My experience transitioning in New York
Simone Kraus is a New Jersey resident, who receives medical care in Orange County, NY and serves on the board of the LGBTQ+ advocacy organization TriVersity, which operates out of Milford, PA. New Jersey has passed progressive laws for transgender people, including becoming one of only 17 states that allow residents to change their gender on birth certificates and death records in order to conform to their gender identity without proof of surgery. It is also one of four states to offer a gender-neutral option on birth certificates. Nationally, however, legislation surrounding healthcare and identification for the community remains tenuous.
As I was being prepped for bi-lateral knee replacement in October 2018, I got up from the bed to use the restroom. We all know how revealing a hospital gown can be. When I got back into the bed, the nurse made a joke about me wearing a dress. As she was reviewing the medications I took, she came upon the name Estradiol and asked why I was prescribed estrogen, a female hormone. When I answered that I was transitioning, the nurse started apologizing and saying she had no idea. At that point, I realized that education is key for people to understand. “Do you have any questions about me?” I asked her. “Please feel free to ask.” After a moment of hesitation, she said, “When did you know?” My answer was, at age five, I knew there was something different, and by age 10, I knew.
“Oh, wow,” was her answer.
At that point, I realized I may have been the first transgender person comfortable enough to share my story with her. Although the laws prevent medical professionals from asking, I felt that being open and honest was the best way to go. I knew with the Estradiol being on my chart, and because I would be going to in-house rehab after surgery, the question would be coming up. When you are transitioning, many changes happen with your body. I didn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable, so everyone I met, I told them right away. No one was disrespectful. I credit that to the Orange Regional Medical Center and how they train their staff. While I was there, on many nights the nurses, pharmacists, or aides would come to my room to ask questions, as many of them had extended family who were transgender and they wanted to educate themselves.
What looms over any transgender person now is that we have become a wedge issue in Washington D.C., from the ban on serving in the military, to possibly being denied healthcare access and other services because of pending directives for religious beliefs. These issues, as well as a climate of hate toward us, are in our minds daily. While the health community is still working on guidelines for transgender health, it is often very difficult to find a provider who will treat us, due to the nuances with the medications we take. Gender therapists and endocrinologists are in short supply, especially if you don’t live in an urban area. A statistic often overlooked is that various [data] show an attempted suicide rate around 40 percent in our community. What could help would be facial feminization surgery, covered by insurance. This surgery alone would save lives, as we could blend into society, and not be the victims of violence or murder.
At my doctors’ offices, I have found that everyone who works there treats me with respect and asks what pronouns or name I use. Yet when it comes to calling me in a waiting room, by law, practitioners have to use your birth name, if you haven’t yet had it legally changed. Being outed in a waiting room is a horrible feeling. It amazed me that I could walk in, sit down and no one waiting with me even batted an eye, but as soon as they called my birth name out, the slurs begin: “ Oh, there’s one of them now,” to “He’s a girl,” to being laughed at and even followed when I went to use a gender-neutral bathroom by a man who felt he needed to stand in doorway of doctor’s office and watch as I walked out. Since these people already are filled with prejudice and firm opinions, I’ve always ignored them, as getting into a dialog would only lead to an unpleasant situation. So I walk past with dignity and class and try to be the better woman for it. Being outed in public is a safety issue for us, and this is a concern whenever I get a hateful comment.
A few months ago, I was on a panel at SUNY for Gender Equality, where a young girl asked me how to handle the bullying she was experiencing at school. Her question caught me totally off guard. It still haunts me that such a young child even has to endure this because of the poli-
tical climate that has made being gender variant and/or different a threat to others. After being on the panel, and because of that child’s question, I decided to apply and was recently appointed to the board of directors for Triversity in Milford, PA, where I hope to educate others about our issues and concerns.
Recently, someone told me I was courageous for transitioning. Well, I’m not. I’m doing this to achieve congruence in my life, and to be at peace with my true self. I can tell you who is courageous: your family and friends who support you although they cannot understand it, the spouse who stays with you, the people who speak up when someone makes a cruel joke about [you] or questions why you are in the bathroom. My hope is that the younger generation will be more accepting and kind toward each other, and maybe just one day there will be no need to worry about hate.