Nonbinary Femme and other Biases

Coming out, even to myself ,as a nonbinary femme has been harder than I expected. I keep waiting for someone to tell me I somehow dont “qualify.” Hell, I question my self on a regular basis, why would I expect less from anyone else?

Many years ago, in the late 90s in Toronto my soon to be best friend Aimée and I would meet for “femme coffee” once a week and talk about the politics, nuances, and intersections of femme identity. I was somewhere between 21-25 and this was all new to me. Pieces fell into place in my psyche connecting me to the this queer community. I was becoming a part of.

Fast forward at least 20 years. Words like genderqueer, nonbinary and ace have flourished in an ever expanding garden of sexual and gender personal affiliations. They/them pronouns are discussed on NPR and the spectrum of trans identity is in media, politics, elementary school and everywhere else. I am in medical school at 45 years old, advancing my personal and professional education in sex and gender health. I am married to an androgynous millennial and she says one night “Femme is not a gender. You have no gender identity.” I was so hurt and angry and erased. I fumbled through my 90s gender books trying to find some proof that I existed; i had no name for who I was.

I folded in on myself at that moment. I knew that I had a complex gender and I knew I existed but I didnt have the words to speak up with.

Current time, or 2020. I was in relationship with another millennial, spending time with their all-trans friend group many of who were GenZ. I am jealous that these humans were able to grow up in a less gendered era than I was and had the freedom to know at 15, or 19, that their internal understanding of their personal gender *as well as their visible identity* could be whatever they wanted it to be. I know in my heart that if I were 17, or 27 instead of 47 I would certainly identify as nonbinary. And maybe I would have pushed my visible boundaries further than I will now.

One friend in particular was classically femme-presenting and identified as nonbinary trans. I repeatedly used she pronouns , probably 50% of the time, as their image in my mind was so deeply ingrained as one pronoun. It felt terrible every time – for everyone involved. I changed to using they/them pronouns for everyone for about 6 weeks until I got used to it as a habit in my mouth and brain. Uncoupling the phenotypical appearance of face/hair/clothing presentation from associated pronouns was very hard work for me. I could not figure out why I was struggling so much: How could i not get this right? What Was Wrong With Me. (spoiler alert: I was struggling with my own gender identity and associated femme biases.)

I wish this friend group and I had been able to have safe gender discussions. I wanted to learn from their growing up experiences as they were obviously very different than mine. I was in a deep struggle with myself as an older AFAB person allowing myself to invoke a nonbinary truth while still presenting as the lesbian femme I have always been. Eventually the words slid into place: I finally had language for a gender that fit my folded up erased insides. I harmed this friend by not seeing their gender in the same way I was unseen. I perpetrated that bias. I am truly sorry for that.

I dont consider myself trans. Cis does not fit comfortably either. For me, nonbinary means that – actually off the binary. That includes cis and trans, masculine and feminine, as well as good/bad, right/wrong, in/out, victim/perpetrator, love/hate. Unpacking the binary has been an enormous relief on multiple levels. I have a gender euphoria at deeply knowing that I am more than people assume I am from my face. I also still struggle with the words and explanations around what gives me the right to feel like I have a different gender than, for example, my also pierced and tattooed, also radical, also queer femme friends that dont identify as nonbinary.

I have had an image of gender as a 3D nebula with us all bouncing around inside moving through our beautiful multifaceted lives as our original and authentic selves. A few people stick to one pole or another; most of us are all over and in between at any one time. I am grateful for evolving language that imperfectly and accurately outlines a frame for my complex gender despite how you may read my face, my clothes/hair and my genitals. I still feel pretty unsure of the language and philosophy to discuss this evolution though. I have no critical theory or objective framework to reference when it comes to being a nonbinary femme or themme.

I welcome communication from nonbinary femmes out there of any age. Lets have coffee and talk (missmasina@gmail.com).

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We Must Speak Up; We Must Speak OUT

I add my voice to the growing number of health care professionals and medical societies condemning the newest human rights violation by the Trump administration against our transgender community. The urgency of this issue is paramount! To deny health care rights during a global pandemic is both inhumane and absurd. Our trans patients and colleagues are already vulnerable due to the health disparities inherent in our system and biases from healthcare practitioners. Not only are out trans patients affected but all patients who fall under any part of our QUEER community in the past, present or future are at risk, making it even more difficult to be open and honest wit our health care providers.

Gender based and transphobic violence includes racism, murder and hate crime. It disproportionately affects black trans lives, especially black trans women. In the midst of the Black Lives Matter uprising and Covid19 the reversal of transgender health protections puts an immediate threat to black trans patients, and all trans BIPOC patients who identify as gender neutral or non-binary.

This recent action should be met with a call to arms from all medical professionals, including attending physicians, resident, medical students, nurses, APPs and staff. We must to do our best to provide trauma-based compassionate medicine and NEVER deny care for transgender patients nor any LGBTQ patients. The personal views of providers in any setting (outpatient, clinic, hospital or otherwise) must not be allowed to interfere with the right to health care. The recent COVID pop-up hospital in a Brooklyn park that denied transgender and LGBT care is an atrocious example of what the Trump administration is suggesting here.

There is a dearth of education for healthcare professionals from the earliest academic levels. Health disparities, intersectional oppression, and implicit biases of language, systems and structures have to be called out and addressed to stop this cycle of ignorance. Silence is clearly violence, and we cannot in good faith stay silent and allow conservative politicians to sacrifice health protection in the names of transphobia and racism – not now or ever again.

