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WARNING: Letting Your Doctor Define You Could Be Hazardous to Your Health

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Chris Edwards Headshot

WARNING: Letting Your Doctor Define You Could Be Hazardous to Your Health

Posted: Updated:

Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

I was twenty-two when I finally stopped letting other people define me. But when I began saying out loud what I'd been thinking for years-that I was male, not female like my body falsely indicated-I received major resistance. Not from my parents or sisters or friends. From my doctors.

Too scared to tell my family, I decided reaching out to a medical professional would be a good first step. But when it came to finding the right person, I had no idea where to begin. It was 1992. There was no Internet. I couldn't just type in "Doctors specializing in gender issues + MA" and get a list of names, numbers and addresses. I didn't even have a computer. So out of desperation I made an appointment with the only doctor I knew: my pediatrician.

It didn't occur to me until I was sitting in the waiting room surrounded by children ranging from toddlers to teens that, at 22, I would stick out like a sore thumb. Too old to be a patient and too young to be a parent (by white upper-class suburbia standards anyway), I clearly did not belong in this room. I felt all eyes were on me and was fairly certain the 8 year-old boy whispering to his mother was telling her I was really a man.

After what seemed like a lifetime, I was escorted to an exam room. A few minutes later my pediatrician appeared and abruptly closed the door behind her. She looked pretty much as I remembered: tall yet stocky with short dark hair, olive skin, and an accent I could never really place. She was visibly in a rush. I could tell this was not going to be a nurturing visit.

"So Kristin, what's going on?"

"I, um...I..."

And then the breakdown. Through sobs I managed to tell her I had always felt like I was a guy-ever since I was four. That I was only attracted to women and that I couldn't live this lie or this life anymore.

Even though I half-expected it, her lack of empathy surprised me. She curtly brushed off my concerns, telling me I was not a man, just a "masculine woman." I told her I had seen a guest on a talk show who was a male to female transsexual due to a chromosomal defect and asked if she would run a test on my chromosomes. I was certain that I was a man and the test would prove it. She said even if I was, the surgery for female to males was not medically possible yet so there was nothing I could do about it. I just had to face the fact that I was a masculine woman and probably a lesbian.

She gave me the name of a psychologist and sent me down the hall to schedule an appointment. On my way there I glanced at the referral form and noticed she'd written a diagnosis: hirsutism, which in case you didn't know, is defined as "the excessive growth of hair of normal or abnormal distribution." Really? That's your diagnosis? I may be hairy but I'm not stupid. Hair can be removed. My gender issue was not going away.

I had high hopes for the meeting with the psychologist. Surely she would listen and get where I was coming from. But instead of validating my feelings, she too tried to talk me out of them and discouraged me from even considering reassignment. "Have you done your research?" She asked. "You're better off the way you are."

I told her I found three gender clinics in the U.S. and planned to ask them all to send me information, but I was living with my parents and for obvious reasons didn't want giant envelopes to arrive for me marked "Center for Gender Reassignment." She graciously suggested I have them sent care of her office and that she'd call me when they arrived. Ok, maybe she wasn't so bad.

But when I came back to pick up the information, I discovered the envelopes had all been opened. Huh, last I heard mail tampering was a federal offense. Wait it gets better: she also read the material with a fine-tooth comb. How did I know this? Well, in order to scare me out of having surgery, she took the liberty of highlighting all the risks. Hellooooooo?

Clearly I needed a new therapist - someone who could be objective and had experience treating patients with gender identity issues. Someone who'd help me work through my feelings, not flat out reject them. And walk me through my options, not tell me I didn't have any. It took a lot of time and effort but eventually I found one. And it made all the difference in the world. Today I define myself as a happy, successful, devilishly handsome 44 year-old guy with a wonderful family and a bunch of great friends. Had I given up and let those first two doctors define me, I never would've made it past 23.

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