We’d never visited the Quick Care at Meridian Medical Associates in Joliet before. We’d seen other doctors in their practice, so I knew Jake was on file, but I had no idea what kinds of notes they kept, or how the staff at this particular facility would be.
The lady behind the desk smiled warmly as I stepped up and I liked her instantly.
“You picked a good day to get sick,” she said as way of welcome. It was 11 AM on a Friday and the large waiting room was full of maybe a handful of people. “You won’t have to wait long at all.”
From the smile on her face and friendly way she asked about our visit, I could tell she loved her job. I think it says a lot about a place, when employees love their jobs.
Her face dropped when she heard Jake didn’t feel well. His lip hurt. A burning, stinging kind of pain when he talked. Or ate. Or pushed it out this way with his tongue. Or pushed it in this way with his finger. I insisted it was only a canker sore and he insisted it was not and he’d have to lose his lip.
She assured him that the doctors would most certainly find some alternative to cutting off his lip.
Then she asked for his birthdate.
As I watched her type it in, I knew what was coming up on her screen. Birth name. Female gender marker. She looked from her screen to my son and then to me. She said his birth name very, very softly, her voice rising at the end.
“He goes by Jake.” She stared for a fraction of a second and then nodded once.
“Got it. I’m making a note here on the paperwork so they know to call him Jake.” I wish I could have hugged her tight for that.
She handed me the paperwork and promised we’d be called up soon. As I returned with the paperwork a couple minutes later, a nurse was arguing with her.
“I have to call the name on the paperwork, I can’t call out any name they ask for.”
I got closer and I could hear the front desk woman insisting that the nurse needed to use Jake. This is what I’d feared. This is what I’d expected. This is what every mother of a transgender child expects. I remembered our visit to another doctor, when Jake had his birth name called out through a full waiting room. His anxiety, his stress, at hearing that name. Of being outed in front of everyone.
I asked if there was a problem with the name.
“No, I understand it,” she said firmly. “We’ll get this straightened out, don’t worry.” And she smiled again, that very sincere, very supportive smile and I wanted to cry and hug her all over again.
I went back to my seat to watch Jake play, my heart in my throat. I thought about leaving. I thought about leaping up the second the nurse stepped out the door, to avoid her having to say anything at all. I thought about all of the transgender people who had to sit in this same situation, without an advocate by their side.
And then she was there, the nurse who insisted she couldn’t use another name. Walking all the way across the waiting room to stand beside me.
“Jake?” she said. I nodded. She motioned me closer. “I wanted to confirm the correct pronouns. You use he?” I nodded again and she smiled.
The nurse who argued that she couldn’t use any name but what was on the record smiled and said to my son, “Jake, come this way, young man.” As we passed the front desk, the same woman who had greeted us handed Jake some stickers: Spiderman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Two of his favorite.
I shouldn’t assume that people will react poorly when they learn that my child is transgender. I live in this constant fear every time he has to be outed to strangers. I’m not afraid that mobs will gather with pitchforks and torches, but I am always afraid that Child Protective Services might be called. It has happened to other parents.
My mind sifts through the articles about violence and hate crimes and murder of trans individuals. What if the wrong person was sitting behind that front desk? What if the nurse was transphobic or fanatically religious? What if the doctor refused us services? It has happened to other trans people.
I know that seeing a doctor shouldn’t seem like such a big deal. It shouldn’t cause anxiety and stress. There should be supports in place that ensure transgender people receive the same kind of medical care as any other person, without the added mental anguish of having to deal with discrimination, ignorance, and refusal of service. Transgender individuals have recently begun tweeting their own poor experiences under #TransHealthFail. By sharing failures on the part of the medical community, they’ve made strides in changing the situation. A project to provide tools and resources for transgender individuals to connect with doctors who care, called My TransHealth, recently received enough funding to launch in New York. This is a huge step in the right direction.
Our experience at Meridian Medical Associates in Joliet was not a #TransHealthFail. From the moment we walked in the door to the moment we walked out, they treated my son with dignity and respect. They cared for him, they used the proper pronouns and names, and they did it willingly and gladly.
As Jake skipped out of the office, relieved to have his lip intact, I could hear the nurse talking to the lady at the front desk.
“What a happy little guy,” she said, and I sensed the smile in her voice even though I couldn’t see her face. I wish she knew that she was part of the reason.
Everyone at that office was part of the reason. They made a difference. They took the time to educate themselves, to treat all patients equally, and to start to change the future of medical care for transgender people.
Not that I’m wishing my children sick, but I can’t wait to go back. And for anyone keeping record, it was only a canker sore.
Don’t miss my video on Listen to Your Mother where I share my story of Jake’s transition.
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