  • Kaiser Kabir OMS4 Lincoln Memorial University
  • Masina Wright, DO PGY1 University of New Mexico Hospital, Internal Medicine
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A Pandemic wasn’t the Plan: Part 2 – Anxiety/Herbal Rx 04/04/2020

I went to my local Co-op today, which is one of the only places that doesnt feel totally overwhelming to shop, and every single person had a mask on. This is the new norma I spent the week pretty anxious about the contagion and infectious side of COVID19. I had two of my patients get ruled out for the virus mid-treatment this week AND the contagion aspect seemed really important for those around me I come in contact with, not only myself. What do I need to do to not be a vector of spread? We now only wear scrubs to the hospital not work clothes, and I take my shoes off at my door. Are you freaked out about the contagious side of it? This is a real phobia for some people, and it at the root of many OCD compulsions. I feel for all the germ-phobes out there! My only advice is therapy therapy therapy. There are also one or two antidepressants that help with OCD if you are really noticing an uptick in this in your every day. Ask your PCP if they can help. If you dont have one, this is a great time to get one! Many health providers are accepting new patients, and their clinics or your local community center can help you get the health coverage you need.

Medicine really needs to start valuing mental health as equal to primary and specialty medical care in insurance reimbursements and coverage. SO much suffering comes from the mind. And teeth! Dental coverage too! I promised a blog on botanical medicine and viral illness. I am not up to date on the most current treatments and theories in the natural medicine world anymore. The Naturopathic News and Review publication is a great resource for cutting edge evidence from practicing ND’s.

Most of my botanical training is american traditional eclectic western botanicals, and the knowledge dates back to folk traditions, native medicine, midwifery, and turn of the century medicine. In this vein, there is a wealth of knowledge about foundational immune support and antivirals vs antibacterials and antifungals. If you are interested in this kind of care, most ND’s and herbalists are doing telephone and online appointments and shipping our medicine. Look under your Naturopathic Medicine State Association and see who is available in your area for personalized medicine.

Chinese botanical medicine also has a fantastic apothecary of immune supporting botanicals as well as support for basically every system. Their pharmacopeia is rich and complex with over 5000 herbs with specific indications and formulas. Many TCM Doctors and Acupuncturists are also herbalists and sell custom blended teas as part of their practice. Consider reaching out to someone locally for this as well with a phone or video appointment.

Herbal Medicine for COVID19 falls into prevention by strengthening and prevention by antimicrobial actions. Prevention by strengthening herbs are used when you are not sick. They tonify and strengthen the body, increasing reserves that can be called on if illness occurs. The following is a list of such herbs:

  • nettles
  • astragalus
  • alfalfa
  • borage
  • siberian and american ginsengs
  • ashwahaganda
  • cordyceps and other nourishing mushroooms (use sparingly)
Nettle Cake with Pine Buttercream

Nettles are best made as a herbal tea and drank clear and often. They can also be eaten in soups, cakes, and stir fried although this is easier in some parts of the country than others.

Astragalus is a sweet root and is best as a broth, or a tablet taken 3 tablets in morning and night. This is a key ingredient in “change of season soup” from the TCM formulary for immune strengthening as well. Borage, Siberian and American ginsengs and ashwahaganda are adrenal tonics that boost immunity by decreasing inflammation and increasing resilience. I like borage tincture 1 tsp daily, ginsengs as tinctures or pills (they don’t taste great), and ashwganda as a standardized tablet or capsule. Ashwaganda means something close to “horse piss” Ive been told, and it is named after the strength and passion of a horse as this is what it embues. These should be discontinued at the first sign of a sniffle or other illness. Then switch to active antimicrobial prevention. Taking these while sick can sometimes strengthen the pathogen rather than the host.

Antimicrobials: These are divided by their functionality.

Use these herbs as a prevention; it is best to preserve the antibacterials for signs of actual infection. Like Rx antibiotics nature’s antibacterials have strong actions and their use needs to be preserved for proper indication

A selection of commonly used antivirals includes:

  • alium cepa (onion)
  • allium sativa (garlic)
  • echinacea – only in the first 24 hours of infection
  • elderberry- usually used as a syrup that is very safe for all ages (watch for honey under 1yo) and for pregnancy –has some possible conflicting evidence for COVID19 infection, make your own informed consent to use.
  • monolauren (from coconut oil)
  • euphrasia (eyebright) – for viral conjunctavitis and eye symptoms
  • cats claw

A selection of my fave antibacterials include:

  • goldenseal – for inflamed mucus membranes and purulent discharges
  • berberis – for anything that looks or feels “infected” including GI issues
  • echinacea – one of the only botanicals proven against strep species. Use a glycerite form of the tincture and squirt it directly onto an inflamed throat. The glycerite is sweet and is safe for children and elders.
  • cats claw – used for Lyme infection
  • onion and garlic, oregano and thyme – in cooking! use liberally!

Antifungals are also important for chronic immune system depletion often manifested as thick brittle toenails or fingernails, frequent yeast infections, sinusitis and chronic belly issues. They are less relevent for this pandemic other than to sustain and support long term immune and lung health. My go-to antifungals include:

  • monolauren (from coconut oil) 300mg 2 times/ day
  • pau d’arco tincture or tea – 2 tsp or cups per day
  • tea tree oil – topical
  • caprylic acid – at least 2 caps daily
  • garlic
  • * a note on essential oils

I personally took a bottle of astragalus tablets 2 2twice-ish daily and now I am switching to Monolauren daily for 3 months with vitamin C and cats claw tincture daily for at least the next 3-4 weeks for intensive antiviral support. I am also taking ashwaganda as an energy tonic to support my stress levels during this unusual time to be working in medicine, and a probiotic. For my personalized medicine I have an herbal thyroid support formula alongside my Armor thyroid medication as I have Hashimotos thyroiditis. Finally, I drink homemade nettle tea or lavender/ chamomile tea and am doing the best I can to get cooked or fresh greens most days.

