What a phenomenal catalyst for change. June 13-15 was the 12th annual Trans Health Conference in Philly. It was a massive collection of workshops on many different aspects of Transgender, Transsexual and differently gendered health and healing including medical, legal, spiritual, practical aspects, self-empowerment and so much more. I was honored to be a presenter this year on Naturopathic Medicine and Trans Health. It was my first time attending the conference, and I am so impressed by the caliber of the event.
My talk was a great learning process for me. Not only from the questions asked by the diverse and well informed crowd, but also as a reflection of self. I am very comfortable in the trans community, consider myself an ally, and am aware of the multidimensional nature of trans identities. And yet, twice during my presentation I wrongly identified someone as a woman and a man when calling on people for questions. Even though I am *so aware* of pronouns and gender identification, under pressure my nervous nervous system switched back to my reptilian brain of the binary He-She world – and this with all the *knowing* that I have of the great diversity of gender expression. I was disappointed in myself. It is a lesson that in working with this community, it is especially important to be conscious of language. The old ways of thinking are simply not progressive enough to enter the dialogue. For example, when referencing people, we as a society need to step outside of classifying people by sex (and race.) Instead of saying “the woman in the yellow shirt”, say “the person in the yellow shirt is ….” The majority of the time our binary classification may be right, but there is a significant proportion of times when our 2D classifiers are actually incorrect, and those can be very painful moments for the individual inhabiting the misread gender identity.
I also relapsed into talking about “mens health” and “womens health” when speaking of traditional classifications for botanical medicine as questions peppered my presentation and I became increasingly thrown off my game. I did this thinking the room would understand that transmasculine falls into one, and transfeminine falls into the other. But, with trans medicine there can be no invisibilization of the trans identity. I was reminded, as a Doctor, it is my responsibility to learn to be more creative with language to be more inclusive of the spectrum of gender and less binary. I have taken this lesson into my everyday practice at home and in the classroom when I teach botanical medicine. It takes some creative and conscious brain-work to step outside the well-taught, well-known institution of bi-gendered medicine, but it is worth it. For example, saw palmetto is a classic “mens health” botanical that would be better presented as a testosterone ally herb.
Adrenal health was a cornerstone of my presentation, and was pleased to learn of new research that evidences salivary cortisol levels are indeed raised higher in the transitioning trans population than in controls. Meaning – stress is huge. Everyone working with trans people of all identifications will need to do stress management and adrenal support. Adrenals are also a source of endogenous hormones including DHEA, which could be a resource for transmasculine and transfeminine people not taking hormones as it has the potential to shift to both testosterone and estrogen internally. There were many questions about the use of botanicals that have been evidenced to have steroid-like action. This is an area I need much more clinical experience in.
I was heartened to meet 3 other Naturopathic Doctors and two herbalists working in this field at the conference, all of who gave presentations as well. They reminded me of some of the important preventative medicine aspects of working with people on hormone therapies like hypertension, osteoporosis, calcium quality, high cholesterol and so much more. There were also acupuncturists, and Ayruvedic practitioners offering other traditional perspectives. Next year I hope to cultivate a workshop where we all meet to share information! I know I was left with more questions than answers.
I learned important information about our trans youth, and ways to support them better from both a practical level in schools, around mental health, and medically. Dori Midnight, a Massachusettes healer and fairy witch did workshops in mental health, herbalism and ancestral trans magics. I also got to share a room with her, which was a delightful meeting of the minds with gluten-free snacks. There were many sessions on identity development and closed meetings for specific gendered health care needs that looked inspiring and transformational. There were many fantastic workshops I did not get a chance to attend, including a 2 day medical training stream which I will certainly do next year.
Overall, the experience was one that provoked intense introspection and profound leaps of knowledge. It was an event that is crucially important to modern medicine, to understand not only the vernacular but also the urgency of the need for competent health care providers AND self care within the transgender, transsexual and gender non-conforming communities.