How Trans People Are Making Health Care Better for Us All

Gender Justice LA is leading the largest effort to research transmasculine health in Los Angeles County—and demanding action.

[Photo: A digital illustration of a group of trans masculine people in a moment of joy as they're sitting outside.]
On April 7, coinciding with World Health Day, TransMasculine Health Justice: Los Angeles is releasing a report that's a culmination of a trans-led research and organizing initiative. Courtesy of Gender Justice LA and Rommy Torrico of Rewire News Group

When it comes to public health, “money follows data,” Cydney Brown said.

Brown is one of the organizers of TransMasculine Health Justice: Los Angeles (TMHJ:LA), an initiative born six years ago to call attention to the serious health inequities impacting transmasculine people on Tongva land, also known as Los Angeles.

On April 7, coinciding with World Health Day, the group is releasing a report: a culmination of a trans-led research and organizing initiative, convened by Gender Justice LA and based on the principles of healing justice and collective care. Along with the report, TMHJ:LA’s website offers a hub for transmasculine people and allies to interact with and access data for a huge community of people who are often overlooked when it comes to data around health care and access.

“We had initial support from the City of Los Angeles AIDS Coordinator’s Office and the UCLA Department of Social Welfare,” said Ezak Perez, an organizer for TMHJ:LA. “We held a focus group centered around trans masculine health disparities, and from there, we launched #TMHealthLA in 2016, a visibility campaign and exhibit at the Los Angeles Public Library, made up of photographs of transmasc people speaking about why our health matters. We then launched our survey in 2017, grew our task force over 25 people, and had meetings as part of GJLA (Gender Justice LA) and Transform LA. And now, we’re here, ready to launch our site on April 7.”

The report has been the largest effort to research and improve transmasculine health in Los Angeles County. Transmasculine is used to refer broadly to people designated female at birth who are men, transgender, nonbinary, or otherwise gender nonconforming, or two-spirit people.

We spoke with some of the lead organizers before the report’s launch. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What is the report trying to uncover under the scope of transmasc health?

Sid Jordan: The idea of “trans health” is often equated with hormones and surgery. What I love about this project is how we are reframing trans health in terms of holistic well-being for trans people. There is a beautiful space that opens up when trans health interrupts binary ways of thinking about health and health care, not just in terms of gender.

Ezak Perez: There is this outside pressure to focus public health resources on trans people who are at risk of HIV. The question with transmasculine people is always focused on “What kind of sex people are having? And with who?”—even though risk is all about systems of oppression and state violence, such as incarceration, lack of housing, job insecurities, interpersonal violence, and lack of opportunities.

Cydney Brown: The survey also captures our capacity as trans folks to do research, acknowledge our expertise, uplift participatory research and the empowering process of being a part of creating and guiding data collection and dissemination outside of the observer/subject perspective. When researchers aren’t connected to the communities, there is a lot of violence and harm that can happen.

Héctor Trinidad Plascencia: For me this was a process of being seen and included—we didn’t want to take away from the dangers and violence that trans femmes or trans women face. We want to recognize that there is space for everyone—that everyone is able to get the care and support they need, while owning that our existence and presence is needed! How we deserve to be treated and cared for matters.

Yes! Thank you for saying that, I needed to hear it too. Could you speak to what that means and the significance around organizing around visibility?

EP: The effects of being invisibilized are real and have serious consequences. This idea that transmasculine people do not exist or do not need resources means we are not a part of the conversation. We need to move beyond visibility, but also people need to be able to see us in order to not ignore us. Visibility must be followed by action.

SJ: Visibility is a delicate thing. Making certain things visible creates new forms of invisibility. So, the term transmasculine is useful and invisibilizing. Language fails us; at the same time, it gives life to name an experience and to find each other.

CB: From a public health standpoint, money follows data—visibility is important within that piece and that function. If the community center can’t see you, if you aren’t on the intake form, institutions are not able to give you the care you need based on your gender markers or HIV and STI status, or reproductive health-care needs.

HTP: Data and visibility is purposeful in creating personal, political, and systemic movements. Transformation does not come into fruition until people can see us and see our need or existence, or our rage even, in order to move. Our rage and research are purposeful to save human life.

Where is the campaign going from here?

EP: The idea is to take this critical information and create change. We are developing a set of ideas for actions that can help people to break out of isolation, engage in participatory research, organize, and take action around critical issues impacting our lives. We’re really proud of our collective work and to share what we’ve learned in the process. Transmasculine Health Justice: LA is an initiative with limited funding, and being able to access larger funding opportunities would allow a grassroots organization like Gender Justice LA to do more research in order to better support our community.

SJ: We’ve engaged hundreds of people in the process, shared meals, collaborated with incredible artists like Rommy Torrico [of Rewire News Group] and Paolo Riveros, cried together, and talked through our own health and health care. We will continue to do more of that—and present our findings, work to help fund the historic California Trans Wellness and Equity Fund, and build from lessons learned in this project. There is still so much to work to do, and I’m excited about the visions of this awesome team.

CB: I’d love for us to present this work as a model for trans research—where we are our own researchers, are part of every step of the process, and are in positions to make things happen. I truly believe any marginalized community can really benefit from the care and intention in this process.

How can people plug in? Are there roles for allies as well?

CB: We have a mailing list form on the website, and you can also follow us on social media. There is also a resource page created to help people connect to community, and also a page with trans artists, resources around health care, and databases so people can get gender affirming care, so people can get plugged in and connected. You don’t have to be trans to take action for change.

EP: If you would like to reach out, contact us, pitch an idea or collaboration. Anyone can submit ideas and resources that you would like to see be implemented as we are developing resources to continue and grow this work.