HEALTH & FITNESS

Home HEALTH & FITNESS

About Events: Nourishing Our Queer Bodies

LHI Houston The Montrose Center Nourishing Our Queer Bodies Queer Legacy Community Health

About columnist, Madyson Crawford, visits Nourishing Our Queer Bodies, an event hosted monthly at the Montrose Center, presented by LHI Houston in partnership with Legacy Community Health.

“What medicine do you bring? What medicine do you seek?”

Nourishing Our Queer Bodies is hosted every third Tuesday of the month in room 111 at the Montrose Center, located at 401 Branard St. in Montrose. In a small room, chairs were set up in a semi-circle and attendees were offered both chairs and yoga mats on which to sit and get comfortable. Food is served — this week it was pizza and Pepsi — and as folks trickled in, they were able to grab a plate and seat. In the front, Yucca stands behind a table filled with body and sex-ed coloring pages, crayons, zines on gender and sexuality, and swag from the Lesbian Health Initiative (LHI) of Houston that folks could take with them.

lhi-e1535484380906 About Events: Nourishing Our Queer Bodies
Nourishing Our Queer Bodies is presented by LHI Houston.

Like at most facilitations, Yucca asked us to introduce ourselves: name, pronouns, what brought us there, and what we hoped to talk about in the future.

My name is Madyson. My pronouns are she/her. I came because I needed to be in a space with queer folks. I am building a new community in my hometown, and spaces such as these provide access to said community. I’m open to anything. I kinda came in blind so I’m not sure what we are gonna discuss. Just excited to be here.

Our first activity asked us to define what ‘nourish’ meant to us. In small groups we brainstormed words and phrases. We then put together a puzzle definition. Every group came to similar conclusions: to nourish meant something along the lines of feeding/caring/meeting the needs for the self. My group in particular related to a phrase that was common on social media: We are like plants. We all need sunlight and water. Nourishing was the radical act of not just surviving, but setting ourselves up to thrive. And for queer and trans bodies/people, this can be/is difficult to do. In fact, we all expressed that systems of oppression, self doubt/fear, and violence stood in the way of us nourishing ourselves.

Also Capitalism.

Yucca facilitated the event with a series of questions that forced us to reflect on whether or not we nourished ourselves and what we considered to be our acts of nourishment. For me, nourishment was reading books — even if it took me months — and sharing space with my little sisters. For others, it was physical intimacy, writing, talking to plants, talking to the self, and so forth. Nourishment varied for all.

MontroseDinerMontrose-Center About Events: Nourishing Our Queer Bodies
Nourishing Our Queer Bodies is hosted at the Montrose Center, 401 Branard St.

Talks of nourishment, however, would be incomplete without a real discussion about healthcare and access. Folks critiqued the treatment of “fat” bodies by doctors and physicians, creating a culture of poor care and neglect. Those who identified as gender nonbinary, genderqueer, and trans shared feelings of poor care because the healthcare system is not designed to care for those not in cisgender bodies. In addition, heteronormativity within healthcare and from physicians created a culture of discomfort for queer folks. Many of us not only wanted access to affordable/free healthcare, we also wanted access to respectful and responsible health. Healthcare that recognized and respected our personhood. Without that, nourishment for self would always fall short.

As we closed the event, Yucca did something I found to be the most beautiful part of the event. She played a podcast (insert title here) in which folks and (insert lyrics here). At the end of the event, we closed with the questions: What medicine do you bring? What medicine do you seek? I am reminded of the home remedies my grandmother created when I was sick. Rubbing my back and spoon-feeding me homemade chicken soup and garlic tea. Asking me to recite Christian incantations with her “Jesus by your stripes/strikes (I was never quite sure which it was) I’m healed”. This medicine is one that I, as an adult, have adopted and use to nourish and care for my sick body. What we need to nourish ourselves, I learned, is already within us. For those of us with close relationships with our ancestors and elders, it has been passed down for generations. Some attendees shared their understandings of that.

