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Trans men's Health is a “Women’s Health” Issue: Expanding the Boundaries of Sexual & Reproductive Health Care

in UNITED STATES, 12/04/2013

During the 2012 elections, Vice President Joe Biden called transgender discrimination, “the civil rights issue of our time.” While this is a sign that transgender rights are garnering national attention, the population continues to face many obstacles in accessing needed health care. In particular, transgender men (or “trans men”) face significant barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health care.

Trans men are individuals who were assigned a female sex at birth but who identify as male. Many people have heard of Thomas Beatie, a trans man who self-identified as the world’s first “Pregnant Man” after he decided to become pregnant when his wife was found to be infertile. Beatie and his then-wife have described the painful and extended process of seeking care during Beatie’s pregnancy, and how some providers refused to treat the couple.i

In 1999 another trans man, Robert Eads, died of complications from metastasized ovarian cancer.1 In his 40s, Eads had sexual reassignment surgery to physically transition from female to male. As a post-menopausal woman prior to transition, Eads was told that it was unnecessary to remove his uterus and ovaries as part of the reassignment.ii Unaware of his need for regular gynecological cancer screenings, Eads suffered from an unidentified illness for over a year, until the Medical College of Georgia accepted him as a patient in 1997 and diagnosed his cancer. While ovarian cancer is notoriously deadly and hard to diagnose and treat, the year-long delay in diagnosis hampered Eads' chance of survival and negatively affected his quality of life.

Regrettably, Beatie’s and Eads’ stories both illustrate providers’ discrimination and the pervasive lack of knowledge about trans men’s needs for routine sexual and reproductive health care. Their experiences highlight the need for comprehensive education on trans men’s sexual and reproductive health for health care providers and the general public. In particular, women’s health care providers must support the needs of transgender men and gender non-conforming female-bodied individuals — or this population will continue to be underserved and at-risk for poor health outcomes.

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