I was training at City Gym in Waldo with my friend and City Gym owner, Hailee Bland Walsh, when we struck up a conversation about a workout program she had launched with a group of transgender men to help them develop a more masculine body shape. This casual conversation happened at a time when Planned Parenthood Great Plains was preparing to launch the trans care program at our Northland Health Center in Gladstone.
Between painful leg presses, Hailee piqued my interest as we were beginning to look for feedback for a program we had built using medical guidance and knowledge but had yet achieved the approval of actual patients.
That drive-by workout conversation led to an important working relationship between PPGP and The Union KC, a support group led by Drew Smith for trans men, many of whom are members of City Gym’s specialized fitness program. Getting ready to launch health care options for trans patients meant staff training and candid in-service workshops with trans men and women.
Drew and his group of guys have answered countless phone calls and texts, spent several hours with PPGP’s Northland staff and continue to provide us feedback about every detail of how we provide appointments. These oftentimes personal and intimate conversations help us to shape our program into a truly inclusive, respectful and comfortable experience for transgender people who choose Planned Parenthood.
We quickly identified key preventive health care services that need more attention and care. Trans men, for example, rarely seek preventive annual checkups because of fear their doctor would react negatively. The pure thought of having to acknowledge body parts that feel so foreign to a trans man is also enough to dangerously avoid annual checkups like pap tests and cervical exams. For trans women, preventive checkups are just as important but can be so uncomfortable some patients have shared they need to take anti-anxiety medicine just to get through it.
Through trans-phobic bathroom bills, the general public is starting to understand what trans men and women have long known– that gender identity is deeply personal, complicated and often unaccepted when you identify as a gender other than with the one you were born. But as PPKM has learned, the power of listening and learning when someone is willing to share with pure transparency is enough to start a movement, and transform an entire sector of health care.
Our entire staff at Planned Parenthood, from the call center to the health centers, have learned and continue to learn from our transgender patients. We have The Union and Drew, just to name a few, to thank for their willingness to share even at a time when negativity continues to dominate the conversation.
Today, PPGP offers a robust trans care program in Kansas City and Columbia, Missouri. I can’t help but to pause and wonder what else the rest of the country could be capable of if we all just stopped to listen to one another.