by Local Nurse
[In response to some of the reactionary filth being published in The Gazette opinion page and elsewhere leading up to the election, we are thrilled to publish a personal perspective from a transgender nurse who writes eloquently about the stakes come November 6th. – Eds]
I Am a Transgender Nurse in Massachusetts Right Now: Thoughts, Feelings and Experiences
In this climate as a transgender nurse in Massachusetts, I felt compelled to provide some love and attention to our community. For me, that community includes anyone who doesn’t fit in the nice neat categories of male or female.
I also selfishly want to work out my own thoughts and feelings as well, because like most of us, I’m having a hard time. Things feel up in the air and lonely. In my eight years of bedside nursing, I still only have one other transgender nurse friend. She and I don’t work together. I have never knowingly worked alongside another transgender nurse. I search for this experience often in people’s faces, wishing it would happen. It hasn’t. It’s lonely.
[Note: From here on out, when I used the word trans it is to include non-binary and agender folks. You’ll also hear a lot of I statements in this essay. I did that intentionally. I see this all as a we situation, however I do not speak for all trans people. I will not impose on anyone’s experience or thoughts differing from mine. This is purely just my truth and how I’ve walked through the world.]
For folks who may not be aware, Massachusetts is not just voting on laws regarding my profession this November, it is also voting on my rights as a trans person as well. I am of course referring to both The Patient Safety Act and the potential repealing of a referendum already in place Question 3 protecting gender identity rights in public places.
On the nursing side, it feels very awkward to debate on the ballot something I truly believe is an issue: nurse-patient ratios. There have been times in my career that I cared for 7-8 post-op cardiac surgery patients. For at least 18 months of that job, I was handed 6 patients almost every night. (The bill would put a 4 patient max on that) I ran all night during my 12-hour shifts from 7p-7a. I barely ate or sat down. Before I would finally slow down enough to chart (clicked 100+ boxes about patient assessments, clarified all my medications were given and not late, wrote 6 plans of care, documented everything my patients ate, drank, peed and wrote 6 notes) I would walk the floor to help everyone else struggling. Something was always going seriously downhill for at least one patient and we’d team together to make sure they got the care and support they needed. Finally, we’d sit, chart like mad, answer call bells, give more meds, fix one or more potentially deadly cardiac rhythms and wait for the bus back to our cars in the parking lot two miles from work. Fifteen hours later, we’d all crawl into bed, kiss the dog or the kids and get up in seven hours to do it all again. All this to say: Please vote YES on question 1. The ER wait times and costs are all lies from the hospital execs who stash over 913 million dollars away in the Cayman Islands. Please visit this site for more information on facts vs. fears for Yes on 1.
At the same time, this election period in Massachusetts has me looking back on my experience as a trans person in high school and the workplace. I was seventeen when I first read Stone Butch Blues by the late author and revolutionary Leslie Feinberg. (For those who haven’t read the novel, it is about the enforcement of gender roles in the 60s and 70s surrounding the queer community and can be downloaded for free ). I went to high school in the 90s and I remember my history teacher letting me read in his private back room. Boys in the class were a tough, bullying group and my teacher told me as long as I passed his tests I could sit in his back room with the door shut and read whatever I wanted. I spent the whole semester there, my feet up on the old wooden table, engrossed in the novel. Little did I know: this would be how I lived most of my life beyond this point. I still tuck myself away in my top floor apartment on a quiet street in the city I grew up in. I would often rather be alone than be misgendered one more time at a cash register or sneered at or called a fagg*t walking down the street. These days, I’m so out of energy for the negatives.
