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Blog Out in Healthcare

Out in Healthcare: Hal Martin, OTD Student

Name: Hal Martin

Pronouns: They/Them

Identity: Non-binary Queer

Background: I’m a soon-to-be 31 year old, white, non-binary person born and with homebases that include Georgia (born and raised), Chicago, and now Philly (going on 6 years!). My undergraduate education was in the arts and I’m what some of my peers call a “nontraditional OT student.” With that said, I don’t see my trajectory into occupational therapy as a total 180 but instead heavily informed by the critical thinking and collaborative process-making of my undergraduate education!

Profession: OTD student

Area(s) of Practice or Interest: I’m ultimately interested in working in primary health care at a community-based setting / early intervention.

What does being ‘Out in Healthcare’ mean to you?: I believe being “out” is more complicated than the mainstream narrative you hear about being “out of the closet.” There is a decision whether or not to come out in every interaction, and in some instances, it isn’t a choice. When I choose to be out in healthcare, yes, I am choosing to affirm my gender in the moment, but I am also occasionally putting myself at risk or opening a conversation where I have to do a lot of education around my identity. I believe it is important for health practitioners to weigh each situation and, if they feel safe and have the energy, disclose their identity to their clients, employer, or coworkers. In healthcare, disclosing how you identify to patients and clients creates a reciprocal exchange where they may feel more comfortable talking about their gender and sexual orientation. Especially in the midst of the Supreme Court ruling in favor of healthcare discrimination against trans patients, knowing that a healthcare professional is able to verbally share that information with you and still able to practice indicates a culture of tolerance and safety for patients. I know from my own experiences navigating the healthcare system how interfacing with a healthcare professional who shares a common identity can alleviate the stress and anxiety of seeking services and increases the chances of me continuing treatment. Openly talking with others about my identity, sharing my pronouns, and correcting colleagues when I’m misgendered are ways to slowly change a culture that views hetero and cis identities as a default among working professionals. Being out in healthcare shows that despite stigma and discrimination that may exist, we operate as professionals and hold important lived experience that we view as a strength not a limitation. 

What is one thing everyone should know about your identity?: The language I use to identify myself is based on what feels affirming at any given moment. Right now, that means “queer” and “nonbinary.” They/them pronouns feel comfortable because they are neutral. My gender expression is expansive and does not operate in a binary way where I would describe myself as masculine or feminine. If I was to receive gender affirming surgeries or HRT it would not be to medically “transition” (as is commonly assumed about trans-identified people) from one end of the binary to another and I don’t believe my trans identity is dependent on whether I choose to change my body or not.    

How do you feel when your identity is included?: A huuuge sense of relief and perhaps pleasantly surprised because it doesn’t happen very often! In occupational therapy, we talk a lot about barriers in participation of meaningful occupations and when my identity is not included it is a MAJOR barrier. When it is included, I feel like I can fully show up as myself and participate! For example, I did not utilize my school gym for a long time because the gym lockers are in gendered spaces (with bathrooms) and to access them you have to check out a key. This required the person at the desk to either label me as a man or woman and grant me access accordingly. Every time I showed up, I was forced to pick one or the other label. In consequence, as you can imagine, I didn’t exercise as much!

What does “taking up space” mean to you?: I attended an adult rock camp (shout out to GRP!) once and we did a warm up where we very literally took up space with our bodies by extending our arms and legs full snowflake. In that moment, I realized how seldom I’ve allowed myself to take up space due to feeling like spaces are not meant for me. Taking up space in this very literal way is symbolic and serves as a reclamation of all the space that was denied to us, and that denial can take the form of systemic oppression on a macro level or through stigma on a micro level.  

What is one piece of advice that you would give to healthcare workers who aren’t sure how to honor the identities of their patients?: Model what it looks like to share your identity. Say, “You can address me as…” or “My pronouns are…” or “You can just refer to me as ___.” If possible, on forms, leave open fields for people to self-identify rather than using checkboxes because self-identifying is empowering!

Has your identity influenced healthcare that you’ve received?: Yes, but moreso because I avoid seeking care in many situations due to feeling unsafe or unsupported.

Where can people find you?: nonyabuziness on IG. I also co-run a monthly Zoom meetup for trans and gender-nonconforming occupational therapy students and practitioners…If interested, you can email us at tgnc.ot@gmail.com.

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Blog Out in Healthcare

Out in Healthcare: Enrique Puentes, OTS

Name: Enrique Puentes

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Identity: Gay

Background: Both of my parents immigrated from Colombia, and I was born in Washington, D.C. I grew up in Northern Virginia but have spent the last fourteen years living in Central Florida. I have spent the past eight years working in catastrophe property insurance but have always had a longing for wanting to be in a profession that helped others improve. I finally decided to make the career transition and now am in my second term of my master’s degree.

Profession: Occupational Therapy Student (MOT)

Area(s) of Practice or Interest: I have huge interests in both Mental Health and Inpatient Rehabilitation but am unsure of where I may ultimately end up.

What does being ‘Out in Healthcare’ mean to you?: For me, being out in healthcare for me means inviting people to see my truest self. Representation of LGBT people in healthcare is important because not only does it create safe spaces for clients to feel they are being advocated for, but it also can help demystify misunderstandings that non-queer people have of the very community that I am a part of. I see being out in healthcare as a form of activism for anyone who has ever felt either marginalized in a society that has long celebrated heteronormativity.  

What is one thing everyone should know about your identity?: I want people to know that I am embracing the best possible version of myself by being out as an individual in healthcare. It is important for me to not be ‘discrete’ about my sexuality, because by me fully loving all aspects of my identity, I can in turn emanate the same level of love and care for others. 

How do you feel when your identity is included?: When my identity is included as both brown and gay, I feel included and seen as an equal amongst a group.

What does “taking up space” mean to you?: Taking up space means feeling pride about my own visibility and feeling the confidence in the fact that my visibility matters. I unfortunately did not always think/feel this way, so it’s empowering for me to live in this truth.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to healthcare workers who aren’t sure how to honor the identities of their patients?: I think with any profession that involves interacting with all kinds of people (with varying cultures, backgrounds, political and religious beliefs, sexual orientations or gender expressions), we will almost certainly at some point, come to meet someone that we lack the education on, on how to honor and respect these individuals. Maintaining a sense of humility when engaging in these interactions is key to posturing yourself in a manner that is receptive to learning from these interactions. For healthcare professions in particular, it would behoove the practitioner to educate themselves on available resources that speaks on best care practices. Remember the importance of being client-centered in your approach and advocating for the client’s desires and wishes. 

Has your identity influenced healthcare that you’ve received?: My identity has impacted the healthcare that I have received. I have encountered practicing physicians who have not been aware of pre-exposure prophylaxis medications. It’s an odd feeling having to educate your own doctor on what this is and why you are requesting a prescription for this. I have also had experiences where healthcare professionals made assumptions of my sexual orientation. I greatly see the need for education of healthcare professions in working with LGBTQ clients.

Where can people find you?: Follow me on Instagram! (@ProudOTStudent)