My training in essential oils is only for primarily olfactory/ inhaled, diffused in water or skin products. I was not trained in “by mouth” use of essential oils such as promoted by DoTerra or other EO companies so I cannot recommend tfor or against these by mouth. I do like topical and diffused use of these medicinal substances and find myself drawn to tee trea, eucalyptus and lavender, cypress, pine as my primary antimicrobial nature scents for baths, lotions, soaps and diffusion. Many flower essential oils have beneficial effects on the mind/ mental health as CN1 is a cranial nerve. There is a long tradition of use for cosmetic use as well.

Best of luck out there friendly readers. How we as humans conduct ourselves in these pandemic times can illustrate where we need to work on ourselves and where we shine bright. This is an excellent time for insight, awareness and evolution. Its also a perfect time for devolution and hopelessness. Reach out and find the resources you need or ask a friend to listen awhile: many providers are providing sliding scale or free servicesand telemedicine is blooming. The world is small with the internet. Kindness can be found in bugs on a sidewalk or a smiling eyes from 6 feet. If nothing else is true, it is that we are in this together.

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Intermittent Starving vs Fasting

My IG and twitter feeds keep sending me promoted ads for intermittent fasting and young thin women in my Internal Medicine residency program keep telling me they are doing it. As someone with a hair trigger red flag signal for anorexia and eating disorders, I am triggered. As someone with a 20 year nutrition degree and as a gal raised with a spiritual practice of fasting, I do understand the value behind the concept. The problems start when restriction/binging/restriction patterns are overlayed on the foundational evidence.

This is the best nutritional protocol and evidence I found to implement intermittent fasting into a food plan for weight loss or for longevity. There is good reasoning and practice behind the idea that the liver stores glycogen for storage, and that this “immediate use” supply needs to be used up before the body creates new glucose from adipose cells and muscle. This is reasonable: fasting uses up the supplies . Then fasting decreases fat or muscle from stores.

Some fasting articles I’ve read suggest 16 hours between eating every day. This sounds anlot like the “don’t eat food after 7” rule that has quite a few generations of folks sleep binging and waking up covered in cookies.

Some articles suggest 16 hours between meals twice a week. This seems more reasonable to me as it allows for some pre-planning to have restful, quiet time during the fasting period. Our human bodies are not designed to “run on empty.” I grew up in a spiritual yoga community where fasting was part of the practice towards enlightenment, but work was not done during the fast. One’s time in the fasting state is to be spent meditating, reflecting, and processing (like while we sleep.) Yoga is also an acceptable practice during this time as it stimulates glands and organs as well as the musculoskeletal body to return to homeostasis. Fasting is designed as a parasympathetic state to rebalance cyp liver enzymes and clear the intestines. Pushing through fasting into sympathetic, highly motivated activity like mental or physical labor requires the adrenal glands to overachieve and drive metabolism through adrenaline and sheer will aka cortisol.

The one place where hard work on a fasting belly IS indicated is for anyone looking to lower insulin resistance by using the biochemistry of exercise. This could be someone requiring huge doses of insulin for only moderate blood glucose control, or someone trying to beat type 2 diabetes in the pre-diabetic state. Exercising on an empty stomach is one of the few ways to upregulate the special cellular receptors called GLUT_4 for insulin to bring blood sugar into cells. I have tried this and its oddly satisfying. Nerd out on biochemistry and GLUT-4 here.

I don’t intermittent fast intentionally myself. Some weekend days I wont eat food until 2-3 in the afternoon, just based on my natural appetite; however, I do have black coffee and water and sometimes juice during that time. To be my best self, I need frequent and regular fuel to keep this brain and body going for the intense work weeks I do. Not allowing myself to eat when I am hungry in not helpful for my mental health either – not only do I get edgy or feel anxious, my own disordered eating and body dysmorphia can easily be motivated by restrictive eating patterns.

Aside from mental health, some people also have genetic metabolic imbalances if their lineage experienced a traumatic food restriction. This has been researched in Irish descendants as well as Jewish folks. Caloric restriction can actually trigger a survival metabolism where minimal resources are burned and every morsel of fat possible is stored. This is ancestral trauma that has caused permanent alterations in your genome that get triggered by environmental circumstances.

The science is compelling though: improved metabolism, destruction of cancer cells, immune regulation, cortisol balancing, cellular rejuvenation…. benefits are numerous!

Here is what I would do if I was either doing a period of cleansing/detox and intentionally working on restoring health or if I was committed to a defined period of intentional weight loss (8 months from this algorithm.)

  1. Style 1: two mornings a week, fast until 12-1pm depending on your 16 hour window. On these mornings drink warm water, organic green tea or herbal tea, stretch and do yoga or go for a gentle walk, get into nature, rest/ meditate, write or reflect. Eat a Mediterranean style diet the remainder of the time.
  2. Style 2: For a more intensive weight loss experience, follow the algorithm for 2 days a week of restricted caloric intake from the JAMA article referenced at the beginning of this post. I would not also follow the time restricted feeding patterns myself as I find this too rigid for modern life and overrides the natural appetite instincts which are essential. Eat a Mediterranean type diet or Paleo. Consider pairing this with the Whole 30 protocol or an elimination diet for true restorative food as medicine. Follow the above guidelines for your calorie restricted days with rest, nature, reflection, massage, acupuncture or other healing practices, whole organic foods, teas and water. Once you have completed month 4, return back up the protocol until you are back at full weekly caloric intake and reassess.
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Well Hello

Its been a long time since I have posted from the medical world of Dr Wright. I am now in Albuquerque New Mexico, Land of Enchantment and Liver Disease. So many dying ciswomen in their 30s suffering of liver failure here, and transwomen too. I have been pleased with the cultural competency for trans and non binary folk in this city so far!  My hospital’s respect for the transfolk and their pronouns I have seen come through the door at UNMH has been heartwarming. The work is never done, but the foundations are in place thanks to those who have done this work before me.

