Health / MedicineTransgender

Prejudice Sends Some to Alternative Medicine

A while back a friend told me about his decision to see an acupuncturist for a joint pain problem instead of seeing a doctor. Before I started in on my usual cautionary message about alternative medicine he said something interesting to me.

This friend is a transgender man, like me, but he is not what is sometimes called “visually-conforming.” This means that he is often mistaken for being female, and regularly has to remind even people who know him to use male pronouns. He also had the disadvantage of not living in a liberal city like I do. He faces a lot of barriers in his life.

He said “Why would I see a doctor? They all treat me like a freak. My acupuncturist treats me like a human, and she makes me feel better.”

I believed this guy when he told me he had very bad experiences with medical professionals. Furthermore, there is evidence that he is not alone. According to that study “Nineteen percent had been refused treatment by a doctor or other provider because of their transgender or gender non-conforming status” and many others encountered other forms of unequal treatment from a variety of medical professionals.

Transgender people aren’t the only community that faces real discrimination in medical care, but we may be one of the most stark examples. This goes way beyond stories of emergency medical professionals refusing to save the life transgender patients and into the regular day to day medical care of transgender clients.

I’m not surprised that after facing this kind of prejudice in the medical community some transgender folks make the same decision my friend did, and find someone to treat them who they can trust. Sometimes these people are like my friend, don’t know quite enough about the differences between science based medicine and alternative medicine, and end up seeking care from a friendly practitioner who offers them care without attached scorn.

I want to see them getting science based care in an accepting environment instead.

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Benny Vimes

Benny Vimes

Benny Vimes is a queer polyamorous transman, curious skeptic, and enthusiastic seeker of knowledge. He's an undergraduate student in his 30's and loves teaching people about alternative sexuality and gender issues.


  1. March 21, 2012 at 7:57 pm —

    I've encountered a fair share of woo in that domain as well.  I think people are already variably predisposed to go for it (I have a religious inlaw that swears by acupuncture, fi), but the psychological pressure of transitioning and questioning yourself and identity is one of those things that can make people reach out.  We spend so much time being worried and critical of ourselves, that the part of our brain that might have otherwise said 'wait, hold up!' doesn't have as loud of a voice.
    And having had poor actual medical care… ugh.  What we need is some sort of directory with information on suitable medical contacts.  Being in a smaller town, that may be next to impossible, though.

  2. March 22, 2012 at 6:27 am —

    Hey Benny, I'm really happy to see you writing here! I'm still subscribed at your old blog, too 🙂 Your post reminded me of a conference on AltMed and Woo pf all kinds I once attended. I was in a packed audience when an overweight trans woman (not visually conforming) in a wheelchair came in. The speaker saw har and said, "welcome! As you can see, we're full, so I'm glad you brought your own chair." I talked with my girlfriend later about how her casual acceptance might be a big factor in getting her into the scene – even if on closer inspection many of these ideologies are not accepting, but blaming. 

    • March 22, 2012 at 1:15 pm —

      Hey Patrick!  Yeah, the other blog will still be up, but what I'm doing with it will be changing in light of my writing here.  I'll put something up over there soon about the changing direction of Science Based Sex.

  3. March 22, 2012 at 9:55 am —

    Wow, this is something I'd really not considered before, I mean, maybe it was in the back of my mind, but not properly. I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to decide to try alternative medicine because the statistics were against you like that. Society makes me so angry sometimes.
    Anyway, this was a really great post and I'm looking forward to reading more of your stuff in the future. 🙂

  4. March 22, 2012 at 1:14 pm —

    Thanks for the warm welcome everyone!

  5. […] came across this article on the queer end of the skeptical blogosphere. (God I feel silly saying that word – […]

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