Tag: doctor

A Doctor, a Soldier, and a Transgender Man: Picture Book Tells Story of Dr. James Barry

A Doctor, a Soldier, and a Transgender Man: Picture Book

A picture book biography offers an inspiring portrait of Dr. James Barry, a 19th-century British surgeon and soldier who was assigned female at birth but lived his life as a man.

Were I Not a Girl - Lisa Robinson

Were I Not a Girl, by Lisa Robinson, illustrated by Lauren Simkin Berke (Schwartz & Wade Books), first asks us to “Imagine living at a time when you couldn’t be the person you felt you were inside.” James Barry, we learn, “refused to let that happen.”

Barry was born in Ireland around 1789, and given a girl’s name. Girls at the time were not sent to school and could not own property or hold most jobs. “Were I not a girl, I would be a soldier,” Barry wrote. After Barry’s father abandoned the family, Barry (still living as a young woman) and his mother fled to London, but Barry was too uneducated to find work as a governess. He was eventually was taught by a friend of the family, and developed the desire to become a doctor.

Barry then “took charge,” shedding women’s clothing, cutting his hair, taking the name “James Barry,” and emerging as a man. After becoming a doctor and “quite a dandy,” he enrolled in the army and travelled the world, along the way delivering babies, fighting a duel, falling in love, and demanding proper care for people in prisons and hospitals. Eventually, he rose to be Inspector General of Hospitals in the army. His birth sex was found out when he died in his 70s.

We don’t know exactly how old he was when he died, however. That’s just one of many unanswered questions about Barry’s life, Robinson notes. As with much of history, sometimes “answers remain hidden.” What is clear, however, is that “James was living his truth.”

An afterward offers more details about Barry’s life as well as a discussion of what it means to be transgender. Robinson gives two other examples of early modern people who were assigned female at birth, lived as men to serve in the army, but then returned to living as women. Barry, in contrast, “strived to maintain that identity throughout his life,” making it likely that he was what we would now call transgender. Robinson uses female pronouns for Barry in the part of the book discussing his childhood, but switches to male ones once he transitions.

Berke’s illustrations capture muted 19th-century tones, brightened by the red of Barry’s army uniform. This project was “particularly meaningful,” they say in an Illustrator’s Note, since they identify as nonbinary, and the book “highlights that transgender people have always existed and were able to figure out how to succeed on their own terms.”

One fact seems wrong: In the afterward, Robinson says that in 1826, Barry performed “the first documented caesarean in which both the mother and the baby survived”—yet there was one (not by Barry) in 1794; I think the best we can say is that Barry might have done the first successful, documented one by a European surgeon in the British Empire (but I’m not enough of an expert to know if even that is correct).

That small point aside, I love this story, which blends a knowledge of the limits of history with a respectful desire to try and reflect Barry’s life as he saw it. Contrast this with Rough, Tough Charley, the 2007 book by Verla Kay about 19th-century stagecoach driver Charley Parkhurst, which calls Parkhurst “a woman in disguise” upon the deathbed reveal of his birth sex and uses female pronouns for him on the last page. Were I Not a Girl is much the better book for an LGBTQ-inclusive collection. Kudos, too, to the publisher, Schwartz & Wade (an imprint of Penguin Random House) for noting in its promotional blurb that Barry “would live a rich full life.” That’s a model transgender children today deeply deserve (and one that can benefit their cisgender peers as well).

Were I Not a Girl is in fact the second picture book published in 2020 about a historical figure whom we would today call a transgender man: The Fighting Infantryman, by Rob Sanders, tells the story of Albert D. J. Cashier, who fought in the U.S. Civil War. (Full review.) Let’s hope that these two titles, good as they are, aren’t the last.


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Is there a doctor … – Lesbian.com

Is there a doctor … – Lesbian.com

By Lee Lynch
Special to Lesbian.com

It’s that time again. I need to find a healthcare provider.

I live in a rural community where there is a large turnover of medical professionals and a constant shortage of qualified staff. The health organization that provides these services seems to have difficulty attracting talent. It’s common knowledge in the communities it covers that it’s a tough employer to work with.

Which isn’t to say there are not entirely competent professionals devoted to their patients and performing at least as well as their big city peers. I’m the one who’s chosen to live where the question, “Is there a doctor in the house?” may well go unanswered.

My primary provider is pursuing the next step in her career—a step at a deservedly higher altitude. She’s a Physician Assistant, but I couldn’t trust someone with a full medical degree more. She’s perfectly straight, yet never blanched when the issue of my queerness came up. Although she was not taking new patients at the time, she graciously made room for my sweetheart in her practice. How will we ever replace her?

Of course, I asked the same thing when my former doctor left. We all loved her. Once, I had to go into her office and the New York Times was up on her computer screen. Bonding moment! Another time, I answered my phone and it was a call from a liberal election phone tree. I recognized my doctor’s voice and she admitted to thinking she probably didn’t need to give me her spiel. Double bonding! Then she was gone.

This year, for the first time, I chose a Medicare Advantage Plan with the aforementioned difficult local health organization. The lure was partial coverage for dental, acupuncture, and vision, bless their hearts. Now I’m limited to the medical providers who are left on their roster after mine departed. Woe is me.

One of my major concerns is finding a gay-friendly person, preferably female. I’ve always taken my chances, but after the phone tree doctor left, I tried Dr. X. Oh my gosh, what a mistake that was both for me and, I later found out, for all her patients and the staff. It’s not difficult to intimidate me and Dr. X was a master at it. She was medical s&m and there I was, a homosexual beneath contempt—and this in the twenty-first century! I mean, you believe what your doctor says, you trust her, you follow her instructions. But Dr. X was just plain mean. She was expert at identifying vulnerabilities and using verbal ice picks to stab them.

So, I’m cautious now. I’m on tip toes. I’ll travel hours to see someone with whom I’ll be compatible.

My retreating PA had some suggestions, but not one of them is taking new patients in this time of COVID19 and rural staff shortages. I’m grateful she was able to rule out a few pairings she knew would be lethal, to either me or to the doc.

Friends recommended a good woman MD, but she’s employed by the Health District and thus, not covered by my plan. Two other recommendations looked excellent, but are not taking new patients.

Facebook can be helpful once in a while. I posted to a local lgbtq and straight page whose members were generous with suggestions. There was a well-recommended P.A., but the contacts, responding to my search for a female provider, expressed uncertainty that the recommended individual was identifying as female.

Meanwhile, our delightful new lesbian neighbors have also been looking for healthcare, and one actually scheduled an appointment with a woman MD in town, then cancelled when the plague hit, so no input there yet.

Do non-gays have this much trouble finding care? And how do other lesbians approach this headache? Should I simply call the clinics and ask if they employ a professional who is gay friendly, wait for the pregnant pause and assurance that everyone is treated equally, and the inevitable willy-nilly listing of doctors who can squeeze us in?

There’s a neat website, out2enroll.org , which has a search engine for gay-friendly doctors. I plugged in my zip code. The response: “No providers match your search. Try removing some search criteria.” Maybe it works in San Francisco, a ten-hour drive from here in good weather.

And then there’s https://www.outcarehealth.org/outlist/. Same response. HRC has a list, but it only includes hospitals for my state—

Our medical center is not listed. I actually noticed, when I signed up for the Advantage Plan, that sexual orientation is not included in its Equal Employment statement.

What’s a dyke to do? What I’ve always done. Make an appointment with an unknown quantity and hope for an open-minded practitioner who thinks gay patients are as valuable and deserving of respect as heterosexuals. She’s out there, it’s just a matter of enduring a Dr. X or two until I find her.

Copyright Lee Lynch May 2020