There are so many things I could write about  it feels overwhelming. Like

  • how does one deal with anxiety in a productive way that does not encourage substance use?
  • how much does good food really influence health
  • and
  • the value of death: vs life. what is a life well lived
  • what is a good death

As an internal medicine doctor I know part of my life is to facilitate death. This is the job of the warrior; and as a hospitalist  I tend to those as they fight in their own particular battlefield . I have been privileged to sit with Death, and she is a  mistress no one wants to see. And yet, often such a sweet gift.

I wish that hospital medicine could embrace healing meditations and buddhist lectures. Imagine folks watching these daily in their hospital beds instead of cooking shows and NCIS? These are a few of my faves:

Anything by Pema Chodron as well: I look for ones longer than 45 minutes

I certainly haven’t mastered the art of effectively handling my own stress without turning to food, or alcohol, or any thing that distracts me from the what-feels-like intolerable levels of emotion building up inside. So, I have empathy for my patients that use this coping mechanism to get through their life. What is the difference that has me as a privileged white woman in my 40s still strong and healthy foundationally, vs their 30 year old bodies that are broken down by alcohol? Genetics is certainly a piece of it. The Navajo, Zuni and Pueblo folks here have what must be a genetic succeptibility to liver failure secondary to alcohol use disorder. They are too sick, too young, and too many of them to have it be environment alone.

I cant help but feel these women are carrying the trauma of generations of dominance, trauma and oppression and it is manifesting as this alcohol sickness – a genetic trait passed from white rapists to their progeny and concentrated in generation after generation. Tie that to poverty, a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, and ongoing systemic depression and it makes complete sense that we have these women dying, daily, in our hospital.

It is a helpless feeling, this system oppression and individual illness. This is certainly a piece of the burnout of becoming a physician. We do our best to hold together the pieces of survival for each person, holding the hope, while also titrating the reality of recovery.

As a person very new to this state I have very little working knowledge of the cultural climate of health care here and even what resources are available. As a new resident and hospital based physician, I have basically no time to investigate and advocate for this community at the ground level. All I can do is hold the space for the sickest of the sick and even in that I don’t have time to be present for their stories or their traumas.

Dandelion and Milk thistle, turmeric are not native botanicals to this part of the country, so I doubt they are used in traditional medicines?  I wonder how much early liver protection with these herbs, as well as anger management, trauma based care, and other integrative therapies could be used to protect and heal the liver in the teens and twenties for these folks? My acupuncturist said New Mexico is the land of wind, and heat, both properties of the liver meridian. This would argue for an environmental component to the imbalance as well. Food, Water, Emotions, Genetics, Trauma, Environment, Substances – so many nuances to health and to disease. And I, as a doctor, am depressed with the minimal amount of time I have to explore these facets with each individual that may lend insight into prevention before these women end up in our hospital beds.

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A Habit is Harder to Break than a Heart

Ugh. New Years Resolutions. Worst idea ever! And yet – I had a tough end of 2018 personally so I decided to make some resolutions in an effort to bring structure and more wellness to my life.

Well, it is 13 days in and I have already failed all of my official resolutions. In fact I failed my first one in the first two days of the year:

1. spend less time on my phone, especially in the company of people I love

Excuses are bountiful. However, If you are in the same boat as me with lofty goals and a complex life, I encourage you to think about resolutions as a year long goal, not something to be abandonded by week 3. It could take even 3 years to build the structure that you need to support the foundation of your bigger dreams/resolutions like an art or writing studio and time to produce new work.

The Winter Solstice (12/21/18) is when we annually rekindle the spark of the year ahead. This tiny flame grows to a raging bonfire at Summer Solstice with our culling and tending and then dwindles down to the blue flames of Halloween and Nov-Embers. Then the cycle begins anew with the next Winter Solstice.

If you looked at your resolutions as a fire you were to tend for a 12-36 month duration, would that change your approach? Your commitment to your Self or Visions?

I have things about my lifestyle I need to adjust, and those are built on deeply entrenched habits that function as crutches that allow me to perform in my hugely challenging day to day life. I cannot just pull the supports from my foundational Activities of Daily Living; I CAN build new supports/habits to relieve the not-so-functional structures.

Building a new wellness foundation takes a team or at the very least a multifaceted approach. I failed my New Years Resolutions the first week because I did not have my new structures in place to support them. I now see who and what I could rely on to make this reality functional, and this second week of the year I was 50% more successful in my goals.

What are your NYR? What changes do you need to make this happen?

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Notes from the Road: Buenos Aires WPATH

I am in beautiful Buenos Aires at my second World Professional Association for Transgender Health. My first was held in Amsterdam in 2016 when I was a fresh faced, just-finished first year medical student. Now, as a mid-fourth year student I am significantly more exhausted and disillusioned; I also have so much more doubt about choosing this field of medicine as my calling.