Medicine, in this context, was not rooted in a reactionary concoction meant to cure disease and illness. Rather, this medicine spoke to the holistic care we were seeking and were able to share with others. We began to share things such as laughter, open ears, open hearts, and vulnerability as medicine we could bring to the table. Medicine we could provide for our communities and ourselves. Afterwards we shared the desire to be wrong and loud, desires to be cared for, desires to be vulnerable with others as the medicine we were seeking.

57a9a2d6-4f2c-4db4-b36a-0542f1328b1d About Events: Nourishing Our Queer Bodies
LHI partners with Legacy Community Health for Nourishing Our Queer Bodies.

I left the facilitation feeling new and light. I had been in a room with eight other people who were interested in caring for ourselves and our bodies in radical ways. What did nourishment mean? How did we nourish ourselves? What stopped us from being able to nourish ourselves? Although so much of this was rooted in the self, Yucca managed to create a space where community was central. It was not just us who needed nourishment and it was not just us who provided nourishment. For many of us in the facilitation, we found nourishment in the people and spaces around us.

Nourishing Our Queer Bodies is a space that offers a radical reflection on the movement of health and self care, something folks have criticized as being capitalized on by companies and organizations. Specifically this speaks about those companies that only offers care for certain bodies that exist within the bounds of desirability and “normality” as well as rooted in an exchange and monetary values. Those looking for honest and open conversations of health and care may find this space comforting and challenging. I recommend queer folks looking for a community of care and support to attend these events when able. I left lighter and excited and full of reflections. I returned home to journal and light my incense and nourish myself, affirmed in decisions I had made that felt right for me. Like my group said before, we are just plants in need of sunlight and water.


For more information on the September meet-up of Nourishing Our Queer Bodies, you can visit the event page on Facebook here.

Follow LHI Houston

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Follow The Montrose Center

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Follow Legacy Community Health

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Meet the Doctor Changing Trans Lives

Dr. Angela Sturm is helping trans people affirm their gender identities through facial plastic surgery

(HOUSTON) — For many people, when they hear about a person transitioning, they immediately recall as much information about gender-affirming surgery to the genitals as they know. For almost as many, that’s not much information. However, what most cisgender people fail to understand is that there’s more to gender-affirming surgery than what is often referred to as “bottom” (genital) surgery. As a matter of fact, NBC News reported than in 2016, less than 0.5% of gender-affirming surgeries actually were performed on the genitals. This news isn’t quite revelatory, as the National Transgender Discrimination Survey reports that 33% of trans people have not medically transitioned, with 14% of trans women and 72% of trans men saying that they most likely will not ever transition fully. But with plastic surgery procedures to the face and chest, trans people are able to become more comfortable in their own skin.

LADD7089_high_res-218x300 Meet the Doctor Changing Trans LivesThat’s where Dr. Angela Sturm comes in. Dr. Sturm (MD, FACS) is a double board certified female facial plastic surgeon. According to her website, she specializes in rhinoplasty, eyelid surgery, facial feminization surgery, and facelifts. Dr. Sturm attended medical school and her residency at Baylor College of Medicine, and has since gone on to join Facial Plastic Surgery Associates here in Houston. She’s been in practice for about six years, and has been doing facial feminization for five of those.

While Dr. Sturm’s patients aren’t all trans, many are. She sat down with About Magazine to discuss her role in the gender-affirming process and her advocacy as an ally to the LGBTQIA community.

About Magazine: Tell us a little bit about what your specialties are.

Dr. Angela Sturm: So, I do facial plastic surgery. I end up doing a lot more feminization than I do masculinization.

An interesting point I hear a lot is that there’s more of an emphasis on feminine trans issues than there is on masculine trans issues. Can you tell me a bit more about what you see when trans men come to see you?

A lot of times the face shape changes a little bit because the facial fat changes. And then the muscles are a little bit bigger. So, where you may have had an oval-shaped face, it may be a little more square now. So, maybe [the shape] is there, but it’s not quite where they want it. Sometimes we’ll put implants on the jawlines to make them a little stronger. I’ve had people who had jawlines that are good, but have the genetic pooch of fat under the chin. You know? So, it’s kind of, “Well, [the jawline] is there, but I’d like to be able to see it better.” And then, of course, there’s the Adam’s apple. Not all men have Adam’s apple. So, we can do a little bit of liposuction right there and contour the area so that we can see a hint of it. We can also do an implant there, but for the most part, you don’t really need to.

