“It was like I had to fit into a category” : people with trans experiences navigating access to trans-specific healthcare and health

Abstract: Background: Trans issues have received increased attention over the last couple of years and important changes have been made in the legislation relating to gender reassignment and in trans-specific healthcare practices. At the same time, many people with trans experiences report poor mental health, bad experiences when encountering the healthcare and a tendency to postpone seeking care due to being badly treated. Previous research has also shown that gender norms guide the evaluation that precedes access to gender-confirming medical procedures. Critical studies examining practices within trans-specific healthcare in the Swedish context and health among people with trans experiences are limited, especially qualitative interview studies involving people with trans experiences.Aim: To analyse how constructions of trans experiences and gender can affect trans-specific healthcare practices, experiences of navigating access to gender- confirming medical procedures, inhabitancy of different spaces and, ultimately, health.Conceptual framework: Three areas of theory are used for the conceptual framework: trans studies, queer phenomenology and Foucauldian theories of power and governmentality.Methods: The thesis includes three sub-studies (generating four articles): two interview studies that build on interviews with 18 people with trans experiences, and a policy analysis of the guidelines for trans-specific healthcare published by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare. For the interview studies, grounded theory and thematic analysis were used as the analytical method. The guidelines were analysed using Bacchi’s method: “What’s the problem represented to be?”.Results: The participants experienced trans-specific healthcare as difficult to navigate due to waiting times, lack of knowledge and/or support and relationships of dependency between healthcare users and providers. In the evaluation, gender is reconstructed as linear – stereotypical, binary and stable – and the space for action available to care-seekers is affected by discourses existing both inside and outside trans-specific healthcare. The difficulties in navigating access to care were experienced as creating ill-health. In order to negotiate access to gender-confirming medical procedures, the participants took responsibility for the care process by, for example, ordering hormones from abroad, acquiring medical knowledge and finding alternative support. The linear gendered positioning was variously resisted, negotiated and embraced by the participants.The analysis of the guidelines showed that gender identity is constructed as a fixed linear essence but that the guidelines also open up space for a non-linear embodiment. Gender dysphoria is closely constructed in relation to psychiatric knowledge and mental health and the gate-keeping function among mental healthcare professionals is reconstituted in the guidelines. Hence, care-seekers are constructed as not competent enough to make decisions concerning access to gender-confirming medical procedures.The participants experienced several different spaces, such as bars, public toilets and changing rooms, gyms and cafés, as unsafe and as contributing to ill-health. In order to overcome the barriers to comfortably inhabiting spaces, the participants performed a kind of labour; for example, preparing in order to visit public baths and to answer transphobic comments and questions. Some spaces, such as trans-separatist, feminist and queer spaces, were experienced as safer and contributed to improved health through experiences of belonging, being able to share bad experiences and being able to relax.Conclusions: Trans-specific healthcare practices need to become more affirming and change so that care-seekers have more space for self- determination. Trans-specific healthcare needs more resources in order to decrease waiting times, improve knowledge and support, and hence to improve access to gender-confirming medical procedures. Actions need to be initiated to make spaces safer in order to improve the health of people with trans experiences.