Why would medical school professors apologize for referring to a patient’s biological sex? Because, Lauren explains, in the context of her medical school “acknowledging biological sex can be considered transphobic.”
When sex is acknowledged by her instructors, it’s sometimes portrayed as a social construct, not a biological reality, she says. In a lecture on transgender health, an instructor declared: “Biological sex, sexual orientation, and gender are all constructs. These are all constructs that we have created.”
In other words, some of the country’s top medical students are being taught that humans are not, like other mammals, a species comprising two sexes. The notion of sex, they are learning, is just a man-made creation.
The idea that sex is a social construct may be interesting debate fodder in an anthropology class. But in medicine, the material reality of sex really matters, in part because the refusal to acknowledge sex can have devastating effects on patient outcomes.
In 2019, the New England Journal of Medicine reported the case of a 32-year-old transgender man who went to an ER complaining of abdominal pain. While the patient disclosed he was transgender, his medical records did not. He was simply a man. The triage nurse determined that the patient, who was obese, was in pain because he’d stopped taking a medication meant to relieve hypertension. This was no emergency, she decided. She was wrong: The patient was, in fact, pregnant and in labor. By the time hospital staff realized that, it was too late. The baby was dead. And the patient, despite his own shock at being pregnant, was shattered.
Professors Running Scared of Students
To Dana Beyer, a trans activist in Maryland who is also a retired surgeon, such stories illustrate how vital it is that sex, not just gender identity — how someone perceives their gender — is taken into consideration in medicine. “The practice of medicine is based in scientific reality, which includes sex, but not gender,” Beyer says. “The more honest a patient is with their physician, the better the odds for a positive outcome.”
The denial of sex doesn’t help anyone, perhaps least of all transgender patients who require special treatment. But, Lauren says, instructors who discuss sex risk complaints from their students — which is why, she thinks, many don’t. “I think there’s a small percentage of instructors who are true believers. But most of them are probably just scared of their students,” she says.
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