Pillow Talk: All Genders Wellness Centre

The health care system is not a perfect fit for everyone. Recognizing that people from all areas of the gender non-conforming spectrum need care, a group of dedicated volunteers established the All Genders Wellness Centre in Vancouver. Run as a low-barrier centre where there is no need for health cards or number, no age limits and no address requirements, the interdisciplinary team offers respectful and dignified holistic health care including: primary and preventative health care, pelvic exams, chest exams, pre- and post-op support, hormone support, and mental health support.

Other services offered include:

  • free hormone injection equipment and education about safe hormone injection techniques
  • education, advocacy and referrals education about hormones, gender confirmation surgeries, sexual health, harm reduction, advocacy letters, surgical referrals
  • STI/HIV testing
  • one-on-one support from a community peer support worker
  • Massage therapy especially geared towards people who bind their chest and/or have had chest surgeries.

Sexlife Canada spoke with Fin Gareau of the Centre to learn more about what is offered and what the centre brings to the community.

SLC: How did the Centre come about?
FG: It all started with the doctor and I and a harm reduction educator from YouthCO who are also members of the gender variant community. We were working together on another project at the time back in May, and we started talking about putting together a volunteer clinic for trans and gender non-conforming people. The harm reduction educator went out of their way to see if the non-profit organization they were working for (YouthCO) would be into supporting our clinic idea by providing us with a free space to practice in.
    YouthCo agreed to provide us with the space for free, which was perfect because they have an exam table and private office spaces for us to practice in. Originally it was going to be just the doctor and myself as an RN, but with the educator on board, we thought wouldn’t it be great if we could put together a more interdisciplinary team of practitioners. So we asked a one-to-one peer support worker and a Registered Massage Therapist who are also members of the gender diverse community to donate their time to join our team, which they eagerly did.
   Many others have approached us interested in being involved. And we also have an outreach nurse attend to do HIV/STI testing, and another community member put together a website for us for free.
   On the website, there is information on the intention behind this clinic, pictures and small bios of each practitioner, and a calendar stating the date of each clinic and which practitioners will be practicing at each clinic. Because this is all volunteer, some practitioners can’t be at every clinic, so it is important to check out the site to be sure the care you need will be provided on that day.
    There is also a feedback page where community members can get in touch with us to let us know about their experience at the center, give us feedback and ideas for improvement.

SLC: What challenges did you face in establishing the centre?
FG: The challenges have been in determining how this is all going to work without an already established organization backing us up. We are truly starting from scratch and have zero funding, no one is being paid. Asking people to volunteer their time is a lot to ask as well but people are very eager to volunteer so far.
    Some other challenges involved familiarizing ourselves with the legalities and logistics of putting together an interdisciplinary team that includes both registered and unregistered health professionals.

SLC: Who have you received support from?
FG: We are being supported from YouthCO by providing us with the free use of their office space to run the clinic out of. This is very generous of them and they seem very excited about the project.
    We have also received so much support from the gender non-conforming community, people are just so thankful and excited this is happening. We really need this!

SLC: What are some of the reasons trans and gender non-conforming people have expressed to you and your team about why they are not comfortable in the medical system?
FG: Gender diverse people have often experienced stigmatizing attitudes and discrimination by health care professionals when they are in a vulnerable situation, like being sick or injured for example. Some have been refused care flat-out, while others are not believed about their illness or are disempowered or laughed at by health care professionals who are not respectful or even acknowledging the person’s identity.
    Health care providers often make generalized assumptions about their clients. For example, if they identify as trans, then they must want to have a complete sex change (or sex reassignment) when all they may want is some hormones and are not interested in surgery at all. There are assumptions that patients must have some sort of mental health issue to want to change their sex or gender presentation, or that they likely have a substance use issue. These assumptions become the focus of the visit for the practitioner’s interest and curiosity instead of the patient’s health needs.
    The lack of knowledge regarding the issues around gender diversity, not only transsexuality, is one of the most significant issues people face when visiting health care professionals. Medical and nursing school faculties must take the responsibility and accountability of educating future health care professionals about theory around gender in our society and the issues people face as they access health care.
    People who do want to transition must be involved in the medical community in order to get their hormones and surgeries. Sometimes people are reluctant to approach their health care provider for treatment of illnesses unrelated to their transition for fear of the practitioner judging them as not ready to transition yet and refusing their hormone treatment or any help in getting them surgery.

SLC: How has the response been from the community? Are many people using the service?
FG: The response has been very positive, and so far many people have attended the clinic. The practitioners were busy for the entire 4 hours of operation. People are free to bring a friend or partner with them to visits and that helps people feel more at ease. The seating is very comfortable and there is a snack table, all to help people feel more comfortable and welcome.

SLC: What are the future plans for the centre? Possibly more hours?
FG: We hope to eventually find funding, we hope we can do this while remaining independent and community driven. Once we find funding, we can then pay practitioners and increase our hours. As it is now, we only open the clinic once a month because those involved are donating their time and Saturdays to this clinic and it is too overwhelming to have the clinic more than once a month. Ideally, we would like to have the clinic once a week or more.

The All Genders Wellness Centres runs out of YouthCo (568 Seymour Street, Vancouver). The next Clinic will be Saturday August 9 from 12:00pm–4:00pm.