gender expression

What is Gender-Affirming Care? Everything You Should Know

Gender-affirming care has become increasingly important over the past few years as more people around the world recognize the importance of providing care and support to transgender individuals. 

But what exactly is gender-affirming care? To answer this question and to better understand the concept, let’s first take a look at what gender-affirming care is, the types of services that fall under this umbrella, and how it can support people who identify as transgender, non-binary, and genderqueer.

What is gender-affirming care?

At the heart of gender-affirming care are two key concepts: respect and autonomy. Respect for a person’s gender identity and autonomy in their choice of medical care are fundamental to providing quality gender-affirming care.

Gender-affirming care is a healthcare approach that seeks to provide respectful, comprehensive, and individualized care for individuals of all gender identities and expressions. It acknowledges the importance of providing care tailored to each patient’s unique needs and seeks to reduce or eliminate the negative experiences that some transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals may have when interacting with medical providers. 

This type of care seeks to empower individuals to embrace their true gender identity and express it in a way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. Gender-affirming care is not only about providing medical care and support but also about creating an environment of acceptance, understanding, and inclusion. It involves providing emotional, psychological, and social support to individuals on their journey toward gender identity exploration and expression.

Types of gender-affirming care

Gender-affirming care is a key element of healthcare for gender-diverse individuals, as it helps them feel more comfortable in their bodies and gender expression. Gender-affirming care can take many forms, from medical treatments such as hormone therapy or surgery to mental health services like counseling or therapy. It also includes specific clinical services such as STD testing or cervical cancer screening for individuals who still have a cervix, as well as social support services like education about safe sex practices for LGBTQ individuals.

man putting makeup on his face

Primary care

Primary care is the cornerstone of gender-affirming care, as it focuses on the overall health and wellness of the individual. It is not just focused on gender but encompasses the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of the person receiving care. It is a way for trans and gender non-conforming people to get the healthcare they need in a safe, affirming, and inclusive environment.

Primary care is often the first point of contact for individuals seeking gender-affirming care. It involves providing general medical care to individuals in gender transition, which includes preventive care, physical exams, and disease management. It may also include mental health screenings and referrals to specialists when necessary.

This type of care is provided by a primary care provider, such as a family physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant, who is responsible for coordinating and managing the individual’s medical care. Primary care providers play an important role in helping to identify and manage health issues that can be exacerbated by feelings of gender dysphoria, as well as providing preventive care services such as vaccines, screenings, and health education.

Hormone therapy

Hormone therapy is an important part of gender-affirming care and a crucial step for many individuals who are looking to transition from their gender assigned at birth. Hormone replacement therapy is the administration of hormones to trans people and genderqueer folks to bring their bodies more in line with their gender identity. It is often used for those transitioning from male to female or female to male, as well as for those with gender dysphoria or non-binary gender identities. 

The primary purpose of hormone therapy is to help individuals achieve the physical traits associated with their gender identity. For transgender women, this may involve taking estrogen and sometimes progesterone to create feminine characteristics. For transgender men, this may involve taking testosterone to create masculine characteristics.

The benefits of gender-affirming hormone therapy include helping someone to feel more comfortable in their body, reduce gender dysphoria, and align their physical characteristics with their gender identity. For transgender men, this can include developing a deeper voice, increased muscle mass, and facial hair growth. For transgender women, this can include the development of breasts, a softer skin texture, and a redistribution of body fat.

Hormone therapy can also be used to help people with gender dysphoria (a feeling of intense distress and discomfort due to gender expression that does not match their gender identity) or those who have a non-binary gender identity to feel more comfortable in their bodies.

Hormone therapy

Gender-affirming surgeries and procedures

Gender-affirming surgeries, also known as gender-confirming surgeries, are a part of gender-affirming care, a type of medical service that supports people in their gender identity journey. These surgeries can include a range of procedures, from top surgery (breast augmentation or removal) and bottom surgery (genital reconstruction) to facial feminization or masculinization surgery. Other gender-affirming procedures might include laser hair removal or electrolysis for facial and body hair.

Gender-affirming surgery is a way for people to express themselves and be accepted for who they are. For many people, it is a necessary part of their identity journey, allowing them to feel like their true selves. It is often a source of relief to those who have experienced gender dysphoria.

The benefits of gender-affirming surgery can be immense. These procedures can provide a sense of relief from gender dysphoria, improved self-esteem, and a greater sense of acceptance. For those who have had top surgery, it may mean being able to wear clothing that fits their body shape and gender identity. For those who have had bottom surgery, it may mean being able to engage in sexual activity in a way that is more comfortable and affirming for them.

Mental health services

Mental health services are an essential component of gender-affirming health care, as they provide a safe space for individuals to discuss their gender identity and explore the unique challenges they may face. 