In your patient demographic, are you handling cases for patients that are in their younger years? Or are they more middle-age to later in life? Or is it a mix?

It’s kind of a mix. Not as many younger people. A lot of times they’re just into their transition. And hopefully, if they’re transitioning young enough, they may not need me at all. And it would be amazing if we could get to that place where people were able to get on blockers and hormones at an appropriate time to where they make the transition all on their own. It’s more mid-to-late-twenties all the way up to a patient I had in her seventies. She had lived her life. She was in the military. She raised her kids and grandkids. And then when everyone was raised, she was like, “You know what? It’s my turn.” I thought that was awesome.

DSC_8839-3512605090-O-300x200 Meet the Doctor Changing Trans LivesAnd do you have any experience doing reconstructive surgery on the genitals? 

I do not, because my specialities are head and neck. But I can do referrals. But in Houston, it’s kind of difficult, because there aren’t a lot of physicians doing that. Which is odd, because we have the largest medical center in the world. There are people in Texas doing it who are doing a really good job. But that’s one of my issues with the entire thing. I feel like it’s really unfair that people have to travel outside of the fourth largest city with the largest medical center. It’s ridiculous. San Francisco has more surgeons, as does California in general because they’re more progressive. Plus, everything is covered under their insurance. They can get facial surgery; they can get genital surgery. There are more people doing it there, because there are more people able to afford it. If you want to do it and have the money, you’re more empowered to go out and do it. Surgeons that are doing it are just kind of spread out everywhere, as well as the people who are seeking out the training. And that’s an issue we’re working on, too: getting more surgeons trained in the programs so that more surgeons come out that are able to do it.

On the topic of the cost, a lot of the issue is that it costs so much money to have these surgeries performed. Which can be a hindrance – especially to younger people coming out of college and getting on their feet. Do you think a reform in health insurance could help people be able to afford to be who they are?

I mean, I think we were definitely going in that direction. But I think there’s a lot of uncertainty right now about the direction healthcare is going in.

(Laughs) To say the least.

(Laughs) Yeah, to say the least. But I think healthcare was going in a really good direction, and hopefully it will continue to go in that direction. I know in Texas it’s always slower. But there are more and more states that are getting things covered. And I think as we’re able to show more science and say, “We’re doing these studies. And this is what we’re seeing …” because there’s a ton of research being done now that wasn’t done before that says certain things are medically necessary, and they can’t be denied if they’re medically necessary. We’re getting there. It’s just a matter of collecting all the data and, like you said, fighting the insurance.

Science is constantly evolving, but we’re sitting in an administration that doesn’t seem to value science. 

That’s the truth.

It’s clear that you’re an advocate for the trans community. So, what brought you to want to do this with your career?

It all started with talking to people when I was coming out of training about what’s going on in our city and in our country. And it was just being here. I trained here, too, in the largest medical center in the world. And I realized that there was just this huge need, and that it’s such an underserved community right next door that we’re not taking care of. It’s ridiculous to me that trans people are having to travel and go over all these hurdles. So, it was looking at what I do and what the needs are. So, I went and got some extra training in doing the facial feminization and being able to do it to a high level and provide that care, because that’s what everyone deserves. The whole thing was crazy to me that this was a need here in our backyard, if you will. It also kind of spoke to the feminist part of me that was like, “Yeah! Don’t tell me what to do because of my gender! Be yourself. I’m fighting this fight for you, too.”

“Don’t feel like you have to get stuck in one box and be comfortable with it, because there aren’t any boxes!”

There’s the term passing privilege in the trans community, which is something someone has when they’re able to pass as cisgender on the streets when they’re, in fact, trans. And I think that’s what makes the line of work you do so important, because it affords people the opportunity to feel more comfortable in their skin, even if they can’t put forth the cost of a full transition.

