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  • Sep 27, 2021

Changing History

October is LGBTQ History Month. Learn about transgender and gender diverse people making history.

By Diane Mwizerwa (she/her/hers), CHA Undergraduate HERlab Intern (2021).

Christine Jorgensen, born George Jorgensen, became a media sensation after getting a sex change in 1952. She used the notoriety to her advantage, going on speaking tours sharing her experience. However, Ms. Jorgensen was not the first person to have gender affirming surgery (GAS). Dr. Alan Hart had one of the earliest known GAS procedures performed in the U.S. when he had a hysterectomy in 1910.

The Sexological Institute, founded by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld in Germany, was the first to perform sex reassignment surgery, providing the foundation for other clinics to start seeing patients in the United States. In 1949, transgender individuals received hormones in San Francisco from Dr. Harry Benjamin, providing momentum for the Gender Identity Clinic at Johns Hopkins University to offer GAS in 1966.

As we celebrate LGBTQ History Month this October, we can also celebrate the many centers for transgender care and surgery that exist today. Even with these improvements, many transgender individuals still have challenges in accessing gender affirming care. Some of the barriers include financial concerns, access to physicians who are knowledgeable about GAS and access to reliable information. Transgender and gender diverse (TGD) people face significant health disparities and increased burden of disease compared to cisgender individuals (people who identify with their sex assigned at birth).

According to Elma de Vries, Harsha Kathard and Alex Müller, “With increasing medical interest in providing transition-related care in the 1950’s, the TGD person became a ‘patient.’” Transgender and gender diverse people were pathologized by the medical industry. To the dismay of many, gender diversity is still listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders (DSM). Many TGD activists and groups believe that diagnostic classification further stigmatizes TGD identities, even though diagnostic classification can help people gain access to gender affirming care.

CHA recognizes the difficulty TGD people face accessing healthcare. That’s one of the reasons it opened the Gender Affirming Clinic (GAC) at the CHA Malden Family Medicine Center last month. TGD patients will find a safe, respectful and empowering space at GAC where they can get the support they need to maintain their health. 

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