Mental health care professionals can help individuals to develop coping strategies to manage gender dysphoria and provide them with a supportive environment to foster self-acceptance. Additionally, they can provide psychotherapy and other services to help their clients manage the emotional, psychological, and systemic difficulties associated with gender transition. 

Mental health access provides individuals struggling with their gender identity the possibility to unearth and treat underlying mental health issues that may be present prior to or during their gender transition. 

Mental health services

Gender-affirming pharmacy

Gender-affirming pharmacies are an important resource for individuals in transition. A gender-affirming pharmacy is a pharmacy that specializes in providing a safe, supportive, and affirming environment for transgender, gender-diverse, and non-binary people who need medications, hormones, and other healthcare products and services.

Gender-affirming pharmacies are capable of providing care that is tailored to the needs of each patient, as well as providing safe and knowledgeable advice and information on the medications, hormones, and other healthcare products and services available. In addition, gender-affirming pharmacies are able to provide educational and supportive services that can help patients better understand their health needs and make informed decisions about their care.

These pharmacies may also provide resources for those looking to explore gender-affirming surgeries, such as hormone therapy, gender reassignment/affirming surgery, and facial feminization surgery.

Benefits of gender-affirming care

Gender-affirming care is a holistic approach that focuses on the individual’s needs and preferences rather than traditional medical practices that do not consider gender identity. It includes the provision of mental health services, access to gender-affirming hormones, and gender-affirming surgeries, among other treatments.

Gender-affirming care has been demonstrated to have numerous positive benefits for individuals who identify as transgender, gender non-binary, and other gender-diverse individuals. 

  • Improved mental health: A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that individuals who receive gender-affirming care have significantly lower levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation than those who do not receive such care.
  • Improved physical health: Gender-affirming care can provide access to gender-affirming hormones, which can improve overall physical health and reduce certain health risks, such as heart disease and osteoporosis.
  • Reduced stigma: Gender-affirming care can reduce the stigma associated with being a gender minority and help individuals feel more accepted and included in society.
  • Increased support: Gender-affirming care can provide individuals with a support system of healthcare professionals, peers, and mentors who can offer guidance and understanding.
  • Improved self-esteem: Research has shown that individuals who receive gender-affirming care have higher self-esteem and a more positive outlook on life.
  • Reduced risk of substance abuse: Gender-affirming care can help reduce the risk of substance abuse in transgender and gender-diverse individuals. This can lead to better health outcomes and improved quality of life.
transgender woman holding her baby

Challenges with gender-affirming care

Gender-affirming care has become an increasingly important part of healthcare in recent years as the transgender community continues to gain visibility and representation. Despite its growth, there are still several issues that stand in the way of it being widely accessible. From lack of resources to outdated insurance policies, gender-affirming care is often difficult for transgender individuals to obtain.

The most prominent challenge is the lack of awareness and understanding of gender-affirming care. Even in the medical community, there is a general lack of knowledge about the needs of transgender individuals. This lack of knowledge can lead to medical professionals providing inadequate care or not providing any care at all.

Many transgender and gender non-conforming individuals may face discrimination when seeking gender-affirming care. Some providers may refuse to provide care or may not treat transgender and gender non-conforming individuals with respect or dignity. This can lead to negative experiences and can ultimately prevent individuals from seeking out the care they need.

In addition to a lack of awareness, there is also a lack of resources. Many healthcare institutions do not have the appropriate resources to provide gender-affirming care. This includes a lack of staff with the necessary knowledge and experience to provide care, a lack of supplies and equipment, and even a lack of financial resources to cover the costs associated with providing this type of care.

Additionally, the healthcare system can be challenging to navigate, as different insurance companies and policies may or may not cover gender-affirming care, which can be both expensive and difficult to access.

Finally, gender-affirming care can be emotionally and physically draining for those seeking it. The process of transitioning can be a long and difficult journey, and it can be lonely at times. It can also be difficult to come to terms with one’s own gender identity, and the process of transitioning can be a time of tremendous stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as other mental health challenges.

transgender woman after hormone treatment

Gender-affirming care saves lives

For many transgender people, struggling with gender dysphoria can lead to depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, as well as physical illnesses due to lack of access to appropriate care or fear of mistreatment in healthcare settings. Gender-affirming healthcare helps these individuals feel seen, heard, respected, and validated in their identities without judgment or discrimination from providers.

Gender-affirming care is essential for the health and well-being of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. Research has found that individuals who receive gender-affirming care are more likely to report positive mental health outcomes, such as increased self-esteem and improved social functioning, as compared to those who do not. Furthermore, individuals who receive gender-affirming care are less likely to experience depression and anxiety and are more likely to report feeling more confident, safe, and accepted.

It’s essential that we continue to work to make gender-affirming care more accessible. We must advocate for increased funding for gender-affirming care, as well as for better education and training for medical professionals so that they can better serve the needs of their transgender and gender non-conforming patients. We must also work to reduce the stigma associated with gender identity and expression so that everyone can feel safe and accepted for who they are.