Transgender people face strife at the doctor's office

The head of the Gender Variance Program at the Montreal Children's Hospital, Dr. Shuvo Ghosh, says transgender people often face insensitive and unnecessary questioning from health care professionals.

Complaints include insensitive, unnecessary questions and denied treatments

After years of self-questioning, hormone treatments and surgery, Chase Ross, 22, is now legally a man. 

Ross was born a woman but always felt like something wasn't quite right. After finding a network of transgender people online, Ross figured out what was wrong.

"I realized this has to be my life. This has to be me for me to be happy," he says. 

Since coming out as a transgender person, Ross has discovered that some of the hardest things to deal with are the most unexpected — like what happens at a visit to the doctor's office.

Tips for transgender people seeking medical treatment

  • Prepare what you are willing to talk about.
  • Prepare a response for questions you're not willing to answer. For example: "If we could focus on only the parts of my medical history that are relevant to this complaint, I would feel much more comfortable."
  • Come with an open mind. Each medical professional is an individual. 
  • If you're denied service, send a letter alerting the medical establishment. 

"To add on to society's hate, you have to deal with the doctor — the people you're supposed to trust. It's not fun," he says. 

Ross says he's routinely asked irrelevant questions about his sexuality, name change and genitals.

However, he says one of the worst experiences was being refused treatment during a recent visit to a psychiatrist. 

"She basically just went off on how she doesn't know how to deal with anything trans-related, because it's not her field of expertise. That kind of hurt because I wanted immediate help," says Ross. 

As an advocacy worker with Concordia University's Centre for Gender Advocacy, Gabrielle Bouchard counsels hundreds of transgender people in Montreal. She says Ross's experience is not unique.

The most common complaints she hears include medical professionals refusing to address a patient as the gender he or she identifies with, asking invasive and unnecessary questions, and — in some cases — refusing treatment. 

"People will say, 'I would rather die than go back and be misgendered or feel unsafe. So I will die of pneumonia before I will go back to the hospital,'" says Bouchard.  

The head of the Gender Variance Program at the Montreal Children's Hospital, Dr. Shuvo Ghosh, agrees with Ross and Bouchard.

Dr. Shuvo Ghosh, Montreal Children's Hospital (Morgan Dunlop)

He says transgender people often face hurdles in accessing services because health care professionals feel uncomfortable in their presence. 

As a member of the McGill University teaching faculty, Dr. Ghosh says there is little sensitivity training for health care professionals when it comes to treating transgender people.

"The trans population is the last really, truly marginalized group that's being prevented from getting adequate health care. It's biases and prejudices about what a trans person is, and that completely clouds any proper clinical judgments," says Dr. Ghosh

If people in the transgender community refuse to seek medical attention, it will inevitably burden the system by flooding hospital emergency rooms with complaints that could have been prevented, Ghosh says.

Ghosh says medical professionals can help improve the situation by making their patients feel comfortable and explaining why they're asking relevant questions.

However, he says it will likely be up to transgender people to advocate for themselves. He says anyone who is denied service or made to feel uncomfortable should send an official letter of complaint to the health care establishment. 


Morgan Dunlop is a reporter with CBC Montreal.