My experience as a trans man in dentistry – and how it can be more inclusive

My experience as a trans man in dentistry – and how it can be more inclusive

Dental hygiene student Ben Marriott opens up about his own experience as a trans man in dentistry and how some simple steps could help to make dentistry more trans-inclusive.

I started my career in dentistry in 2013 as a dental nurse. I was presenting as female at the time, and after a few years was promoted to senior dental nurse at the practice where I worked. Around this time I started to come to some realisations about my gender.

The first time I used the name Ben we were out on a works do, playing with silly stick-on moustaches. A colleague jokingly asked what my male name would be. I must have responded ‘Ben’ a bit too quickly, unbeknownst to them this was something I had been battling with for several years. But the name, happily, seemed to stick.

Shortly afterwards I came out as a nonbinary trans man to my close friends, family and colleagues.

Met with resistance

Supportive though the majority were, I was sadly met with resistance from my seniors at work. I was told I could not have a male uniform, change my name on the system, or correct patients about my pronouns. From this point onwards the mood changed.

I was belittled and put in inappropriate situations. For example, I was forced to nurse for a female patient who had requested female staff only, and told that patients would not accept being treated by a trans clinician.

New policies were invented about facial hair, that had never been in place before, and I found myself being hauled in for disciplinary meetings. After all my years of hard work and dedication, everything was looking very bleak. It was unsustainable.

One day I left with immediate effect, without having a new job or any idea how I would pay my bills.

Regained confidence

I signed up with a dental nursing agency and very quickly regained my confidence. It was clear I was a good nurse who did the job efficiently, and was frequently requested to return to practices.

By this point I had been on testosterone for a while so more readily passed as male. I am very open about being trans if it happens to come up in conversation. But I do remember being sat in a kitchen while clinicians made fun of transgender people, and not saying anything. It depended on the atmosphere and how safe I felt as to whether I would divulge.

One time someone mentioned that nonbinary ‘wasn’t really a thing’ in a staff room full of people. I replied: ‘Actually I’m nonbinary’, and we then enjoyed quite a fruitful conversation about what that meant for me.

It’s unsurprising that these attitudes prevail. A lot of people simply haven’t had the opportunity to meet and get to know a trans person. I’ve worked in dentistry for 10 years, with hundreds of dental staff and I haven’t encountered a single other out trans person.

Redefining ‘balance’

It’s rarity enough being a male dental nurse, let alone a trans man. Although, thankfully, male nurses do seem to be coming increasingly more common.

There’s a lot of talk, and rightly so, about equality in dentistry, equal access and promotion for women, and people of colour. But I believe we need to go further still. Every gender discussion I’ve seen has talked about a ‘balance’, usually taken to mean a 50/50 male to female ratio, without acknowledging that nonbinary people exist, or including stats for trans people.

In 2021, I applied to study dental hygiene and was overjoyed to be accepted onto a local course. It has been both hugely challenging, and hugely rewarding.

I’m hoping, with a last push, and a few more months of hard work, to qualify this summer.

Making a difference to the trans community

In the meantime I have set about trying to make dentistry a more trans-inclusive place for both patients and clinicians alike. There are some very simple steps, that are often overlooked, that can make a world of difference to trans people feeling accepted and comfortable:

  • Try not to make assumptions about people’s gender based on voice or appearance. Any time I make a phone call, people assume I’m a woman because of my voice, to the extent that sometimes I’m not even allowed to access my own accounts
  • Ensure that application forms don’t just have male and female tickboxes, that they have nonbinary and other boxes. Include a box for patients to state their pronouns
  • If it is necessary to ask if someone could be pregnant or on contraception for a clinical reason, ask all people. This includes masculine appearing people. Trans masculine people who still have a uterus are often overlooked. You may get some strange looks or comments. But it’s quite simple to reply that it’s just something we ask everyone as standard
  • If a patient informs you of a name, gender and title change, change it on the system immediately. There is no need for a patient to have a Gender Recognition Certificate, which is a common misconception. A name change can be done by deed poll, even on the back of a napkin, or by common usage. It is still legally binding. The aim is to make this process as simple and seamless as possible. It’s highly likely the trans person requesting this is already very nervous about telling you
  • Have gender neutral toilet facilities and changing rooms in addition to male and female
  • Place sanitary bins in all toilets including the men’s
  • Let patients know on your website that you are a trans and LGBTQIA-friendly practice, so they can be reassured before they attend.

A win for dentistry

It’s difficult to explain to others how draining a constant barrage of transphobia can be on a person’s mental health.

It’s difficult to escape on social media, newspapers and in the media. Anything we can do to make trans people’s experiences better is a win for dentistry as a whole.

I would love to meet any fellow trans or non-binary dental clinicians, or to help any practices improve on their trans-inclusivity. You can reach me @BenHyg on Twitter. My pronouns are he/him.

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