To that point, you know it’s letting them feel comfortable, but it’s also their safety. Because the number of trans people that have been assaulted for simply walking down the street is outrageous. It’s that ability to walk out of your house and not worry as much – I don’t know that you’re ever not going to worry. It’s a horrible place to be when you don’t know what’s going to happen when you leave your house.

Exactly. And you know, in the queer community, we’ve gotten to a point where gay and bisexual, cisgender men and women have the luxury of not facing that fear quite as much, but the trans community hasn’t gotten to that point yet. And ignorance really perpetuates itself to the point where people end up losing their lives. Does it give you a little peace of mind to know that you’re making a difference this way?

That’s part of what makes it rewarding. I love what I do and helping them gain confidence and feel good in their skin. But knowing that it’s affecting their life that intimately, it’s an honor for me to be a part of that process.

I know that this isn’t your speciality, but there are a lot of misconceptions about what gender-affirming genital surgeries look like. Do you know enough about it to give a brief description to maybe clear up some of those fallacies? 

Probably very generally. (Laughs). Typically it’s much easier to go from male-to-female than it is female-to-male. So, male-to-female involves taking out a large portion of the penis, but you keep a part of the … well, the head, basically, and make that into the clitoris. And then you’re using the testicle skin to make the labia. It depends on the surgeon and how they perform it and what skin they’ll use to make the lining of the vagina. Some people use a skin graft. Some may have enough skin in that area to be able to invert it. It depends on the person’s anatomy, and also the surgeon and what their preferences are. Then they reroute the urethra, so you’re able to have sensation and you’re able to go to the bathroom. There’s a little bit of maintenance, because you have to keep the vagina open. So what a lot of people don’t realize is that you have to dilate it with time. And as time passes, you don’t have to do it as much. But there’s quite a bit of homework on the patient’s end. Things can happen, where you have to go back to surgery. And sometimes it’s more than a one-stage process in order to get things to look and function the way you want.

With the opposite, is the penis able to become as functional as the vagina? 

Kind of. It all sort of depends on the doctor, how they’re doing it, and what the patient’s desires are because there is a wide variety of what you can do with it. There’s a surgery called a metoidioplasty, which basically just allows you to be able to stand and go to the bathroom. So, basically, you’re just lengthening the urethra and keeping what you had, but releasing things so you’re able to do that. Then you have the actual phalloplasty, which is where you are creating the penis. So, what they’ll do is actually take tissue from somewhere else – either the leg or the arm – and kind of create it. It’s a very complex surgery. And then you have to hook up all the “plumbing” and all that stuff. So, the people who do that usually have very extensive training in urology and plastic surgery, or they have a team that has that training. A lot goes into it. So, as far as function, there are ways you can make it sort of semi-erect so that you can use it and so that it’s not erect all the time. Or you can have a pump put in it, and some people do it that way. Because it’s so complicated, you make a big decision. Some people will do the metoidioplasty, but it’s not nearly as involved as the entire phalloplasty.

Tell me a bit about your practice.

I am a part of a private practice with another physician, Dr. Russell Kridel. I have clinical appointments at UT Houston and UTMB, so I get to teach and have a foot in academics. But I have the private practice, so I really get to have control over who my staff are and how educated they are on all these things.

When you teach, what are you teaching?

I touch on all of facial plastics, but I do end up spending a fair amount of my time talking about trans and gender-affirming surgeries, because they’re not getting it from other places usually.

With the private practice, is it important for you to have a staff that understands the importance of what you’re doing with the trans community?

Absolutely. It’s always important that your staff understands your patients and the patient experience. But here’s it’s really important.

Do you think it’s important to build a strong doctor-patient relationship? 

I mean, I think so. The feedback I get from my patients is positive.

Based on your Vitals.com reviews, people really seem to like you.

I love people and getting to know them. I love to see them at different points in their lives. I have the luxury within medicine to have a practice where I can spend the time to get to know somebody and where they’re coming from. And I love it especially because I’ll get messages from my patients who live in other places who are like, “I’m getting my bottom surgery today!” They let me know where they’re at and how they’re doing. It’s a very cool thing to be a part of all of that. I’d really miss out if I didn’t get to know them so well. You get to get excited with people, and that’s one of the things I love about plastic surgery. I get to be a part of that!

Last question: if you could say something to trans people about medical treatment and surgery, what advice would you give them to help them decide what’s best for them?

These are things that we think about very deeply. And there are a lot of great people, especially in the city, therapists and social workers and such, that are available to talk about all the facets of it. It’s this great self-discovery process, and being able to have someone to talk to is very important. And many of those people who can help are trans themselves. So they’re able to see it differently than you or I can. Gender is three different spectrums. It’s gender identity, gender expression, and biological sex. So, figuring out where you are on those is a big deal. Don’t feel like you have to get stuck in one box and be comfortable with it, because there aren’t any boxes! Being able to figure that out and be comfortable with it is most important. It’s frustrating and amazing trying to find yourself, but you want to be able to have those thoughts and think it through and talk with someone before you have surgery, because it’s a big deal. And with talking to someone, you can sit down and say, “Okay, here’s the plan …”


You can learn more about the amazing Dr. Angela Sturm on her website.

No Guns Allowed! Open Carry Law In Texas!

Open Carry Law LGBT

HOUSTON – In just a few days Texas will be an open carry state. What does that mean for Montrose? What does that change about being at the club?

On Jan. 1; under the new law people will be allowed to openly tote their handguns in a shoulder or hip holster. But only for those who have what the state calls ‘concealed’ carry license.

But those changes stop there. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, a state agency with oversight of businesses that sell alcohol will uphold it’s policy.

An establishment that’s alcohol sales greater than 50% of their income will not be affected by this new law.

A license holder that carries a handgun, either concealed or openly, commits an offense if they carry the handgun on the premises of a business that has a TABC permit or license.

 

Texas recognizes the licenses and permits from 41 other states. In Texas, licensees must be at least 21 and must pass a background check and written and range test.

Gay People Like Babies, Too

Gay couples, gay men, surrogacy, men having babies
An MHB couple with their newborn babies

Men Having Babies executive director, Ron Poole-Dayan, talks his nonprofit, surrogacy, and … well … babies!

Beginning Friday, March 2nd, and going through the weekend, the now-national nonprofit, Men Having Babies, is bringing their traveling conference to Austin. The nonprofit hosts these expos in numerous cities from San Francisco to NYC to Brussels and beyond. MHB not only assists in the process of educating and helping gay male couples start families through surrogacy, but also aids them in the financing of their family-planning. Now here in Texas for their current expo, MHB executive director, Ron Poole-Dayan answered some of our questions about their organization, what they do, how they started, and what couples seeking to start families can expect from MHB.

IMG_0041-1024x705 Gay People Like Babies, Too
MHB board at the “Planning your surrogacy journey” workshop (NY 2017)

Let’s start by learning a bit more about how MHB came about to begin with

The origins of the organizations date back to 2005 when I asked the LGBT Center in New York City to create a monthly workshop for men who are interested in biological parenting. We began having monthly meetings, which we still have to this day, where we invited in people who could answer our questions. Over time a few men joined me to help facilitate the meetings, and that later became our first board. We organized our first modest seminar and someone suggested calling it “Men Having Babies.”

In 2012, we left the NYC LGBT Center and created an independent nonprofit organization, primarily since we wanted to create a financial assistance program, which was beyond the Center’s mission. Over time we started having larger events, and also in new locations: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Barcelona, Chicago, Dallas, Tel Aviv, Brussels, and this year adding Austin and Miami. The program has evolved to a two-day format with many more sessions, speakers, and topics.  Now we are consistently attracting packed auditoriums, and many of the attendees fly from far away to attend the conferences. Our membership now includes over 6500 future and current gay parents worldwide.

What’s the main draw to surrogacy v. adoption?

