Principles of Transgender Care for the Primary Care Physician
The term transgender includes people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth. People identified as male at birth but possess a female gender identity are called transwomen and people identified as female at birth but experience a male gender identity are called transmen. Transgender individuals may also identify outside the binary norm.
The prevalence of transgender people who seek medical treatment has dramatically increased in recent years. Transgender individuals have a higher prevalence of mental health problems, suicidality and premature mortality risk versus the general population. However, many transgender persons avoid medical care due to perceived stigma, in conjunction with transgender-specific knowledge deficits among health care providers.
Integral to understanding transgender health is the concept of gender dysphoria. This refers to the internal conflict individuals experience due to incongruence between their birth sex and their self-perceived gender. For these individuals, the inconsistency causes significant internal conflict, often to the point that it interferes with functioning.
To address gender dysphoria, many transgender people elect to transition to a gender role that is consistent with their gender identity. These individuals opt for medical and/or surgical interventions to do so. Medical therapy incorporates the use of cross-sex hormones to facilitate the acquisition of secondary sexual characteristics consistent with the individual’s internalized identity. Many transgender people choose to undergo gender-confirming surgeries in conjunction with hormonal therapy.
Health care is transgender-affirming when it supports the patient’s inherent identity. Educating providers about this population’s unique needs can help reduce health disparities and promote respectful transgender care.