Back in May, I wrote about a visit to the dentist’s office where my coming out six months prior resulted in my being on display like a monkey in the zoo. Little did I know that I would encounter similar experiences this summer in other health care arenas.
The next came in June after I had a nasty run-in with some Toxicodendron radicans while weeding the raspberry patch and I ended up at the doctor’s office.
I have never been to the doctor to take care of a case of poison ivy, but I also had never had it this bad before. Despite protecting my skin with pants and a long-sleeved shirt, the offending blisters ran from my legs, up the right side of my abdomen and chest, down my right arm and over my right shoulder, marking the trail where the noxious plant oil must have rubbed off of my clothing when I disrobed. The back of my neck was particularly encrusted, probably from swatting a mosquito with the colorless, odorless ivy oil on my hand. When I woke up on the third day with a swollen eyelid and blisters under my left eye, I decided that going to the doctor for treatment might be the best option.
The doctor wasn’t available, however, and I was scheduled to meet with a nurse practitioner I had seen in the past. I had been out as trans to my doctor and the clinic’s office staff for over a year, but I hadn’t seen this particular nurse practitioner within that time frame.
When she began the exam, I explained to her where I had the blisters, gesturing in a line from my legs up the right side of my body. She looked at the affected areas on my right arm, face and back of my neck and then said, “I’ll need to see all of it.”
“All of it?” I asked in surprise since she had just seen the worst areas.
“Yes,” she replied, “I need to make sure it isn’t infected.”
“It’s not infected,” I assured her.
“I need to make sure,” she insisted.
Because this was the first time I’d ever gone for medical treatment of poison ivy, I wasn’t sure whether checking every spot for infection was standard procedure, but I accepted what she said and raised my shirt. She quickly examined the blisters on my abdomen and neck and then pointed at my legs.
“I’ll need to see the rest,” she said.
“It looks just like everything else,” I countered.
“I need to see it anyway,” she replied.
As I unbuckled my belt, I started to experience some doubts about her reasons for the “completeness” of this exam. It was when I unfastened the fly of my jeans and bent slightly to drop them when her next question turned my doubts into annoyance.
“Is it on your genitals?” she asked.
I froze and turned my eyes up toward hers, but she wasn’t looking at my face. She was looking down at my crotch that was still covered by the, ahem, men’s undergarment I was wearing beneath my jeans.
Now, I had already explained to her where the blisters were, and nothing on the list I had provided included my genitals. I have had the unfortunate experience of poison ivy blisters erupting on my nether-regions when I chose the absolute wrong place to take a leak in the woods once when I was a young adult. Believe me, if I had been in that predicament this time, I would have stated as much quite clearly to improve my chances of getting effective treatment for it. (And if that situation doesn’t induce a person to learn what poison ivy plants look like, nothing will.)
And so similar to the visit to the dentist’s office the month before, I was in a situation where I wondered what my response should be.
I considered the retort, “Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you? To see the transsexual’s genitals!” but I held my tongue.
I quickly considered my options.
I didn’t want to continue to stand there holding my unfastened jeans, and I did want to have the poison ivy blisters treated, so rather than inflame the situation, I dropped my pants the rest of the way and simply answered, “No, there isn’t any on my genitals.”
She only glanced at the blisters on my legs — apparently, the transsexual show at the doctor’s office was over — and turned to write a prescription for prednisone. (And I am pleased to report that the treatment did indeed clear up the problem.)
One month later, it was the optometrist’s turn.
I walked up to the receptionist’s desk to check in and said, “I’ve changed my name,” as I handed her my new insurance card.
“Oh, okay,” she replied. “What was your old name? I’ll look it up and then we’ll just change it in the system.”
I told her my former name, which she typed into her computer, and she looked at the card I had just handed her.
Then she looked at it again.
Then she looked up at me and down again at the card. She slowly said, “Ohhhhhhhhh,” as though several realizations came to her, one at a time, the “oh” extending over each one.
And then, she was all business. “Okay,” she said crisply. “I’ll just enter that in with the old name.”
“What does that mean?” I asked, not wanting to have my old name in the system and raise the chances of someone using it accidentally. She seemed to pick up on my discomfort with this and explained, “The old records can’t be changed, so we need to keep both names in the system so the new records are connected to the old ones.”
That seemed to make sense so I didn’t question it further.
I was soon called from the waiting room by a young assistant who, as she led me back into a large pre-exam room, seemed to make a point to use my first name several times as we walked. She gestured toward an apparatus on the table and asked me to take a seat in front of it while she sat down on the other side.
I leaned forward and set my chin on the little cup, placing my forehead against the cushion so the assistant could measure the curvature of my corneas. It didn’t take long, maybe a minute or so.
When she was finished, I sat back and was surprised to see another assistant standing next to us.
So surprised, in fact, that I jumped.
Then she jumped.
“Did I startle you?” she asked.
“Well, you weren’t standing there when I sat down,” I replied. I hadn’t heard her walk up, so it was as if she had just appeared out of nowhere.
I couldn’t figure why she was there and I expected her to walk away, but she didn’t. She just stood there looking at me.
So I looked at her.
And she looked at me some more.
Suddenly, I realized what was happening. Word had gotten out that there was a transsexual in the office and she had come to gawk.
That realization might have hardened the look on my face, or maybe she simply snapped out of whatever trance she seemed to have fallen into, because finally, she stopped staring at me and blinked. She looked around the room briefly, as though she had forgotten where she was, smiled at me awkwardly and walked out.
Sigh. When people do this sort of thing, why do they have to be so obvious about it?
Once the woman had left, the first assistant led me to one of the small exam rooms where she completed the eye tests and left to call in the optometrist, who had obviously been informed about my name change. He walked in and offered me a firm handshake, heartily saying my “new” name as though we were good friends. That’s where the pleasantries ended.
He used a contraption to look at my retinas (my pupils had been dilated by the assistant) and after that, he couldn’t get out of there fast enough. He sat at the desk, his back somewhat turned toward me. He regarded my records, including the results of the exam, wrote down a few things, and without turning around, asked me if I had any questions. Then he scooped up my file and abruptly stood up. He turned to shake my hand, saying, “Glad to hear that you’re doing so well,” opened the door to the exam room, stepped out to indicate the direction I should go to get back to the reception desk, and strode away.
I’m not even sure he was in the room for five minutes. I’m also not sure how the hell he could have known whether I was doing “well” since he hadn’t even bothered to talk to me.
It all happened so quickly, it took a little while for me to realize that he hadn’t told me whether my eyesight had changed since last year or how my eyes were doing since the lasik surgery I’d had in 2007, which is the conversation we usually have during my annual eye exam.
Interestingly, the reactions at the optometrist’s office were polar opposites: the gawking woman didn’t know when to bug off and the optometrist couldn’t seem to leave my presence quickly enough. (At least neither of them asked to see my genitals.)
I know that there are trans people who have experienced far worse at the hands of health care “professionals” than I have, but I am still annoyed with it all. Next time, maybe I should just raise my hands, wiggle my fingers, waggle my tongue, jump up and down and say, “BOO!” At least that would be behavior which would actually warrant a stare or running away, because my acting just like any other human being that walks into their offices certainly doesn’t, nor does it justify a request to inspect my genitals.
That’s my opinion, anyway.