NORTHAMPTON Disparities in the treatment options open to transgendered healthcare patients has inspired Smith College alumna Lisette Lahana to found the New England Gender Conference.
The first-time event is expected to draw a crowd of healthcare professionals to the Northampton campus Feb. 1-3. Renowned professor/author Jennifer Finney-Boylan will deliver the keynote address the only portion of the conference that is open to the public Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m. in Smith's Wright Hall.
Finney-Boylan's memoir "She's not there: A life in two Genders" was the first bestselling work by a transgendered author. She was previously published under the name James Boylan prior to 2001.
"Transgendered people are vastly misunderstood," Finney-Boylan told Reminder Publications. "Most things people think they know are wrong ... a little education can go a long way.
"We tend to think of transgenders as crazy, marginal, sad, when, in fact, there are tens of thousands of us going about the business of our lives and doing pretty well. The health professionals have been doing a much better job recently getting to understand the particular needs [of transgendered people]. So the Gender Conference at Smith, as I understand, is primarily for people in the health profession."
Lahana said the conference is an idea she came up with about a year ago based on a similar bi-annual conference that happens internationally through the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.
She chose Smith College because she started her education in social work there, returning to complete her masters at the college in 1997.
"I wanted to bring New England a taste of what happens in that conference every two years," Lahana explained during a 6 a.m. (PST) phone interview. "It's a powerful symposium because they don't separate, we all get to hear from each other and learn."
Lahana said she hopes that those in attendance understand transgendered specific needs. She said many insurance companies refuse to provide services for gender-related healthcare, mentioning a teenager who was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder his insurance company refused to cover, and Robert Eads, whose story was captured in a 90-minute documentary titled "Southern Comfort."
Eads, born a female who later in life lived as a male, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and turned away for treatment by doctors because he was a transsexual. The film captures the last year of his life. Lahana is hoping the conference will be a grounds to open discussions about treatment methods.
"I'm also hoping to create a network of healthcare providers in New England. While I was a therapist in this community, I received so many calls and inquires from my web site for people seeking healthcare. I had to send some transgendered people to very long distances to find a therapist who is competent. For Spanish speaking [individuals], I often had to tell them there was no one to help them."
Keynote speaker Finney-Boylan is hoping to use her story to give a face to the transgendered community.
"My role in the community is as a scribe and as as jester," she joked. "And story teller. The main goal I have is to try to tell and hear the stories people have to tell. My own story was just one of many different embodiments of being transgender. There's no one way of being transgendered. It refers to many, many different ways of being gender-variant. People in the health profession try to figure out 'how do we help this demographic when the issues can be so different from person to person?'
"Some people in healthcare do not understand or recognize transgenders. More likely [those] seeking help know more about their condition than the clinician.," Finney-Boylan continued. "People [who have] medically changed genders are medically dependent upon medical treatment. [For example] hormones have to come from a doctor, or [if they need] surgery, etcetera. So the road blocks are pretty significant."
Finney-Boylan said she is "coming to tell some stories and try to give a voice to one narrative of the transgendered experience."
Lahan is hoping that many attend the open to the public address by Finney-Boylan.
"I want to open people's eyes to [transgenders] and reduce the stigma," Lahana said.
For more information on the conference visit www.lisettelahana.com/newenglandgenderconference2007.html.
Jennifer Finney-Boylan has been a frequent guest on a number of national television and radio programs, including three visits to the Oprah Winfrey Show. She has also appeared on the Larry King Show, The Today Show and been the subject of a documentary on CBS' 48 Hours. She has also appeared on a wide range of local and syndicated television shows, as well as NPR's Marketplace and the Diane Rehm show.