To say that last week’s #BadEMFest18 changed my life would be really dramatic. But sometimes I am dramatic…
#BadEMFest18 was the most amazing collection of incredible experiences I could ever have asked for in short 4 days. From the caliber of speakers, topics, people and interactions to the food, glamping set up and programme, this conference changed the way I see myself, EM and most importantly AFRICAN EM.
I had the amazing opportunity to share a very short version of a colourful story with the 150 odd (and I say odd more because we were all equally odd) delegates. It was the first time I had shared any of this story face to face, with so many people.
The story I want to share here though is not the story I shared on the stage or in the talk, although to understand how the experience has impacted me, there should be some context.
I was born 31 years ago Kayleigh Jane Lachenicht, but shortly (ok so a few years) later started noticing that I was not the same as all the other little girls I knew. I was different. Different enough to cause discomfort every time I had to line up with the girls, and hold the hand of the boy next to me to make sure we walked straight. Different enough to be asked repeatedly to leave the ladies bathroom as an 8 year old because I looked like a boy. Different enough to shave my hair short, and swim in boys trunks, and climb trees and play cricket at school. Different enough to be asked if I was sure I was at the correct school in my first year of high school, as concerned parents realised their daughters would be going on camp with a “boy”, or worse. Different enough to realise at the age of 30 that perhaps the difference between me and other woman, was that I am not a woman, different enough to start on a pathway to a more honest, more comfortable version of myself. Through this interaction, I learned a lot about myself and the perspective of the patient in the interaction with medical professionals, and found that the system as well as providers lacked training and knowledge to cope with a patient who is different.
So I stood on stage at #BadEMFest18 and literally flung myself out of the transgender closet, in front of 150 people most of whom I didn’t know. I asked them to consider what it might be like to be forced into something that they were not comfortable with for the rest of their lives, based on how society perceived them.
I asked them to imagine a world where every time they enter a bathroom, their motives are questioned.
I asked them to imagine walking into a hospital and having to explain to every staff member you come into contact with why your name and your appearance don’t match, and answer intrusive questions about genitalia that no one would ever ask a “normal” patient.
I asked them to be kind, and inclusive, to think a little less about how uncomfortable it may be to treat a transgender person, and more carefully about how uncomfortable it might be to be a transgender person in the ED.
And they did
But they also did more than just think about their patients,I could not sum it up better than @aalenyo when she said “All the nice people do Emergency Care”.
I finished my talk, jumped off the stage at the end of the session, thanked my fellow speakers for that session, avoided eye contact. I had a Brene Brown vulnerability hangover moment, it was instantaneous. I wondered why on earth I had just done that. Come out to so many people I didn’t know, and would have to spend the next 4 days with. Why had I taken such a big risk, in front of many of my Hero’s in EM? What on Earth was I thinking??
There is something to be said for living incognito… letting people guess who you are, or what you are. Specifically with regard to gender, because its so awkward to ask, and so far out of the usual experience of most people, if you don’t volunteer information, you don’t usually get asked. Not directly anyway.
But when you burst through the closest doors in glorious rainbow colours, suddenly its impossible to hide anymore. This is where I found myself in the blur following that afternoon session.
And this is where the magic began. From the moment I stepped off that stage, those #BadEMFest18 people (i wanted to call them BadEMFesters but it sounds a bit septic) accepted me. As I was. In the words of my favourite gender activist (IO Tillet-Wright) “they accepted me for just exactly who I said I was”.
People made eye contact, shook my hand and didn’t look away awkwardly when I spoke. People engaged openly with me, instead of avoiding me. Not once in my time at BadEM did I have discomfort or unease about walking into a bathroom (any bathroom), or aiming for the ladies stalls when I went to shower, or men’s bathroom when the queue was too long. I didn’t have awkward he/she/it moments because everyone was so aware of being careful to use gender neutral terms. I didn’t have to explain why my name was different to the one most people knew me by in the past, or that i wasn’t sick, rather that my voice was busy dropping.
For 4 glorious days, I didn’t have to explain myself once to a single person. The other incredibly liberating feeling was that me being transgender was not the most interesting thing about me. It was something that I had managed to get out of the way in the first hour of interaction, and that was it.
#BadEMFest18 gave me this glimmer of what a future could be like if we stop trying to define each other by the things that make us different, and look to the things that make us human, a concept that was repeated as a theme throughout the festival as the idea of UBUNTU. Its not just about gender, it is about anything that makes us different.
I will be taking a few things home with me after #BadEMFest
- There is nothing that can be thrown at the people of EM, that they will not adapt to
- Echoed by so many others at the festival “these are my people”
- People want to understand rather than judge, and the only way to create understanding is open, vulnerable communication
- Ubuntu defines African EM, it is our greatest strength (we are through others)
- Its OK to be who you are, even if the rest of the world doesn’t quite get it
For some resources on how to be a trans-ally and some more information on what Transgender means, see the links below, a blog summarizing the major points of the talk will follow soon!
- Hope, J. and Tadros, A. 2015. Transgender patients iin the ED. Emergency Physicians Monthly. [available online] http://epmonthly.com/article/transgender-patients-in-the-ed/
- Decker Moss. 2013. TedX Columbus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOmstbKVebM
- Shaffer, et al. 2005. Transgender Patients: Implications for ED Policy and Practice. Journal of Emergency Nurses. [available online] https://myhs.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/documents/41620/0/Transgender+patients+implications+for+emergency+department+police+and+practice.pdf/d7c19382-ee72-4a1b-9ef6-5648af446084
- Straker, et al. 2017. Transgender and Gender Nonconforming in Emergency Departments: A Qualitative Report of Patient Experiences. Transgender Health. [available online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5367487/
- Ouyang, H. 2017. A Transgender Learning Gap in the Emergency Room. The New York Times. [available online] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/13/well/live/a-transgender-learning-gap-in-the-emergency-room.html
- Brene Brown. 2011. TedX Houston. The Power of Vulnerability. [available online] https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability