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Transgender Awareness Month: WellSpan Philhaven therapist urges compassion, understanding

November 18, 2020

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Yavier Ortiz-Rivera virtually conducts certain required behavioral health evaluations of patients undergoing gender conformity medical procedures such as hormone treatment or surgery.

Yavier Ortiz-Rivera virtually conducts certain required behavioral health evaluations of patients undergoing gender conformity medical procedures such as hormone treatment or surgery.

Yavier Ortiz-Rivera did not know he would work with transgender patients when he started his therapy practice at WellSpan Philhaven.

He ended up doing the work – conducting certain required behavioral health evaluations of patients undergoing gender conformity medical procedures such as hormone treatment or surgery – for a simple reason.

“I found there was a need,” said Ortiz-Rivera, a therapist at WellSpan Philhaven’s Edgar Square office in York.

The LGBTQ+ population wants what every patient wants: care providers who understand and are sensitive to their unique needs. Ortiz-Rivera, who notes he is a “proud gay man,” said he understands the unique needs and the need for understanding among the LGBTQ+ population.

November is Transgender Awareness Month. Here are three wishes Ortiz-Rivera has to increase awareness during the month:

Understanding.

A transgender individual is someone whose gender identity or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth, either male or female. In the U.S., about 1 million people are transgender, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Being transgender is not the same as being gay. Transgender people can be of any sexual orientation.

There is an expression: When you have met one transgender person, you have met one transgender person. There is no overall conformity to the way transgender people look, act or dress. And sometimes a person’s look or dress may change, as they undergo a transition from one gender to another gender.

Compassion.

Being transgender is not a mental health disorder. The challenge for many transgender people is not only their gender nonconformity, Ortiz-Rivera said. The challenge for many transgender people also is the negative reaction to their gender nonconformity that can occur at home, work or school.

“The first thing is to acknowledge that a transgender person is a person, like you,” Ortiz-Rivera said. “You should treat this person with the same respect and the same values as you would treat anyone.”

Openness.

When you meet someone who does not fit into a gender “box,” it may be appropriate to stop and ask some brief, respectful questions. How would you like to be addressed? What gender pronouns do you use?

Avoid prying questions you would not politely ask another person, such as whether someone has had surgery or what types of surgery they have had. Ask yourself: What do I want to know? What do I need to know? How can I ask in a sensitive way?

“We have to start moving past the uncomfortableness of asking these questions,” Ortiz-Rivera said. “When you ask these questions, the feedback I hear is that people feel known, they feel that people care, and they feel that people see them.”

“Sometimes transgender people feel invisible in society,” he said. “Things are better but there is still lots of work to be done. We have transgender individuals who are the health secretary in Pennsylvania, and a state senator in Delaware. We have increased awareness and people are starting to talk about it. It’s no longer taboo.”