I came out as a lesbian in 1996. At the time, I was living in rural, upstate New York, which was a bit of a challenge. And then I came to a deeper realization that I was also a transgender person. Because of that, slowly over my junior and senior years in high school, I had to come out again, and that’s when it got pretty bad.
The gym teacher referred to me as “it” in front of our entire classroom. I asked if I could wear some trunks over my bathing suit in swim class and was told no — that that was a health code violation, which is obviously ridiculous. My name and pronouns were not respected at all. I was pretty shut down.
I was also told that I couldn’t graduate if I showed up wearing a suit, but I did just that, and I was able to walk across the stage to collect my diploma.
These experiences have underscored the importance of treating the patients I see in my job with dignity and respect.
I was inspired to go into healthcare during college, when I worked at a needle exchange at Tompkins County Prevention Point in Ithaca, New York, which was a part of the Southern Tier AIDS Program, where I was later employed. I did a lot of work in educating the transgender participants we saw on how to safely administer their intermuscular hormone injections. I created a supplemental pamphlet that walked participants through injection, step-by-step, from selecting the appropriate injection site to cleaning to taking care of the site after. There was very sparse literature or other resources available for participants at that time.
As prevention coordinator at the Center for Special Studies, NewYork-Presbyterian’s HIV clinic in Chelsea, which provides high-quality, comprehensive HIV prevention and treatment, some of my work involves having really open, honest, nonjudgmental conversations with people about their sexuality and sexual practices. At CSS, I help make sure people have access to medications that can help prevent HIV either before or after being exposed to the virus, but I also help people navigate the healthcare system, navigate insurance, and support them through taking their medications. Although only a few patients are trans-identified, we ask for and respect names and pronouns of all our patients. It’s amazing to watch folks open up and realize that they don’t have to hide or omit things. It also allows us to discuss healthcare that makes sense for them.