People with gender identity issues have been making more appointments at Hong Kong’s public hospitals, something doctors say could be a sign that more are prepared to come forward for help.
The group includes those who are intersex, born with indistinct or ambiguous genitals, or displaying both male and female traits, making it incorrect to identify them as male or female, as well as transsexuals who do not identify with their biological sex at birth and seek gender realignment with medical help, including hormone treatment and surgery.
People with these conditions, also referred to as gender dysphoria, made 960 appointments at public hospitals last year, up from 630 visits over a 12-month period from 2015 to 2016.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
The Hospital Authority, which runs the city’s government-funded hospitals, including the Gender Identity Clinic at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin, only provided the Post the number of appointments, saying it did not keep records of the number of patients.
But medical experts said the rise in appointments could indicate that more patients were seeking help, and attributed it to greater awareness and social acceptance of the community in recent years, and the availability of information on the internet.
They also felt Hong Kong’s public health system could do more to serve this group better.
Veteran psychiatrist Dr Gregory Mak Lai-lok was working at the Prince of Wales Hospital in 2008 when he and some colleagues began treating gender dysphoria patients on their own.
Their work led to the Gender Identity Clinic being set up there in 2016 as a one-stop centre for patients who often needed to see specialists from different departments, including psychiatry and endocrinology.
Mak, who left the hospital in 2013 for private practice, said the manpower dedicated to the clinic has been limited because of social perceptions about this group of patients.
“Based on misunderstanding, many people think there is no need to help them,” he said, adding that, in fact, these patients often need to spend more time with their doctors than patients with other conditions.
He suggested having more specialised training for doctors, nurses and social workers who deal with these patients.
Psychiatrist Gordon Wong Chun-bun, also in private practice, said he has been seeing more young people with gender dysphoria issues.
Aside from more information being available online, he has noticed more acceptance among secondary school students of those with gender-related conditions, especially those in the transgender community.
The 2018 Hong Kong movie Tracey, about a married man and father who transitions from male to female, sparked public interest and helped to raise awareness of a group that is sidelined even within the LGBT community. However, it was criticised by the trans community for being stereotypical in its portrayal, and for its failure to use a trans actor.
Chinese University assistant professor Suen Yiu-tung, who specialises in gender studies, said research around the world has shown that younger people are more open to the idea of gender identity being a fluid concept.
In the past, some hesitated to seek medical help believing that it would not make much difference because of society’s attitudes.
“But the chances of their being recognised in society has improved a lot since,” he said.
Yanki Lam Kai-yan, who transitioned from male to female, said the process took her 10 years because she had to prepare the people around her.
Now in her 30s, she said that she has noticed a shift towards a more positive attitude among others.
But transgender woman Mimi Wong Yan-kam, an advocate for transgender rights, was less certain, saying only those who have interacted with a transgender individual are more accepting.
Wong, the psychiatrist, said one way to improve public health services for this group was to stop treating and referring to their condition as a disorder.
Preferring the term gender dysphoria, he said: “It is about gender recognition.”
Meanwhile, the organiser of Hong Kong’s Pride parade, planned for November 14, said the event will move online if it fails to obtain a non-objection letter from the police. It said it had yet to receive approval despite filing an application in March.
This article Patients with gender identity issues ‘more willing to seek help at Hong Kong public hospitals’ first appeared on South China Morning Post