Dr. William Powers of Michigan has been getting a lot of attention this week since a Facebook post advocating for transgender and non-binary patients. Specifically, Dr. Powers addressed that insurance forms have options for marking a patient as “male” or “female,” but no option for patients who are non-binary, agender, or gender variant.
Sharing a photo of a portion of an insurance form, the doctor explained what the form was lacking — a non-binary option.
“Had to do a physical on an agender/gender variant person today. This is how you tell an insurance company it’s time to update their forms.”
“Gender is not the same as karyotype or sex assigned at birth. Please don’t give doctors boxes to check.”
Rather than select either option, Dr. Powers wrote in the words
“Patient is gender variant; was assigned female at birth.”
Transgender rights have been at the forefront of conversation in the U.S. lately, with North Carolina’s HB2 in the news over the past year — a law that required all government buildings to segregate bathrooms by the individual’s sex as marked on their birth certificate. The bill came with other concerns, but for non-binary and transgender individuals, it sent a strong message of exclusion. Other states have proposed similar bills that would limit safe access to restrooms and locker rooms for transgender individuals.
Meanwhile, corporations took the lead, with Target stores and HersheyPark, a family theme park in Pennsylvania, among those that announced transgender and non-binary individuals were welcome to use the bathroom in which they felt safe.
Another case involving transgender rights was turned away from the Supreme Court this year. According to the ACLU, transgender teen Gavin Grimm has been fighting since 2014, when he sought the right to use the appropriate bathroom in his school. Despite what two judges in Grimm’s case have said is only a delay, not an end, there’s no question that he played a large part in bringing transgender rights to the forefront of the American consciousness.
Yet another case bringing public awareness to gender options outside the binary male and female is that of Jamie Shupe, who as the Guardian notes, was in July 2016 granted the first status as someone legally recognized as nonbinary in the U.S.
Aside from these very public cases, the deaths of several transgender individuals have resulted circulating lists to increase awareness, such as this from GLAAD, and pleas for better coverage of transgender deaths, as well as calls for better police relations with transgender and non-binary people, and more transparency, such as this request from the ACLU in the death of Sean Hake, who was killed by police responding to an incident at his home. The ACLU of Pennsylvania issued a request for police to release information about the shooting, and for media coverage to respectfully identify Hake as a transgender man.
Being transgender or non-binary can result in difficulties finding a doctor. Scientific American noted in 2014 that this includes medical providers insensitive or ignorant to the needs of transgender patients, as well as those who simply refuse to provide care to transgender patients.
The Human Rights Campaign has actually published advice to help LGBTQ individuals find doctors sensitive to LGB, transgender, and non-binary needs, along with ways for doctors to be more accessible to transgender patients — such as including non-binary options for sex or gender on forms.
Dr. William Powers, however, took his efforts beyond this. He took the time to address the matter with insurance companies, whose forms didn’t offer non-binary options for sex or gender, and, as Dr. Powers would share with a wider audience, also conflated the two.
In a brief note posted on Facebook, he mentioned that gender, sex as assigned at birth (based on genital appearance and presumption of genetic presentation), and karyotype (the actual genes present) are not the same.
Still, though, the good doctor didn’t stop at letting nonbinary and transgender patients know that he’s advocating for them, nor at a few sentences of educating the general populace. As naysayers commented with memes and remarks to assert that there are only two genders, as learned in high school biology, Dr. Powers commented with a lengthy explanation of how gender and sex differ, the karyotypes besides the XX and YY many were taught in high school as all-encompassing, and explanations of why the scientific and medical meanings for these terms may be more expansive than a brief dictionary definition.
(If you’re not familiar with these, you can click here and read all of the information Dr. Powers shared.)
In short, one doctor took steps to move health care access forward for transgender and non-binary patients, not only making his office a more welcoming place for them and advocating for insurance companies to do the same but by giving the public a little dose of free education.
[Featured Image by David McNew/Getty Images]