I like to tell the story that I returned to medical school to practice transgender health. Specifically, to be able to prescribe transitional hormones and participate in the insurance racket to reach more people. And that is part of the story. The root truth is I have been compelled to be a full scope physician for many reasons and transgender medicine gave me a focus because it was something I could not attain as the Naturopathic Doctor that I was before.

The last session I attended at the WPATH ARGENTINA conference was an incredible and inspired panel of Brazilian intellectuals speaking on depathologizing the transfeminine and deconstructing cisheteronormativity. Fran Demetrio, a transfeminine Brazilian professor was so passionate and eloquent in her discussion of injustice, oppression, systemic violence and the colonization of knowledge imported by biomedicine. She was being translated which made some of the discourse hard to fully comprehend and I wished WPATH had provided a professional translator for her because what she had to say was so profound and important and well thought out. She framed a paradigm that took the personal out of the conversation and raised it to a social construct and human justice level. In rough translation, she explained that not including the existential experience of trans voices in episystemic medical knowledge creates symbolic violence and perpetrates the colonialism of transgender relationships. This generates mental health violence and tramples the [transgender] patients knowledge. Considering and understanding this is essential to depatholgize the trans experience.

Despite the  multiple disparities that this population faces world wide, there is a slowly increasing body of trans identified physicians and health leaders in the field. However, to date  many of the people making the decisions about gender medicine are not differently-gendered themselves. Surely, this is problematic. The numbers of trans identified health care leaders is increasing by the year, and with groups like the Transgender Professional Association for Transgender Health, they are seeking greater control around the discourse of gender medicine and claiming their place as necessary voices in the didactic.  

The tensions between cis and trans leadership has created a simmering anger within this medical community. A socialist friend of mine shared that in activism in general there is a current trend towards challenging aggressions towards advocacy leaders in many different fields with a similar theme of  – who has the power to speak and represent the cause?

I was personally attacked in this rising conflict this year when I created a transgender health elective as a third year medical student for global medical students to supplement core medical school curriculum. A variety of trans and nonbinary people on social media threatened to create a petition against the course as it does not have a transgender identified course leader and there were multiple flamings on Facebook. I personally received several vitriolic emails from different people about the course, its content, and my leadership. I was privileged to have a team of (cis and transgender) people who have been in the field for a long time holding leadership positions to assist me in creating online and email responses that were balanced, appealed to reason, and illustrated the many ways the course seeks to uphold and respect the “nothing about us without us” principle while promoting evidence based foundational medicine.

I brought up this conflict between cis and trans leadership in the didactic of transgender medicine again at one of the ethics seminars at WPATH, where leadership and authority privilege was being discussed. Unfortunately, I was emotional in my questioning of the ethics behind attacking ally’s and advocates, as I am still deeply shaken by this experience. The response from one of the panelists was that when working as a non trans person with the gender diverse community there is so much anger one must simply expect to be attacked and be ok with that.

I am a person who has been excavating emotional violence in my personal life and creating real boundaries to protect myself for the first time. I don’t think I can intentionally choose a career were the population I am exhausting myself to serve reserves the right to be emotionally violent towards me indiscriminately because of their experience of violence. That is like saying that my mother has the right to be violent towards me in any way she sees fit because of the abuse she and her mother suffered. No.

Again.

not  including the existential experience of trans voices in episystemic medical knowledge creates symbolic violence and perpetrates the colonialism of transgender relationships. This generates mental health violence and tramples the patients knowledge. Considering and understanding this is essential to  depatholgize the trans experience. “

Dr. Demetrio’s message ultimately lifted my perspective of the conflict to a healing systems approach. With this in mind, I am still recalibrating my commitment to trans health as a specialized field of medicine, while intentionally making room for the many trans identified health care leaders. As a nontrans woman and a white queer/lesbian, I devote the next phase of my medical education to the foundations of internal medicine as well as lesbian health, vaginal happiness, fertility, community health, and queer health issues like addiction and mental health. My view of women’s health includes trans and cis women, as does my passion for community wellness. I am confident that these past 11 years of studying transgender medicine and advocacy work will continue to inform the communities I serve, if in a less direct way.

I see now that when I claim my leadership vision within a paradigm that matches my own identity I can be stronger and more authentic.

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Embedding Resilience in Medicine

      Half an inch from the first four thoracic vertebrae lie the central nervous system transistors (stellate ganglion) for your fight and flight nervous system. Needless to say, my upper back is constantly aching. I am metabolizing the unique stress of being a brand new doctor/medical student in hospital life. It’s a different kind of stress than the first two academic years: those were crushing content & exams, but they were ivory tower academia. This is the very real medicine that is literally birth, life and death stuff. More visceral than literal, I find myself often crying,  sometimes gagging, and occasionally elated.

The purpose of third year clerkship aka #MS3 is to get a sampling of each major specialty to help us decide on a residency. Its a generic med school formula consisting of: Pediatrics, Surgery, OB/GYN, Internal Medicine Inpatient & Outpatient, Family Medicine, Psychiatry, Community Health. Inpatient, we legally cannot write patient notes. While we can actively participate in patient care,  everything we do needs to be seconded by a licensed doc; therefore, we are mostly shadows, errand runners, and absorbent sponges.

