“Do you have a penis?” That’s what Arkansas Senator Matt McKee asked a trans pharmacist last week. Not only does this question not arise, but it often serves to dehumanize trans people, deplore two speakers.
It was during a hearing about gender-affirming care for minors that pharmacist Gwendolyn Herzig was asked the question, which she refused to answer.
“I am a health professional, a doctor. Please treat me like one. Next question,” she replied. In an interview with NBC, she described the exchange as “the most publicly humiliating thing” she has experienced in her life.
Watch as GOP State Rep. Matt McKee asked Gwendolyn Herzig, a pharmacist who is a trans woman, if she has a penis, during a PUBLIC hearing.
Her response: “I’m a health care professional, a doctor. Please treat me as such. Next question.”
What the hell is wrong with these people? pic.twitter.com/DrT0Q2mSpV
— Brian Krassenstein (@krassenstein) February 15, 2023
The bill under discussion seeks to ban state medical professionals from offering gender-affirming treatments and surgeries to minors.
Inappropriate and dehumanizing
For trans activist Celeste Trianon, there is no doubt: the senator’s question had no other purpose than to discredit the expert in front of him.
“We miss his pharmaceutical expertise and focus the conversation on his private parts. His dignity is questioned. If he had asked the question to a cisgender pharmacist, it would never have happened, ”she says.
Questions about genitals may be asked out of curiosity, but they are too often a tactic of domination, says the activist.
“Language is used to oppress people who have not conformed to the gender binary for a very long time. We misgender trans people as we did at the time with gays and lesbians, and even suffragettes.
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Even if we have the impression of being in good faith, it remains an inappropriate question, recalls for his part Ash Paré, social worker who accompanies trans people in their transition process.
“Ask your neighbor if he slept with his girlfriend last night? It’s the same thing. No matter how someone looks, there are questions that don’t arise.”
A question that keeps coming up
When we ask a trans person questions about their genitals, what ultimately interests us is whether they had an operation or if they plan to have one, remarks Ash Paré.
“Looking like a man means you have a penis, looking like a woman means having a vagina. When we are faced with trans people, we are uncomfortable because we are not sure if the person does not correspond to this schema, even more so if he does not intend to undergo surgery at this level. »
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We ask this question to try to understand how we should treat the person in front of us, which remains problematic in the eyes of Ash Paré. “You just should never base the treatment of a person on their appearance or the perception you have of them anyway.”
Not just an American problem
Before being apostrophized by Senator McKee, Gwendolyn Herzig spoke about the lack of empathy towards trans people in the United States. This is not an issue that is limited to our southern neighbors, regrets Celeste Trianon.
“Trans people are still marginalized in Quebec. 58% of them earn less than $30,000 annually,” she says, adding that there is still a transphobic discourse, especially in the media.
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Even though trans people have been protected by the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms since 1998 and gender identity has been a recognized ground of discrimination since 2016, they do not yet have the same rights as cisgender people in practice, in particular at the medical level, supports Ash Paré.
By supporting trans people in their medical procedures, they have noticed that their access to health care is often limited.
“Waiting times are so long and there are so few professionals that some people are turning to DIY solutions and hormones ordered on the Internet,” laments Ash Paré.
Lack of awareness and openness towards trans people can also contribute to poor quality care for trans people.
“This is very serious. There are people who take their own lives for lack of adequate care. Resources to learn more [existent,] for the general public and health professionals […] It’s just an irrational fear that prevents people from getting information, ”regrets Ash Paré.