"I always take the opportunity to be able to talk about being trans in medicine and being a trans Person of Color in medicine. Growing up, I never had a role model to look up to. Even at this point, I don't. I only know one or two other South Asian trans people in the field of medicine, so it's really important for me to be visible; especially because in the last couple of years, my online presence has grown. There are young Asian trans kids who message me on Instagram or Twitter and tell me how they discovered my content online, and how it has served as an inspiration for them to pursue medicine.
In Atlanta, there's an activist named Feroza Syed and I ended up meeting her by chance at the end of my first year in medical school. She told me this story about how she really wanted to become a doctor when she was around my age in the 90s. However, after seeing a trans pediatrician outed by a local newspaper in South Carolina, Feroza completely gave up pursuing medicine. After that woman was outed, she lost her job and had to create a new life. Feroza told me to not be discouraged, and that I had a responsibility to show everyone that trans people can go into medicine. She was kind of like a trans mother for me honestly, and she's the one who encouraged me to be visible; encouraged me to speak my truth. So that's what I started doing.
As an immigrant and queer person, I’ve existed in many different “social spheres.” I knew I was queer since five or six years old. And at that time, I didn't know the term transgender yet. It wasn’t until middle school that I learned what being gay or being lesbian was. So I started coming out to friends, when I was around 13, because I was just so tired of hiding who I was. When I was around 16, my mom looked through my phone while I was taking a nap and found out I was queer. She was very unhappy with it and coped by preventing me from doing a lot of things outside of school. That kind of restriction forced me back into the closet until I went to college and created a lot of internalized homophobia I’ve had to unlearn.
In college, I had a lot more freedom, and it is where I first learned about what being transgender was. It was then that I started putting the dots together and realized that I was queer, yes, but I was also trans. I went from a suburban, mostly conservative, city to a college in the middle of Atlanta at Georgia State University, and I think Atlanta has one of the largest populations of trans people in the South. So I was exposed to queer and trans people in Georgia and it created a really positive environment for me to make friends with people who look like me and have the same interests as me.
So I started coming out socially in college, and my friends really welcomed my trans identity. Even though I was still getting coded as a woman outside of school, they used my pronouns correctly and were incredibly, incredibly nurturing to who I was becoming. I didn't start medically transitioning until my first year in medical school because I finally got to move out of my parents’ place and felt safe and comfortable enough. Eventually, they came around six or seven months after beginning my medical transition. It's been a process with my parents, it's a long process, but we're in a good place right now where they accept me for who I am. A lot of my extended family don’t, but I understand that it is just a part of my journey.
A lot of things that I do right now are pretty spontaneous because of medical school, so I can't really do any big projects. But because of how visible I am, I do have a weekly YouTube channel where I upload videos on Transgender Health. I started doing that because I saw a lot of information on YouTube that wasn't medically accurate, and I saw that trans people were unknowingly harming themselves because of that inaccurate information. So I periodically upload videos on trans health and how to take care of yourself as a trans person and in medicine. That's the most consistent thing I do. As far as other projects, I usually get invited to them based on the contacts that I have. I'm actually presenting at Emory University School of Medicine on being a transgender medical student in a grand rounds in two weeks, so any opportunity that people shout out, I'm like “hey I'm available” and I do it. Everything I do is usually based on my schedule because I'm so busy all the time.
Growing up I actually kind of separated myself from my culture and the religion that I was raised in. I am Bengali and it is a community that didn't really accept me as one of them, one of theirs. I got bullied a lot in school by other South Asian kids, which made me afraid of being around South Asian people. So from like 16 until I was around 22, I avoided being around South Asian people because it scared me, honestly. But after I met Feroza, she introduced me to a bunch of queer trans South Asian people in Atlanta and around the nation. I met a bunch of drag queens that were saris or super into their Indian or Bangladeshi heritage. They made me rethink how I interacted with my own heritage. I started reframing my understanding of myself in that I didn’t have to separate being queer from my culture. That's just a restraint that cis people and cis straight people put on themselves.
So I started wearing traditional Bengali clothing and taking pictures but with the caption always saying something about me being trans. For me it says: ‘I don't care about what other people think in my culture, I'm going to celebrate my culture the way I want to.’ And I am proud of that. I am queer, and I'm going to take up space. That’s just something people are going to have to find their own peace with.
