How to be considerate towards transgender and non-binary patients

How to be considerate towards transgender and non-binary patients

This Pride Month, Ben Marriott shares ten tips for ensuring your dental practice is inclusive and considerate of transgender and non-binary patients.

In this article, I will share a few pointers on how we as dental professionals can be considerate towards transgender and non-binary patients, and ensure they feel comfortable and safe when visiting our practices.

1. Make it clear that you are trans-inclusive

The first port of call for most patients who are visiting your practice will be your website and social media. Transgender people are used to having to hunt for clues as to whether dental practices are transgender or non-binary friendly, often posting in peer support groups for recommendations before attending.

Be sure to share posts about trans-inclusivity and trans-positive stories in your newsletters. Include the trans and rainbow flags (or the progress pride flag) on your website homepage. The reassurance your trans patients will feel will be invaluable.

2. Never assume someone’s gender

Do not make assumptions about people’s gender based on visual or vocal cues. This is especially pertinent when speaking to patients on the phone. As a trans person myself, I’m quite well versed in not making these assumptions because I have a lot of trans friends and acquaintances. Remember, our voices may not sound how you expect and there’s no need to question it.

You’d be surprised by how much this happens, to the point that I dread making phone calls because I know it’s a recipe for invalidation. Imagine how you’d feel if every time you rang someone on the phone you were accused of being a fraudster? Exhausting and upsetting.

3. Are your forms inclusive?

Next up, your sign up and medical history forms. Are they inclusive? The simplest way to be inclusive is to remove the gender field altogether. But failing that, ensure there are boxes for non-binary, ‘other’ and ‘prefer not to disclose’, as well as male and female.

Include a box for patients to state their pronouns and preferred name. This benefits everyone because there are many Andrews who go by Andy, for example, and it’s an easy way to make sure our patients feel at home.

A big stumbling block in a lot of practices is our dental software. Very often there are only binary gender options available. If this is the case, contact your provider and ask them when they will be updating your dental software to be inclusive.

If a patient requests a name and title change, for example if they’ve just come out as transgender, just do it promptly and without fuss. No evidence is required other than the patient’s word, in much the same way as you would change a patient’s surname if they got married.

4. Don’t panic

A lot of people get very nervous when dealing with trans patients, such as nerves around making mistakes. Do not worry – if you slip up or use the wrong pronouns, just apologise briefly, correct yourself and move on.

We are all only human and a quick correction is all that is needed.

5. Confidentiality is key

Confidentiality… the big one. If a patient discloses to you that they are transgender or non-binary, whether through a name change or their medical history, remember this must be treated with the same level of confidentiality as any other sensitive personal information.

In the unlikely event you need to disclose this information for medical reasons, ensure the patient is aware of your reasons for doing so, and on a need-to-know basis only. Although, it is very rare that this is ever actually necessary when working in general practice within dentistry.

You certainly do not need to have a chat about the transgender patient you just saw in the staff room at lunch time.

6. Do you have gender neutral facilities?

Ensure that you have gender neutral toilets and facilities. If you work in a larger organisation such as a hospital, make sure there are gender neutral facilities in addition to male and female if necessary, and that all bathrooms, including the men’s, have sanitary bins in every stall.

7. Don’t go over the top

A lot of people are eager to show their support for trans people, and can sometimes go a bit over the top with ‘supportive’ comments such as, ‘You’re so brave’ or ‘I really admire you’. This is nearly always unnecessary, especially if the patient is just there for dental treatment.

Be your usual professional self and treat as you would any other patient. Certainly avoid invasive questions that are merely to satisfy your own curiosity about hormones or surgeries. One that I get a lot from well-meaning people as a trans man is: ‘Wow, your beard is even better than mine!’ Believe me when I say I’d really rather you didn’t comment on it! Ask me what I did on the weekend instead.

8. Train your team

Ensure the whole team has training in trans and non-binary inclusivity, ideally provided by a trans or non-binary clinician or patient representative, with first-hand experience. Share this article with your colleagues.

9. Don’t be a bystander

This is another vitally important point. If you hear transphobic or inappropriate comments from other members of your team, call it out immediately. If necessary, report it through the appropriate channels. Ensure your complaints policies and procedures are up to date and have statements relating to the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.

10. Be proactive

Get in touch with your local trans support group – many do fundraisers that they distribute to trans people in need.

Can you help? Can you offer dental services or advice? Be proactive about reaching out to your local trans community and let them know that you as a practice are there to support them, and provide a safe and supportive environment for any needs they or their members might have.

If you’d like to read more about issues that affect trans people, the following are three great organisations with a wealth of resources to use and share:

Connect with Ben (he/him) on Instagram @benhyg

Follow Dentistry on Instagram to keep up with all the latest dental news and trends.

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