representing themselves with it. The revolutionary idea to call this a community and gain visibility, together, took place in the streets of New York in 1969 and we have come a long way since. Though this article was focused on the transgender community, there is a lot that needs to be said and understood by us about them, along with the issues they face collectively.
Taking a step forward, let’s pledge to make this society a better place with inclusive thoughts, ideas and embrace all, irrespective of their beliefs and sense of self. Nobody has a knowledge and understanding of everything that this world offers, there is always a learning curve. All that is needed is a little patience and loads of warmth for each other. As we know the Pride Community is all about and stands by the quote ‘Love is Love’.