I found my nursing career when I was 26 years old and graduated with honors from an associate degree program. It was 2010, the economy was a mess and new grad nurses couldn’t find hospital work in Massachusetts. It was then I chose to move away. I took a job as an orthopedic trauma nurse out of state. This was before transgender protections in hospitals existed. I rarely come out to co-workers because I don’t want to be the transgender nurse they work with. I just want to be another nurse next to them who is good at their job. This privacy lasted for a while at this job until a float nurse (one who fills holes for call outs and ‘floats’ around the hospital to different floors each shift) outed me as transgender to a co-worker in the med room because she could just tell I was trans. I remember a friend coming up to me mid-shift and whispering in my ear that the float nurse just outed me and another trans person on a different floor to her. I was extremely upset someone had inserted herself into my personal life. My bubble of safety was gone. I asked my friend if she would report the incident to management because she witnessed it. She wavered and said no, she didn’t feel comfortable. I reported the incident to management. Part of the response I got was to be informed that there were no protections for trans people at the hospital, and thus the manager said, “I don’t technically have to do anything.” She spoke to the nurse, but nothing else was done. I was forced to work beside her whenever she floated to my floor. I ended up outing myself to many more staff members just to take control of the situation; to be able to tell myself I chose to be out instead of violated by the float nurse. I was now the transgender person working next to everyone. I never wanted to be. I just wanted to go to work without confronting something so personal about myself every day.
This experience would follow me for the rest of my career. I moved back home to Massachusetts a year later and took a dream job in cardiac surgery only to be outed by 3 nosey co-workers. It was a plotted scheme. One nurse who I had friended on social media hunted down an old pre-transition photo I forgot to set to private. Another one shared it and soon a night nurse was displaying my body to eight staff members on her cell phone while I worked on another floor that night. Word spread to the 65 staff members like wildfire. Things were never the same for me there. One day, a co-worker at this job was standing at the nurse’s station waiting for report with me at 7AM and she suddenly asked me, “can I ask you anything about being transgender?” Assuming her comment would be appropriate and wanting to be in a polite, educating mood I replied “sure.” Her question was, “did you have bottom genital surgery?” When I said I wouldn’t answer the question she became hurt by my rejection. I’ll never forget the sad look on her face. Somehow, it all became my fault that my coworker just asked me what my genitals looked like at work. Believe it or not, we get asked this question all the time.
After another stint at another hospital, I soon left there as well. Finally, my fourth try has currently been successful. My pronoun has only been messed up twice (I tend to compromise on how much it sucks to be misgendered at all) and both times the staff members publicly and vocally verbalized their sincerest apologies. The staff members owned how wrong their mistakes were. I have been grateful. I’ve also been told by many: that’s the best I can hope for these days.
What most folks don’t realize is how hard it is to carry all the many burdens of not fitting into a gender category well enough for some people. When we as trans people are at home we often laugh and talk with friends. We spend time railing on people’s f*ck ups with our gender. We make light of it even though we all know how painful it is. We find camaraderie. When it gets really bad we sit in silence and hold the moment. For me, I tend to call my best friend and tell him all about it and then, because it’ll happen again tomorrow, I choose with all the rest of my energy to just let it go. At times I am so tired of cis people telling me to find compassion and educate others who are just ignorant because I’m so sick of being a walking political mission. I want to walk my dog and come home, write a paper for grad school, drink some coffee and laugh on the phone with my friends. I want to do those small things everyone else does. I am also a sober childhood and adulthood trauma survivor. I want my life to be about taking care of all that.
Here’s the reality: I’m a transgender nurse in Massachusetts right now.
I often find myself getting frustrated over little things or behaving in an angsty way in public at times. When I finally get home and walk up the stairs to my apartment, I try to forgive myself for those behaviors because … well, it is a lot and I’m human. I am also afraid my neighbors think I’m nuts, as I can at times be heard yelling on the phone to a friend about my terrible experience as a trans person today. I feel self conscious about behaviors that my therapist tells me are perfectly normal given the stress I’m under. Additionally, the rest of life happens. Car accidents, family deaths, wakes, work struggles and friends going through hard times who need a shoulder, too.
I want more people who are able to advocate for us to do so. Asking us to do it alone is just too much. Get out there and hold Yes on 3 signs, or Yes on 1 signs or BOTH. Interrupt your co-worker making disparaging remarks about the trans community. Donate to Out Now in Springfield, a small org doing impactful work for the queer youth community and its allies. Help us trans folks out. What benefits us also benefits you. 🙂 If you’re already doing this – thank you. We love you and need you.
So let me say this to all the trans folks out there. You’re not alone. I see you and I exist in these struggles with you. We’re here to stay and there is nothing wrong with us. We have strong voices. We can use them when we have the energy. I had the energy today and I wanted to make sure we were heard.
-Local Nurse is a police abolitionist and advocate for trans and substance user rights in MA