Growing up, my parents always went to a South Asian doctor. And it was incredibly uncomfortable to talk about certain aspects of my health with them like my South Asian doctor never asked me about sexual history when I was already having sex as towards the end of my high school career. And that was a huge part of my health. There were times when I wanted to get STD screenings and stuff done, but my South Asian doctor just wouldn't talk about it, you know. That was really hard to navigate, and I don't think I would have ever felt comfortable telling my doctor that I was queer, just because these prior interactions that I had. She was very much subscribed to the idea of boy versus girl, thinking in the binary when it came to giving care to her patients.
Moving forward, I think comparable interactions with South Asian or Asian doctors depend on the ideology and the philosophy of the doctor. I think it is getting better. Obviously, this was like, 10 or 15 years ago, so I'm hoping that things do change. But I will say anti-trans rhetoric has been in medicine for as long as medicine itself has existed. I still get a lot of backlash for being out in medicine. At school I will say that I have a very, very positive faculty. My faculty has supported me when I came out as trans, but when it comes to certain classmates, not all of them are okay with it. I've gotten some very rude comments from classmates, and they are people my age. Transphobia is not something from back in the day. It's still around, and it's still prevalent in our own generation.
I remember presenting a part of my research on inclusive OB/Gyn clinics for trans people, and someone approached my presentation. I thought this person was going to be very, very judgmental based on how they approached my presentation, but it ended up being a very positive interaction because this person was a chemist. I was talking about cisgender versus transgender, and they were able to apply it to chemistry because in chemistry there's cis-conformations and trans-confirmations. She was like, “oh, okay. So I understand what this means. You know I don't even think being trans is a lifestyle. I think it's just how people are like'' and that's how the whole conversation went. That's how it should be, like yes, we are. People just are. This person came into my presentation not knowing anything about trans people, and it ended up being like someone who could be an ally in the future.
There's a couple of things that trans people are facing right now that I think needs more attention. One is that I don't think there's enough decent material in medical education about trans health. Usually medical students right now, even if there is a trans health curriculum, are given a very bare bones curriculum. Like you get “trans health 101” which is pronouns, names, how to interact with a trans person; but even in my own curriculum, you don't learn about things like binders, which is something that trans masculine people wear to hide their breasts. So when you have an interaction with a patient who's wearing a binder, how do you interact with that patient? These kinds of things are still not being talked about.
Additionally, the fact that a lot of things about insurance is not being taught to medical students that affect trans people is troubling. For example, there’s the idea of changing gender markers - which I haven't changed mine yet, but I did go to an OB/GYN clinic and got a pap smear done. If this obstetrician/gynecologist coded me as male, I would have gotten charged for that pap smear, and insurance would not cover it. So, there's just a lot of nuances when it comes to health policy.
Also whenever I have any type of surgery done, I'm required to undergo a pregnancy test, which I haven't had PIV sex in a very, very long time. So, it's just, it's hard. It's very hard as a trans person to navigate through medicine as a patient. I will even add to the fact that not all trans people are English speaking. I know a lot of trans people who don't speak English that well, who are South Asian immigrants here in America, and most trans inclusive clinics the primary language that's being spoken there is English. So there's not a lot of multilingual trans-affirming healthcare providers or international and immigrant communities that are trans in America.
I really think medical students should get involved in more community organizing work. I know that as a medical student the time that we have is very limited. However, I feel like if you just follow organizations in your community that are doing the work for social change, even if it's like reading little blurbs on Instagram, it can allow you to be a more holistic physician. All you absorb in medical school is diagnosis, treatment, medical terminology, and medical education; but you should also be absorbing what's happening around you. What's happening in the community informs you on what the needs are, and the community is where your patients are coming from.
If I were to give any advice, I would to direct it toward South Asian or Asian queer people...Live your life as your true self. I wouldn't do it any other way. When I was younger I thought I had to hide that I was trans just to get opportunities, but then I realized that the opportunities that bar me from participating because I'm trans are not opportunities I want to be a part of. The opportunities that I do get are at organizations who actually celebrate my trans identity. The more free and more open that you are about who you are, the more people you will attract that will love you for you." -Ben Haseen, 3rd Year Medical Student, Atlanta, GA (he/him/his)