GEAR leaders act as “‘guinea pigs’ for new program at Nelson-Tebedo that provides hormone therapy
Before endorsing a clinic that provides hormone therapy for transgender people, Maeve O’Connor wanted to do some quality control.
O’Connor, a steering committee member for Gender Education, Advocacy and Resources, or GEAR, said she was also one of the first patients at the group’s new clinic.
Although O’Connor had already been taking hormones for about five years, she switched medical providers to Dr. Jaime Vasquez and had her bloodwork done at the Nelson-Tebedo Health Resource Center.
Dr. Vasquez staffs the clinic as a volunteer, and GEAR is part of the Resource Center of Dallas, which operates Nelson-Tebedo.
“One of the things I wanted to do was be a guinea pig,” O’Connor said while working the front desk at the clinic recently. “I went through the process, and a couple of other steering committee members went through the process. We saw that it was good and decided to roll with it.”
GEAR leaders were well aware of the need for better access to health care, and particularly hormone therapy, in the transgender community. But they didn’t quite anticipate the response they’ve gotten.
Since its inception, the clinic has been booked solid, with an average of about eight patients coming in between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on the third Monday of each month.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought it would take off as well as it has,” O’Connor said. “I was expecting maybe one or two people.”
Cece Cox, associate executive director for the Resource Center, said the clinic is one of only a handful of its kind the country. While patients must purchase the prescribed hormones, there is no charge for doctor’s visits, and bloodwork is reasonably priced.
“It’s not free, but it’s as low as you’re going to find anywhere, and it’s certainly as low as we can get it,” Cox said. “In some ways it’s astonishing that we have this program. It’s very cutting edge. There aren’t many community centers that have it.”
When people decide to transition, they frequently lose their jobs and health insurance, Cox said. On top of that, they’re faced with the cost of hormone therapy, which is one of the first steps in transitioning and can be continued indefinitely regardless of whether patients plan to undergo sexual reassignment surgery.
“We don’t want folks having any harder of a time than they’re having already,” Cox said. “They give up a lot to become who they are, so for us to be able to provide any support for people going through that is a real privilege.”
Dr. Vasquez said the high cost of hormone therapy often results in transgender people purchasing the drugs from Canada or Mexico over the Internet. But this can be dangerous because without proper medical supervision, the potential side effects of hormones include blood clots, heart attacks, strokes and cancer.
On the other hand, when they’re properly administered, the benefits of hormones can be enormous, Vasquez added.
“Once you get them on the hormones that their bodies have needed for all those years, it just changes their lives totally around,” he said.
For more information on the clinic, call the Health Resource Center at 214-528-2336. For more information on GEAR, which also hosts monthly mixers and other events, call 214-528-0144.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 1, 2008