Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Physical, physical...

Last Friday the 13th, of all days, I was scheduled for my annual physical examination (PE). Let me say at the outset that unlike other transwomen I know, I don’t dread routine medical check-ups. Even if I’ve met my share of medical professionals who didn’t know any better, still I am very comfortable in the presence of health care workers. This is probably because I come from a family of nurses who impressed on me growing up the utmost importance of one’s well-being and the merits of getting regular medical exams. So I always look forward to my annual PE and hate it when I miss it.

What I don’t like about it is the general confusion that ensues every time. At the University of the Philippines Health Service (UPHS) (formerly the UP Infirmary), where I went last Friday, you have to ask for your records before a consult and apparently, the UPHS has devised a new color scheme for patients along gender lines: yellow for female and green for male or maybe it’s the other way around, I’m not so sure.

Now for the sake of full disclosure I must say that save for an appendectomy I’ve never had any other surgery. Because of prolonged and regular intake of female hormones, however, I look the way I do in the picture below. So I detest official documents because they clearly do not reflect the person that I am now; and because I have not changed my personal data, my documents still reflect the name my parents gave me and the sex that I was assigned to at birth on which that name is based.


While at the window, the staff on the other side asked me, “Ma’am, are you a student, faculty or employee?” I said, graduate student so she disappeared into the room full of records. When she came back, she had my papers and a knowing look on her face. Thankfully she did not attach my record to a colored folder. I sensed a change in her though and this was confirmed when instead of calling me ma’am she addressed me by my last name and said, “Fontanos? Please proceed to triage.” Okay.

So off I went. The triage nurse was nice enough and just asked me what the PE was for. I said for my regular check-up. So she asked me to go to Room 1 and see the doctor there. The sign at the door said the doctor was out so I waited for a few minutes. Soon the doctor came smelling of cigarette smoke. Perhaps he came from a smoking break. I followed him inside. When I sat in front of him, he asked me what I was there for. I said for my annual PE. He said, “Why did they assign you to me?”

I was bewildered by the question and said I didn’t know. He said, “Can you go back to the triage and ask?” Then he took a look at my record and had a moment of realization. He apologized profusely and said, “Oh my God! Wait, I’m so sorry. I’m so embarrassed!” I told him not to be as there was no need to. It turns out that part of the gender segregation scheme of the UPHS is assigning male patients to male doctors and female patients to female ones. So the kind doctor was confused that a female patient was sent his way. I was oblivious to this and honestly do not mind the gender of my examining physician. Growing up I’ve consulted with all sorts of doctors, male, female, young and old. In fact last year, I had my PE done in a hospital at the Ortigas Central Business District and the doctor was a trans woman! It does not really matter what the gender of my doctor is but apparently it does to some people. Isn’t this a subtle kind of gender discrimination though? Shouldn’t we be teaching people to be comfortable in their own skins dealing with people of any gender and that includes our own personal physicians?

The male doctor and I had a laugh about his confusion. He checked me using his stethoscope and gave me slips of paper for lab tests, dental and X-ray. I went to the dental clinic first where a doctor examined me. It was uneventful and when the dental exam was over she asked me to come back for fillings and a cleaning. I passed by the lab next and gave them a ready stool and urine sample. A nurse there also got a blood sample from me. While doing so she said I had very nice hair and looked cute. I smiled and said thanks. When I told Carl, a guy I’ve known for ages, about this he asked me what was wrong with that picture. Of course there is nothing wrong with getting compliments from other people, it’s just that it seems when complete strangers realize or learn that you’re trans, barriers are simply broken. They act like they’ve known you for ages and tend to ask, albeit unwittingly, all sorts of intrusive questions—something that they will never do in regular conversations with other non-trans men and women. The questions range from the usual, “Are your boobs real?” to the more offensive, “Have you had a sex transplant?” First of all, you never ask a woman if her boobs are real upon first meeting and second of all, there is no such thing as a sex transplant! That medical procedure has not been invented yet. But that’s another story for another time.

That day I felt like I was having a Calpernia Addams moment. Calpernia is a trans activist in the US on whose life the movie Soldier’s Girl is based. After a great tragedy in her life she went on to achieve celebrity status and starred in the first ever US reality dating show featuring a trans woman (ala the Bachelorette) called Trans American Love Story. She has a hilarious video on YouTube called Bad Questions to Ask a Transsexual and I urge you to watch it here. You can also visit her web site here.

After the labs, I proceeded to my last stop for the day, the X-ray unit. I handed the guy at the window there my Form-5. He took it, logged it and asked me “Ma’am where is the patient?” A little chagrinned, I told him that the patient was me. Another round of apologies followed. The guy said, “I’m so sorry Ma’am. I didn’t know.” I said it was okay and then I was asked to proceed inside where the X-ray machine was. There, the Calpernia Addams moment went into full swing. Clued in on me by the guy at records, the X-ray guy said “Hey I know another girl just like you. She had a sex transplant already. Her boy friend is a foreigner. Do you have a boy friend? Is he a foreigner? Have you had a sex transplant?” Arghhh! Onli in da Pilipins!


Monica Roberts said...

There are some days that our lives are crazier that fiction or reality TV shows. ;)

PinayTG said...

Oh you're so right there Monica. There are time when I'm cool with, other times, not so. :D But I have learned to not sweat the small stuff so to speak. Life is so much lighter and sweeter when you don't let the ignorance of others get to you that much. :)