I was born and raised in Egypt in a somewhat conservative, but nonetheless privileged environment. I grew up with a cisgender, heteronormative worldview. I am not proud of it, but it is essential to recognise where we come from so that we can reach where we want to be. In my medical school curriculum, mentions of gender or sexuality were very scarce. On the rare occasions that these topics were tackled, it was done in an offensive and non-scientific manner. Even though I had no idea about the field of transgender healthcare, it felt deeply wrong to me, even then.
Fast forward a couple of years, to my final year as a medical student, when my desire to start work turned into action. After a few online jobs here and there, I was acquainted with Dr Helen Webberley when she was looking for someone to transcribe the GenderGP Podcast. I believe I was fortunate in the way that I came to discover the world of transgender healthcare, exposed to it through an excellent medium. With my inquisitive nature to back me up, I listened, read, and paid attention to the resources I could find.
I started preparing educational material for GenderGP, backing this up with the available international guidelines and standards on trans healthcare. One thing that I would see quite often in these guidelines was the argument that the research was not sufficient in many areas that are usually a cause for concern to our trans patients.
Trans healthcare is often thought to be a super-specialist area of medicine, making it instantly inaccessible to those who truly need it.
Reading about issues facing the trans community in the UK made me interested to see how things were where I lived. My research was not very fruitful, as the information I found was sparse and any information available was shared through the lense of a media which was rife with transphobia and ignorance.
In traditional medicine, there is a focus on achieving a diagnosis. Trans people themselves find that they have to be diagnosed as such, implying that ‘transness’ is an affliction from which they can be cured.
The beauty of working with the trans community and hearing their stories first hand is that I now understand that change is possible. Helping patients is possible. Learning to be an inclusive doctor is possible. In fact, in many ways, if you are open in your approach and you have a thirst for learning, those things are inevitable.
While it can take a lot of self awareness to challenge the way you think, it also takes a brave mentor to encourage you and to help you develop as a doctor and a human. I am very grateful to Helen for being a catalyst in the way I think. I learned to move away from my cis-het perspective towards a more compassionate view of the world. This was all I needed to start becoming better at what I do.
We have to step outside of our preconceived ideas and really listen to trans folk. We must learn how best to care for them with the resources we have available – just as we would with any patient group. Doctors must be willing to do better, to be inclusive and kind, whilst also remaining professional at all times.
At GenderGP, we believe that knowledge is power, and therefore we operate according to a model of informed consent. A doctor shouldn’t be there to give orders to patients. A doctor should listen, offer information, and make decisions which take into account the patient’s needs. The balance is delicate to maintain, but it is not impossible.
I am eternally grateful for being part of a team that has empowered me as a doctor so that I can give this power back to the patients who need it, and to whom, after so many years of neglect, it is owed.