“Nobody really loves going to get a breast check—I’ve never met anyone who does,” Victoria’s Gender and Sexuality Commissioner, Ro Allen tells SBS.
But for trans and gender diverse (TGD) people, the anxiety of a routine breast cancer check is compounded by the possibility that they’ll face discrimination based on their gender identity from health care staff who are unsure how to approach them.
Breast screenings for Allen—who is gender diverse—have proven to be challenging experiences.
“I had a breast screen in the last 12 months and the receptionist said, 'Is your wife in the car, Sir?’," says Allen.
“I was in there because they’d found a lump—so you’re already anxious—but then you have to go and explain, ‘No, that’s me, that’s my name’.
“And you think, ‘Surely this doesn’t have to be so hard’.”
“I had a breast screen in the last 12 months and the receptionist said, “Is your wife in the car, Sir?’," says Allen.
For that reason, many trans and gender diverse people avoid these vital health checks, which is why Breast Screen Victoria and Transgender Victoria have teamed up to help create safer environments for the community.
The Tscreen project aims to educate everyone from receptionists to mammographers about providing inclusive and respectful health care for members of the TGD community who need to undergo breast cancer screenings.
“It’s just about making sure that the trans and gender diverse person who goes for service isn’t doing the educating,” says Allen.
President and Chair of Transgender Victoria, Brenda Appleton, says the program is all about making health care professionals aware of the different experiences of TGD people.
“[We] explain [to health care professionals] why [TGD people have] probably had a history of negative experiences dealing with medical organisations or feeling that they’re not safe or welcomed in that environment,” Appleton tells SBS.
“Feeling that they might be misgendered, feeling that people might not treat them with dignity and respect.
“The training’s really about explaining difference, explaining why it’s appropriate to offer the same service to trans and gender diverse people as it is to [cisgender] women.”
Improving primary health care for trans and gender diverse community
Dr Ruth McNair is a general practitioner at Melbourne’s Northside Clinic—an LGBTI inclusive health care facility—and has helped to develop the Tscreen program.
“There’s a really big issue around primary health for trans people in general, and trans people maybe not feeling safe or comfortable with GPs,” McNair tells SBS.
“It’s so important to have good primary care for all aspects of health. People face being misgendered, being told they’re not really trans or not being believed, to GPs not understanding what gender diversity means.”
Appleton says that when young trans and gender diverse people face discrimination in a doctor’s office, they’re not likely to return.
“We know then they stay away from medical providers for all their medical needs often for 5 years and therefore, their general health suffers as well as their mental health,” says Appleton.
“We have the same situation with trans men accessing gynaecologists for pap smears and other gynaecological checks.
“If you are presenting as a man with tattoos and a beard, or whatever, and having to go into a gynaecologist's waiting room, you feel a little bit out of place and feel subject to review,” Appleton continues.
“Feeling discriminated against because of your difference, rather than being accepted.”
Tscreen launched this week at the Rose Clinic in the Melbourne CBD as part of a pilot program.
“It’s really helpful because then Breast Screen can evaluate that pilot and see what worked,” says McNair.
Appleton says the program will help trans and gender diverse people take control of their health.
“I think this will enable us to communicate that better with our own community members and encourage them to look after another part of their health and have regular breast screenings.”
You can find out more information about Tscreen at Alice’s Garage.
Main image by Lisa White: thesocialphotographer.com.au.