Gender-Affirming Care and How to Support Those Receiving It

ESH Blog
Gender-Affirming Care and How to Support Those Receiving It
Two individuals laughing in the sun. The individual on right is laughing and resting her head against the individuals shoulder on the left.
Two individuals laughing in the sun. The individual on right is laughing and resting her head against the individuals shoulder on the left.

As emotional support humans, we may care for a friend or family member who currently receives or is considering gender-affirming care. Whether you are very familiar with this term or are hearing it for the first time, you can show that you care – and we’re here to help show you how. Welcome to our guide on understanding gender-affirming care and how we can provide support to our loved ones in Howard County. In our community, we are fortunate to have excellent medical care that embraces gender-affirming practices. This essential care is now not only protected in Maryland, but also funded by the state for Medicaid customers.

Gender-affirming care can be lifesaving. It often focuses on the physical and medical aspects of health care, but mental health care is equally important to holistic gender-affirming care, and it is still easy for patients or providers to overlook or deprioritize it. Having good mental health care in place while receiving gender-affirming care can make all the difference for the person receiving care and their loved ones.

If you or someone you know needs urgent support that is gender-affirming, please contact the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860. Or call 988 and press Q (which corresponds to the number 3) for LGBTQIA+ affirming counseling for youth.

So, what exactly is gender-affirming healthcare? Who does it benefit, and what does it entail?

“Gender-affirming care, as defined by the World Health Organization, encompasses a range of social, psychological, behavioral, and medical interventions ‘designed to support and affirm an individual’s gender identity’ when it conflicts with the gender they were assigned at birth. The interventions help transgender people align various aspects of their lives – emotional, interpersonal, and biological – with their gender identity.” Source: Association of American Medical Colleges

But here’s the exciting part: gender-affirming care is for everyone, whether transgender or cisgender! Being able to live true to one’s gender identity can be a deeply meaningful experience that sometimes involves support. For example, whether trans or cis, survivors of cancers that affect pituitary glands may require hormonal medication to supplement lost functions. Also, many forms of cosmetic or plastic surgery can be gender-affirming, such as reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy for people who have breast cancer. It’s much more common than you might think!

The key thing to understand is everyone has their own unique desired outcomes, needs, timelines, and goals, meaning that gender-affirming care looks different for everyone. Healthcare professionals work on an individual basis with their patients to a create personalized care plan that best suits an individual’s specific needs.

Are you ready to be an emotional support human for someone receiving or planning on receiving gender-affirming care? Explore the examples below for ways you can support your loved ones.

Finding mental health care

Finding and securing mental health care should be the first stop for everyone who is seeking or receiving gender-affirming care. The guidance and unique support of a mental health professional can make a world of difference for them. As an emotional support human, you can offer to help your friend or loved one find a mental health professional, and it is very important to get their permission to do so. If your loved one is in a position to be able to afford the support of a mental health professional, we cannot suggest it enough.

If talk-based therapy is something that works well for the person receiving gender-affirming care and fits into their goals, a quick search on Psychology Today shows a long list of local providers that all specialize in working with transgender clients. (We’ve set the link to search for the Columbia, Maryland, area, but you can adjust the desired city or zip code.)

For those in Howard County seeking local services for gender-affirming care, PFLAG Howard County offers a list of local resources.

However, having a therapist is only one way of supporting someone’s mental health. Especially if financial constraints are a concern, a therapist may not be the best option. Other online options offer valuable ways to join a safe and supportive community. Trans Maryland’s Facebook group is an excellent online community that brings people together and expands awareness on local legislation and other relevant concerns for trans and nonbinary folks. For something that’s less action-oriented and more social, Trans Maryland also has a weekly support group held on Zoom called T4T!

Go Shopping

Exploring gender identity can feel overwhelming, and the way your loved one dresses and presents themself likely ties into their gender expression, as it likely does for cisgender people. Finding a new way to dress and present oneself can sometimes seem like a big mountain to climb alone, especially for someone who is just beginning to explore their gender. As an emotional support human, you can play a vital role by offering to take your friend or loved one shopping! Everyone prefers doing this differently, so try offering to take them to the store or shop online together and try on clothes together in the comfort of home.

This seemingly simple act is a form of gender-affirming care. It’s not just about the clothes, it’s about helping to create an environment in which they can feel secure and brave to explore a new version of themself, and to feel authentic.

Simply Checking In

On our own, we as emotional support humans are very powerful. A simple “hey, how are things going?” text can lay the foundation of a safe space to talk and express feelings for a person receiving gender-affirming care. If the person has shared with you that they’re seeing a healthcare professional or mental health professional, you can even ask them “how are your visits going?”

Let them know they have someone in their corner every step of the way. Supporting someone doesn’t always require grand gestures; a thoughtful check in can be the most meaningful. The world of gender-affirming care can be vast and confusing, but being an emotional support human isn’t!

Navigating the Complexities

Gender-affirming care can be complex, and while living in Howard County has its advantages, challenges still arise. Threats to this kind of care in other parts of the county can add pressure and make the journey more difficult. No one seeking or receiving gender-affirming care should be without mental health support, whether that comes from a professional or their personal community of friends and loved ones. And as emotional support humans, we are up to the task!

If you’re ready to go beyond these steps and learn more about supporting mental health in the LGBTQIA+ community, our recent blog post, “How to Support Mental Health in the LGBTQIA+ Community,” offers a wealth of resources.

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