Unfortunately, some throwbacks to fraternal physician hazing rituals are still in place even for third year medical students. For example, my Internal Medicine inpatient rotation, which is already a 6am – 6pm shift 5 days a week (with a 1 hr drive on each side) also requires 6 -24 hour shifts in the 6 weeks. I asked a friend who is a year ahead of me and attended a different hospital clerkship if her rotation was scheduled as such, and she said she had to follow hospitalist hours for that same rotation – roughly 730am – 330pm. If the point is to learn each of the specialty’s roles, it makes sense to follow the professional hours. If the goal is to teach us that Internal Medicine requires an exhausting slog of hospital life, and how to forsake all other aspects of our personal and academic life for our career, then this approach in third year makes sense. Slate Magazine said it best: Third Year Kills Humanity of Medicine.

I haven’t done the above inpatient IM rotation yet and yes, I’m actively worried about my health, my marriage, and my coping skills during that onslaught. I did one 86 hour “sneak peek” week with our Family Medicine inpatient service last Fall.  I did enjoy the steep learning curve and patient contact; however,  I often felt lost and useless as my resident dictated her many notes and ran around the hospital following up on pages and other details. I did get some good studying done and learned some basic inpatient skills but there were hours, especially after the first 8,  that I wished I had something more productive I could be doing in.

In reality, the residents are much more forgiving than the administration and often let us leave early (6am – 10/11pm) saying “there is nothing we could learn at 2am that cant be learned at 2pm.” I am eternally grateful for this ray of grace. And I do understand that night shifts and on-call hours are foundational for many physician careers and practicing them could be relevant.  But why, when 55% of Internal Medicine and Family Doctors report burnout, are we being subjected to these mind numbing hours as third years? How will medicine ever change if the hazing continues to be perpetrated generation after generation?

I accept that being a doctor requires selflessness & sacrifice. I accept that long hours are often required and I like to work – for an income, for a team, and for a good reason. I’m a second career medical student, I study and practice clinical skills because this is what I love! I accept that as a resident I will bear the brunt of hours spent watchdogging and admitting in part because we are the cheap labor force of institutionalized medicine. But, I have 1.5 years of med school left, and 3-6 years of residency/fellowship ahead. What is the purpose of having me work 86 hour weeks now,  and how is it going to benefit my relationship towards medicine?

To embed resilience in doctors, we as a profession and as an academic incubator need to provide time & space for rest, relaxation, and quietude. Only in parasympathetics can we metabolize the soul-rattling experience that comes from facing death and sickness and the burden of chronic disease in North America. Not only are we facing grief/loss/mortality, we are taking on the enormous responsibility of decision maker. A backlog of unprocessed emotion leads to substance abuse, chronic pain, sleep disorders, lack of compassion, and who knows what other organic & chemical dysregulation. We need regular daily time to cook good food, sleep with our loves, be intimate and vulnerable, Netflick and chill, get to the gym or get outside. Only in that space can we emotionally integrate this transformation.

Our clerkship Dean Dr. Taylor sent out this  reaffirming blogpost last month in which an experienced physician Dr. Youngson writes to his younger self. He says:

     “As a medical student or junior doctor, it’s easy to feel powerless especially in a hierarchical medical system that too often teaches by humiliation, punishes those who question the status quo, and grinds people down through overwork and inhuman working conditions…”

Change medical education so that we as medical students (and residents and attendings and all doctors actually) are seen as people who are more than life-saving, problem fixing, chart dictating, disease curing machines. A more gentle, humane practice of time & space for medicine while living life alongside the role of physician has to start at the beginning of the clerkship year when we integrate it’s practice with our academic foundations, or it wont be ingrained as part of the way we approach medicine.

Once I started thinking about time, resilience and integration as the cure of medical burnout, I began seeing evidence everywhere. I heard a NEJM Interview from 01/03/18 with Dr. Armstrong from Massachusettes General Hospital’s new Pathways program where residents are given time and a scientific team to investigate complex patient-based cases. The 12/26/17 issue of JAMA has an article by Jack Coulehan, MD MPH from the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics on Negative Capability and the Art of Medicine that speaks to “sustaining the physician through the ‘humdrum routine’ of professional life… [Using]… the power to recognize the ‘true poetry of life'” and of medicine. This is a reflective practice. He says:

In pursuing the steadiness and detachment required to master clinical practice, it is tempting to neglect the more difficult project of nourishing engagement and tenderness in our relationships with patients – and with ourselves.”

The future of medical education is not only about competencies met and clinical acumen. The true scholars of the next generations of physicians will be those who can achieve their best in patient care and scientific fulfillment, while also living a satisfying, integrated and joyful life.

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Gender Affirming Health Care: Top Ten Tips

This article was written for the American Medical Student Association journal The New Physician October 2017. The original can be found at this link: http://mydigitalpublication.com/publication/?i=445109&utm_source=webtoc&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=O17#{“issue_id”:445109,”page”:1}. Volume 66, Number 5.

Picture this: it’s your second day of practice. You graduated medical school, made it into a residency, and now it’s time to be a doctor …. In walks your third patient of the day – medium height, medium build, medium length black hair, charming but shy face and awkward smile and – your quick-fire practiced analysis stops there – frozen, you can’t tell if this person is a girl or a boy. You glance at your paperwork. First Name: Robin. Last Name: Also Unhelpful. The person is talking in a midrange tone, and you aren’t listening because you are frantically scanning their body to figure out what lies underneath the black tee-shirt and dark Levis. You look up at the persons face and see it start to close as they observe you floundering to see past their gender.

Transgender Medicine is a newly emerging subspecialty, but every health care professional is already seeing transgender patients. Trans people have always been a part of every culture worldwide; in the last ten years there has been a public blossoming of gender expression in social media, television, and probably your personal family or friend circle as well. Transgender people have come out as part of our modern society, and as physicians we need to be culturally and medically competent enough to provide good medicine for this community.

