Gender Spectrum - Reflections on Transgendered Men and Women in the Islands

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #096, Winter 2001.

by Li Anne Taft

In older cultures, they were highly respected. Today, transsexual men and women are badly mistreated by many, including health care and medical professions, which greatly diminishes the quality of their lives.

?We don?t take blood from mahus,? the receptionist nurse said, as if I had a contagious disease. I suspect it was the blank sex field on my Hawaii State ID or my strong-appearing hands that brought out her biased attitude. As I attempted to explain my transgendered-woman identity, the biomed firm?s director rudely interrupted: ?We don?t take blood from people appearing homosexual,? he said, and asked me to leave. Angered by this bigoted bunch, I left, feeling thankful I was not in need of receiving blood?at least, not at the moment.
Considered a spiritual condition in older cultures, transgenderism/transsexualism has been called many different things over the centuries. It is currently labeled Gender Identity Disorder (GID) in Western cultures. 21st century medical and legal communities in Hawaii and the mainland certainly have a better understanding of transgendered people?some even accept that transfolk are simply a part of the great variety in the human condition. Yet transgendered men and women are still oftentimes medically mistreated and can find access to health care and services limited or blocked?all because those in authority know or suspect them of living in a gender other than the one assigned at birth.

The Internet, local support groups, and better news coverage of social issues have brought heightened awareness to this growing problem. It has been well documented that medical personnel and care providers both in Hawaii and the mainland mistreat transgendered people in ways contrary to their professional ethic?an ethic supposedly based on unbiased care of all people. This mistreatment generally begins when a transgendered person?s stealth identity is uncovered by the treating personnel.

Kalei (real name withheld) spent a hellish week in a Honolulu hospital while recovering from surgery, due to the medical personnel?s ill reaction after being ?briefed? that she was transsexual. Kalei?s personal and hygiene needs were ignored, and her stay became increasingly uncomfortable. Her requests for assistance with bathing, toilet use, and facial shaving?this due to the unrelenting influence of testosterone?were ignored daily. Visiting friends, aware that her dignity and mental health were at risk, assisted her and complained to the patient services office, which politely noted their complaints, but took no corrective action.

A recent Press for Change news article on medical malpractice and transgendered people caused me anxiety and fear. I trembled when I read: ?Once the [transgendered] victims make it to the hospital, they are treated as ?specimens? and become the butt of jokes. Paramedics are poorly trained on gender issues? (Sarah DePalma, Director of the Texas Gender Advocacy Information Network).

After reading that article, I had a frightening dream. I was seriously injured and lying in an emergency room. A burly nurse in surgical gloves pulled up my covers in horrid disgust. She then yelled across the ER, ?We don?t give blood to Mahus,? and pushed my gurney out the back door to the disposable bins.

My dream embodies my fear that I might undergo the same mistreatment as other transgendered people who have suffered harm and death at the hands of ?helping? professionals.

Tyra Hunter bled to death after paramedics halted emergency medical treatment from her serious car crash injuries when they discovered her male genitalia. Tyra?s story has become ?synonymous with hostility in the medical community towards transgendered people,? as reported in GAIN News. A wrongful death civil suit against the District of Columbia in 1998 awarded $2.8 million in damages for negligence and malpractice to Margie Hunter in the death of her child.

In rural Georgia, Robert Eads died unnecessarily because, as a transman, he had non-treated ovarian cancer. Eads, a parent of two boys, was denied treatment from twenty different doctors who feared their medical practices might be negatively affected by treating a transgendered patient. The ongoing presence of his mate and ohana provided Robert?s great relief and joy as he grew weaker, finally dying in 1999.

Eads? last year is documented in the newly released film ?Southern Comfort,? winner of the Grand Documentary Jury Prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.

Under the cooling banyan trees of McCoy Pavilion, over 200 Honolulu nurses, therapists, doctors, human service workers, and social workers socialized and discussed issues and solutions affecting health care and medical services for transgendered people. Many personal stories were shared. This day-long education conference, ?Every-thing You Wanted to Know About Transgenders But Were Afraid to Ask,? was organized by a Life Foundation outreach committee for transgender community action. Remembered as a huge success, the conference improved the attitudes of many of those in attendance?including several local transgendered men and women.

No other conference has been as effective in educating medical personnel and care providers. On that day they came away more tolerant, accepting, and understanding of transgendered people and their lifestyles.

An island-wide educational program focusing on the health care and medical service issues of transgendered people should be organized and lead by Hawaii?s caring professionals. Many doctors, nurses, therapists and social workers have caring attitudes and work diligently to provide quality medical services equally to Hawaii?s wide diversity of people. They are skilled and well-respected and in position to lead and inspire others in a Transgendered People in Hawaii Health Services Education Program. I envision a mission statement for such an educational effort: ?Hawaii?s health care providers and medical personnel should recognize that transgendered people are unique human beings and part of the wonderful diversity of human existence. Transgendered men and woman should be afforded, in the same way as all people of Hawaii, unrestricted health services and unbiased medical care so they may lead healthy lives and attain a dignified, peaceful death.?


Napolitano, Nick. (1999, 22 December). We are considered disposable people: Transgendered activists say community lives in fear of violence. GAIN?Gender Advocacy Internet News .

Joint press release, Transgender Nation and Transgenders Against Discrimination and Defamation. (1998, 11 December). Verdict in Margie Hunter?s civil suit against the District of Columbia?Jury awards $2.8 million in damages for the death of her child, Tyra Hunter. For more information contact: Jessica Xavier, or go to Press for Change website at .

Hughill, Barry. (1998, 12 May). In Ancient Greece, she?d have been a god: In Wales, they spit on her. The Observer (London). Go to Press for Change website at .

Li Anne W. Taft has been a resident of Hawaii since 1993. She now resides in Honolulu. Employed as an administrative assistant with the SOH Department of Health, she is active as an elected neighborhood board member and is a guest lecturer at area colleges. Please e-mail your questions and comments to Li Anne at .