Brianna Durand, PT, DPT is the author and instructor of Inclusive Care for Gender and Sexual Minorities, a new remote course. Brianna's first course date is June 12-13, 2021.
Over the last five years, there has been a groundswell in the recognition that healthcare for those in the LGBTQ+ community has been, at best, incredibly lacking & the world of physical therapy is no exception. Fortunately, this growing awareness is being followed by tangible efforts to improve the quality of care provided to this population as evidenced by the formation of PT Proud, a Catalyst Group in the APTA, & a growing body of research to address the unique needs of LGBTQ+ patients. Hermann & Wallace is even offering its first-ever 2-day course solely focused on treating patients who are gender diverse!
However, it is not uncommon for people to feel overwhelmed by all of the changing terminology & fear of accidentally offending someone. Thus, despite good intentions, many providers find themselves avoiding education & discussion of this topic altogether. The problem with this is that every clinician will inevitably encounter someone who is LGBTQ+ & merely “treating everyone the same '' may inadvertently end up causing harm. This is especially pertinent to pelvic health practitioners as we work on highly personal & vulnerable areas of the body. There are countless reasons why it is a worthwhile endeavor to share your knowledge on this topic which is discussed more thoroughly in a blog post I wrote a few years ago (here), but this post will focus more on practical takeaways that you can implement in your practice.
As mentioned earlier, the terminology can be intimidating; let's break them below into two categories: gender and sexual minorities:
*Non-binary folks may also undergo various gender affirmation surgeries & /or take hormones.
There can be many combinations of the terms above. Someone could identify internally as male but live outwardly as a woman for a variety of reasons including safety, cost of transition, etc. Also, gender & sexual orientation do not always pair up in a heteronormative fashion. A person could be cisgender & bisexual (a woman AFAB attracted to both men & women) or transgender & lesbian (a transwoman AMAB attracted to women). Furthermore, not all people who are transgender have surgery or undergo hormone therapy, but this does not change their gender identity. Some helpful visuals to understand these ideas are the Gender Unicorn (here) & the Genderbread Person (here).
Now that you have some context to work with, what else can you do to put patients at ease?
Ultimately, the best method to providing compassionate and competent care is to minimize your assumptions. There are many things you can do in your day-to-day interactions with patients to convey that you are trying to open up your worldview. For example, if you find yourself assuming someone’s gender identity based on their name or appearance, I’d challenge you to practice using the gender-neutral they/them pronoun until you learn how they identify. If you are unsure, it is okay to privately ask them! This is far less triggering than misgendering someone. Another common microaggression is assuming a patient’s partner’s gender based on heteronormative values. Try using the terms “spouse” or “partner” when talking to a patient about their loved one(s). It may seem banal to you, but your LGBTQ+ patients will notice.
Disclaimer: I can only represent the part of the community that I identify with. The views expressed are my informed opinions & may not be generalizable to all LGBTQ+ persons. I am thankful to be given a platform to address a topic that is so rarely discussed, but if I have made any errors or misrepresentations, please correct me!
My new course will provide a safe space to ask all the questions about caring for LGBTQ+ patients and practicing the skills needed to help advance your practice. Join me for Inclusive Care for Gender and Sexual Minorities.