As of 2017, there are several epicenters of transgender medicine, research and scholarship worldwide. The Dutch are famous for their longitudinal body of evidence on transgender health, as they have been collecting research and academic scholarship on transition medicine within their socialized health care system for over 30 years. As such, they have a tried and true so-called “Dutch protocol” for male to female (MTF) and female to male (FTM) transitions that has been used as a template for most international Standards of Care.

The US has several gender specialty clinics that conduct research and offer high quality trans health care. These clinics and hospitals are also key players in this rapidly evolving area of medicine, surgery and research. The best known of these include:

  • Fenway Health Center in Boston
  • The Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Mount Sinai in NYC
  • The Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia (which puts on the free Philadelphia Trans Health Conference annually)
  • The Center of Excellence for Transgender Health at UC San Francisco

For future and current physicians interested in Transgender Medicine as a specialty, the key areas for concentrated trans care are Family Medicine, Endocrinology, Psychiatry, Surgery/Urology and Pediatric Endocrinology. There is not yet a fellowship available in Transgender Adult or Pediatric Endocrinology (Coming Soon!) but the first fellowship in Transgender Surgery has been piloted this year at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Whether you want to dive into the depths of the transgender community and learn the intricacy of this rich and diverse community or not, as it was said before every physician will see trans people in their career. Take the time now to become familiar with the basics of transgender health literacy, for your professional integrity and your patients.

TOP 10 TIPS FOR BEING A TRANS FRIENDLY PHYSICIAN

DON’T GET HUNG UP ON IDENTIFYING GENDER IN THE FIRST 3 MINUTES. Gender and Sexuality Identity begin to develop at 2-3 years of age. Your patient has probably been trying to figure out their gender for a whole lot of years before they showed up in your office, so chances are their gender is more complicated than your 10 second evaluation. Once you notice you can’t confirm male or female specifically (spoiler alert: you may be wrong in your assessment) MOVE on with your objective assessment and Listen to what the person is saying.

THEY IS THE NEW SINGULAR PRONOUN: For some people, She doesn’t feel comfortable, but neither does He. Some people live in the space between male and female, and those definitive English pronouns can feel extremely uncomfortable. Being mis-gendered by pronouns is also surprisingly hurtful to trans people. “They” is a neutral pronoun that just feels more comfortable for some people. Why not use it? (Ps. Please don’t use the “it’s just not good grammar” argument because chances are your grammar isn’t perfect otherwise; and, while it may commonly be an English plural pronoun, Latin-based languages have pleural pronouns that can also be used in the formal You/singular.) Again, the use of “They” is really helpful to some people for communication purposes, so embrace it, try it on every day, and get used to it. In fact, it really comes in handy when referring to someone whose gender you can’t figure out, as in saying to your attending “I’m not sure what’s wrong, but they look really terrible, would you come take a look?”)

ACCEPT THAT SOME PEOPLE LIVE OUTSIDE THE LINES: Technically, the term is “non-binary” for people that don’t neatly fit into the sex-gender binary of male / female. This is a complex spectrum of identities that can be any shape or form and have any meaning for an individual. The non-binary space can be intentional with hormone use, or how people are born or mature. For people who have always fit within the binary, it can be hard to remember that other people LIKE THE WAY THEY ARE. It isn’t our job as physicians to try and get them to fit within a specific box. For other people, the non-binary identity may be a stepping point, a transitional space, or something they struggle with. As always it is simply our job as health care providers to create a safe place where people can talk about their health care needs, and help them get these needs met.

STATISTICS DON’T LIE: Not a lot is known about trans health care seeking behavior from an evidence based perspective, but from my community I know that many of my gender minority friends avoid health care due to bad medical experiences being misgendered, disrespected, or worse assaulted/insulted or denied care. From the research that does exist, the statistics are alarming. Dr. Angela Carter, a transgender physician from Portland, Oregon writes “One in 5 transgender people have been turned away from healthcare because of their gender, and an estimated 30% have avoided seeking care due to fear of discrimination. Reports suggest that 50% of transgender people have had to teach their physician how to care for them; 24% of trans people have been verbally harassed while seeking care; and, 2% report an actual physical assault while trying to get care.Read more of her great Trans Health 101 article here: http://ndnr.com/endocrinology/transgender-healthcare/.

PAPERWORK: What is named, exists. If you have a box for Transgender or better yet Male to Female, Female to Male, and Gender Nonbinary on your intake form or embedded in your EMR next to Male and Female, you can have that helpful self-identifying information at the first encounter. At the same time, this improves the patients visit experience, offering a named identity and acceptance from the first encounter. Make sure your staff are educated in trans cultural competency as well. Include training elements like being compassionate and respectful with patients who may have gender incongruent birth names, insurance navigation, and associated pronoun use.

EMRs – UN/NECESSARY EVILS: It will take a long time and many years of advocacy work before most hospitals EMRs are updated to contain alternate gender identities; however, having staff who are trained in ways to communicate about gender differences can soften the experience for the person who is in an acutely ill and vulnerable state needing medical care. For example, triage personnel (and med students!) could say “”So, I know this may be a difficult question right now but what is your preferred pronoun and what is your is gender designation on your health insurance?” This non-judgemental approach leaves space for the person to give an answer without an explanation and conveys compassion in a business-like open-ended manner.

DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER: Many trans people “pass” for their chosen gender completely. We need to be mentally and medically prepared for providing effective and competent health care to people who physically inhabit bodies that are hormonally and anatomically complex. Doing this work AND exploring your own personal, moral, or religious complexities of feelings about trans gender and identity needs to be done BEFORE that patient walks in your door needing your professional skills as a doctor, not your human opinions.

