Asserting identity in the hospital

By , May 18, 2010 10:03 am

I’ll be performing this Friday at Queertopia at 8PM at Winston’s Cafe, 5001 N Clark, in Chicago. Tickets are $5 for students, $7 for everyone else, and the event is 21+. Below is the script I’m working on for the show.

Pantomime of a morning routine: Brushing teeth, washing face, plucking eyebrows, putting on foundation, eyeshadow, eyeliner, blush, lipstick. Clothing. Earrings. Then pantomime undoing everything, disrobing, and makeup wipes to remove everything (‘rinse and repeat’) and begin again.

While going through the routine the second (and subsequent) times: I’ve been in the hospital twice in as many months, after having stayed gloriously out of the hospital for years. Both times, I was admitted to the ER with severe abdominal pain, something that has been plaguing me every 6-8 weeks for the last year or so.  The pain usually went away after a few hours, so though I’d almost gone to the ER a number of times, I’d always felt better before actually making the trip.

The first time I went to the ER , in early April, I was admitted at about 3AM. My roommate drove me to Swedish Covenant, on Foster, and they quickly admitted me – the waiting room was pretty empty. I stress about going to the hospital for all the usual reasons, but also because I’m trans: Any nurse or doctor or administrator could make my life very difficult because what’s between my legs doesn’t match most people’s concept of what “should” be there.

Within the first 30 minutes of my visit, I’d had to out myself multiple times, to multiple nurses and doctors: “I’m on Allegra. For allergies. And 100mg daily Sprionolactone, 100mg daily Prometrem, and 10mg daily Estrodial. Because I’m transgender – I’m on hormone replacement therapy.”

No one gave me a hard time about being trans, and I was released seven hours later with an embarrassing diagnoses: really bad constipation.

But in early March, my stomach was at it again. All the laxatives and stool softeners in the world weren’t helping, so it was back to the ER, this time at Evanston Hospital. Now, I was born at Evanston Hospital so when I gave them my social security number, it pulled up a chart with the wrong name. My old name. My given, male name. The little bracelet I wore in the ER, with a barcode so the hospital’s mobile computer stations could scan me like produce, had the wrong name.

They actually cleared it up pretty quickly, and issued me a new, corrected, bracelet. My entire stay, I didn’t have any major issues around being trans – none of the doctors gave me shit, the nurses all treated me respectfully, and used the proper name and pronouns. But I was always on edge. In fact…

Stop whatever part of the morning routine, and look out at the audience

…the one person who had the most trouble keeping my pronouns in order was my dad. Don’t get me wrong, he’s very supportive, but he was stressed and has never been good at using feminine pronouns with me.

I started to feel like I was in a call-and-response game, though: “He said he slept through the night.” “She.” Or: “He went for a walk earlier.” “She.”

It made me tired, to always be on guard for that. To never let a rogue ‘he’ or ‘his’ or ‘him’ slip through.

I feel like I need a chorus to follow me around, to enforce the pronouns I have so proudly and boldly chosen, asserting my control over my identity. (Directed to the audience) Can I enlist you to do that, as my chorus?

Great. Lets give it a try. “I was in his room earlier…”

(Hopefully the audience will say “her!”)

“…and he still isn’t allowed solid food.”


To the audience: That was really great! I felt very taken care of, chorus. Lets try one more round.

“They said he can go home later this week…”


“…as soon as he can hold down food.”


Because, ultimately, the hospital is the last place you want to feel like you need to assert your identity. You aren’t supposed to have to think about plucking and shaving and nylons and pushups. And gender. And pronouns. You’re in the hospital for a reason, and you’re supposed to focus on getting better.

My problem was ultimately more serious than constipation. I had numerous gallstones, and had surgery at 10PM Wednesday night, two days after I was admitted to the ER, to remove my gallbladder entirely.

But my entire hospital stay I had to be on guard, or risk being ungendered. My identity rests within myself, but can feel lost when denied by those around me. So I play my own chorus – a chorus of one – protesting against the “he”s and “him”s thrown my way.

8 Responses to “Asserting identity in the hospital”

  1. Zoë Suzanna says:

    I went to the emergency room once lately and understand full well what you are saying as no one used the correct pronouns with me and it seemed like a losing battle. On the bright side of though, it put the fire under my ass to get my name changed as quickly as possible along with gender markers.

    I agree with you that it’s hard to focus exclusively on healing when on guard about proper pronoun usage. It sounds like your experience was better than mine and you’re doing better 🙂

    • Rebecca says:

      I’m sorry you had a tough time in the ER! The medical system sucks in so many ways, but particularly if you’re in any way outside what is considered “normal.” I think that, ultimately, some of my other privileges – white, insured, perceived as a woman – may have somewhat balanced out the potential for negativity because I’m trans.

  2. nix says:

    i think this is a really good idea for a presentation/performance, because it actually teaches people to open their mouths and correct others when they mispronoun trans (or other, i guess!) people. i like it.

  3. Shira says:

    My ex was even being referred to as “he” and “him” by some of the nurses when she was in hospital *recovering from her SRS*, on a ward specifically for trans women. A couple of years of both of us correcting her dad worked eventually, but you’d expect nurses working on a ward specifically for trans women to pay particular attention to pronouns and not need constant correction.

    • Rebecca says:

      That’s crazy. I’m sorry your ex had such a shitty time, but sorrier that the nurses were such dummies! Do you feel comfortable sharing what doctor your ex went to for surgery?

      • Shira says:

        I believe it was Dr James Bellringer at Charing Cross Hospital in London. I’m not sure she got to choose, though, because it was being done on the NHS and in certain highly-specialised areas of medicine there just aren’t many doctors to choose from.

  4. […] the video is the adaptation I ended up using of this post. […]

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