Breaking down barriers: HIV care for trans women
Breaking down barriers: HIV care for trans women

6 tips to finding a healthcare provider

Often excluded or wrongly identified in HIV research, we want to set the stage for transgender women to break down barriers to their HIV care.

One in seven transgender women live with HIV, so if you’re positive or know someone who is, you’re not alone. Here’s how to seek and maintain HIV treatment.

Addressing the barriers

Although 1.6 million adults in the U.S. identify as transgender or non-binary, this demographic remains underserved by the healthcare system for many reasons. 

As a transgender person, it can be uncomfortable to interact with healthcare professionals as not everyone in healthcare is versed in gender identities. For example, front desk staff may not be prepared to handle a situation in which patients’ legal names and genders differ from their preferred names and gender identities.

Additionally, providers’ assumptions about sexual orientation and gender identity may also arise during appointments. According to the U.S. Transgender Survey Report, one in three trans people living in rural areas experienced discrimination by their healthcare provider. When trans women feel their identity isn’t recognized or their care isn’t medically affirming, they’re less likely to seek HIV treatment services. 

We know many fear the stigma surrounding an HIV diagnosis. As a trans woman, you may also frequently experience other forms of discrimination, such as misogyny, transphobia, and even racism.

Furthermore, legal, and socioeconomic barriers, plus the lack of education among providers, can prevent access to care. 

Finding a trusting provider

As a trans woman, you have unique health concerns and deserve care centered around your needs.

It’s essential to find the right doctor who’s educated and cares about transgender health. Follow these six tips:  

  1. Ask your friends or members of LGBTQIA+ support groups of trans-friendly healthcare providers.
  2. Call the location before scheduling an appointment and ask if they offer trans-inclusive health services – if you’re nervous, remember you’re not required to give your name to inquire about their services.
  3. Bring a trusted family member or friend with you.
  4. Share your preferred name, pronouns, and gender identity before any exams, preferably while you’re fully clothed.
  5. Ask your doctor about their experience working with trans people, puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and gender-affirming surgeries.
  6. Inquire about training your doctor completed in working with the LGBTQIA+ population.

Providing a safe place for HIV care   

Physicians providing inclusive, multi-level care create a supportive environment, but transgender-specific HIV care needs to go a step further.

That means addressing trans women in sex work, understanding how hormone medications affect the body and might react with HIV treatment, and providing safe injection practices for estrogen hormone therapy. 

Transgender women are at 34 times greater risk of acquiring HIV than other adults. Follow these recommendations to reduce the risk of HIV infection: 

If you are a trans woman living with HIV, be open with your provider about your healthcare needs, join a support group for people living with HIV, and look for online spaces to connect with other trans women receiving HIV care. 

Get connected to care! Take Control HIV offers inclusive and confidential resources and will refer you to providers to support your journey.

Additional resources: 

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