KNOW YOUR RESOURCES: The World Professional Health Association (wpath.org) has been the guiding force and academic collective of transgender scholarship for the past 30+ years. WPATH has been at the heart of the conservation and documentation of the protocols used for transitional medicine. There is a published a Standards of Care (version 7.0) that is available online and in print. University of San Francisco also has a superior online learning center with everything you need to know to start basic primary trans care including evidence based protocols. http://transhealth.ucsf.edu/trans?page=guidelines-home. Fenway Health is the east coast online epicenter for trans health resources and reading and has great free training webinars http://fenwayhealth.org/care/medical/transgender-health/. Take an afternoon and familiarize yourself with these sites, bookmark them, and pass them on.

KNOW MORE RESOURCES: No one should have to travel beyond state lines to get competent medical care. As with most kinds of medicine, having a grasp of your local resources is essential, especially for primary care docs who just can’t do everything (contrary to popular belief.) Know who is providing competent transgender primary care and endocrinology for adults and for children in your area, who has experience with transition hormone therapy, where to refer for respectful electrolysis and other cosmetic procedures, and who is offering the basic surgeries like mastectomy in your part of the world is a great way to provide your gender minority patients with access and resources. If there isn’t anyone offering these services, consider taking a WPATH certification course and becoming that person.

DON’T BE AN ASSH**E: The best thing to do when you make a mistake is apologize. I have over 10 years of professional experience with trans health and gender non-conformity has been part of my social circle for 20+ years and I still unfortunately misgender people, use the wrong pronouns, and say awkward things. And then I apologize and learn from my mistakes. Doctor-patient relationships are built on an exchange that requires integrity and some transparency. You don’t have to be the expert in trans medicine- your patient is the expert in what their body (mind spirit) needs. Your job is to help them maintain a safe and consensual medical space where they can address health concerns and work towards their optimal self-expression. This may include transitional hormones and gender affirming surgery for some, or it may be flu shots and cholesterol testing for others. Or oncology. Or labor and delivery. Or sickle cell anemia. Who knows what the person will need, trans people are people and you have one in your office right now. What will you do?

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Evolutionary Success vs Child Free Living

As you know, I have been struggling with my biological clock: my age and stress level tick louder than ever. Weighing the cost of motherhood against my career in medicine has never been an equal balance with scales always tipped in the favor of my seemingly insatiable appetite for knowledge. And yet – I’ve been studying fertility since 2004, seeing fertility docs since 2008, and  froze my eggs in 2013. I am always scheming to figure out “when is a good enough time”. Yes, I know there “is never a good time: but as a lesbian with a choice, isnt there a “better time”? And here I am, child free, finally happily coupled, and in my third year of medical school in 2017.

I just completed 6 weeks working with newborns and doing well-baby checks to mostly women under 30 in my first pediatric rotation. I I couldn’t help thinking about the definition of evolutionary success as progeny. Many moms I worked with had 4-8 other babies. Some were on opioids, many smoked pot and tobacco or even took buspirone and SSRIs throughout their pregnancy and had sick/addicted babies. Some were very very young. But evolutionarily, each of them had already surpassed me even with my 2.5 degrees, $500k of education,  and diverse, privileged, happy life. I realized I am currently an evolutionary failure.

I am an archetype of my Generation X.  I don’t have many excuses for child-free living left, having had a bacchanalian and free-spirited 20’s and 30’s. Is it time for me to “settledown”? Who am I if I choose NOT to have a child of my own?

My primary reasoning for not spawning includes RESPONSIBILITY – towards my career/education and more importantly, to the kid. Who brings a child into the world who is guaranteed a mom who is away from home 12-18 hours a day (unavoidable in medical school -residency)? Where is the evolutionary success in that? Generationally, I do not have the same programming my parents had to marry/reproduce, and as a lesbian it didn’t happen by accident. Also, as a kid myself who had a high ACE score, I don’t want to perpetrate even a privileged neglect into another generation. So, here I am: struggling with my generational expectation to break the glass ceiling, achieve my highest ambitions, follow my dreams … and shouldering the unspoken price of doing that.

Maybe I could redefine evolutionary success. Not “survival of the species” but survival of the…planet? Conscious eco-systeming? Or maybe even the more complicated redefining of family/familial success – what if evolutionary success was a life well-lived and well-loved, and a small carbon footprint; a kinship network of peers, lovers, and lifelong friends instead? Children no longer live to serve their elder parents, and even if I had a child, I would not be promised a safe and well-cared for death. Still, at the end of the day, even though I have many cousins with beautiful babies carrying on the family line in all directions, my personal lineage of Wright-Larson will not be carried on unless I have a kid. That feels sad. That does feel like failure.

I stand with my aching feet and my scrubs and pager, knowing raising my own babies is not likely going to be the life I get to live this time around.

I have always been an outlier. I chose Naturopathic medical school in the 90s, chose the urban underbelly in the 2000s, and chose osteopathic medical school in the 20-teens.  I’m 92% reconciled that I will enjoy my child-free life and travel to Tokyo, Vatican City, Barcelona, and live in expensive, romantic urban centers. Because I consistently choose career, love and adventure over a baby and domesticity I will be able to live a certain kind of lifestyle. But that doesn’t make it easier when I come home smelling like babies from a day at work, or when I see my cousins achingly beautiful creative charming kids. There is no consolation prize for evolutionary failure. Only the small faith that I am making the right choice for the kid I would create and maybe a for this planet, and hopefully for, myself and my love.

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