Chicago-2017-collage_large-300x165 Gay People Like Babies, Too
Scenes from MHB’s 2017 Chicago conference

I have my own insights, but actually just recently a study came out by a team from several universities (including Columbia from NY and Cambridge from the UK) about “Gay fathers’ motivations for and feelings about surrogacy as a path to parenthood.” In fact, MHB assisted in recruiting a large part of the parents who participated in the study. The short answer is that, “most fathers chose surrogacy because they considered adoption to be a less desirable and/or accessible path to parenthood.”

Adoption may be considered as less desirable due to the challenges associated with the process (often private adoptions where the birth mother gets to choose the adoptive parents, subjecting us to scrutiny and approval by agencies or even teen mothers from middle America), or with the more difficult parenting challenges associated with older or special needs adopted children. And of course there is the universal desire for genetic offspring. In short: gay men choose surrogacy over adoption, if they can afford it, for the same reasons heterosexual parents (who can even more easily adopt) choose biological parenting over adoption.

jc-jeff-gc-baby_1200x628-300x157 Gay People Like Babies, Too
Jose Carlos and Jeff, recipients of MHB’s GPAP grants.

Having said this, it is important to stress that MHB does not advocate for surrogacy over adoption. In fact, some of our conferences — including the Austin one — feature adoption agencies alongside surrogacy resources. We just want to help the men make an informed decision about their path, and empower them to take that path in the most effective, mindful and affordable way.

We are gay parents and surrogates who got together to make the dream of parenthood a wider reality to more gay men — and in the process we believe we make society a better place for all of us.

What’s the success rate of MHB, as far as couples who actually make it to the finish line?

We know from feedback that many of our members become parents, but we do not track every single conference attendee — so we do not have the statistics. In general, I can tell you that once people actually embark on the journey — namely engage an IVF clinic to make embryos and an agency to match them with a surrogate — the vast majority have children. Indeed, surrogacy, while expensive, has higher success rates than adoption, and even heterosexual reproduction. We use technology that was developed for infertile people, with medically optimized gestational carriers and egg donors. It works and it is safe.

You are a father of a child of surrogacy, I’m told. What was this process like for you and your family

We did it many years ago, our twins are 17-years-old. We just assumed it should be possible, and luckily knew someone who knew someone that helped us find a lawyer in Boston who knew how to find a surrogate. We had very little guidance and resources, which is why I felt so strongly that something like MHB is needed.

How did MHB begin helping with the financial side of surrogacy?

As mentioned, our concern about the fact that surrogacy is beyond the [financial] reach of most people was a major motivation for establishing the organization. We knew that if we truly wanted to make a difference, we had to help people financially achieve the dream of having a family.  We wanted to give this opportunity to people who would otherwise not be able to afford surrogacy.

Ryan-and-Blain_2-300x225 Gay People Like Babies, Too
Ryan and Blain, recipients of MHB’s GPAP grants, with their son

The first thing we did was to create the “Surrogacy Advisor”— a directory and ratings table for agencies and clinics populated by hundreds of actual reviews from parents who went through the process. The goal was to promote transparency and affordability by empowering prospective parents with unbiased reviews and statistical data on satisfaction levels, success measures, and real cost figures. This allowed future parents to save thousands of dollars by identifying affordable, effective providers they would otherwise not have heard about.

But the major achievement is the creation of the Gay Parenting Assistance Program (GPAP), which for the last four years has gotten to the point that it annually provides dozens of prospective parents with over a million dollars worth of cash grants, discounts, and free services from more than fifty leading service providers.

Do you think that the importance of your nonprofit has increased in the recent political climate?

Of course. And, in particular, helping gay men form their families would contribute not just to their happiness, but it also drives much social change. Gay men with kids are extremely visible and help many people see us for who we are, human beings who want happiness like everyone else. And the surrogates who help us are all effective social change agents, as they become outspoken about equality — often in small middle-America communities.

If you could tell everyone in the world one thing about the services MHB offers or something that you feel they just really need to know, what would that be?

IMG_0033-300x225 Gay People Like Babies, Too
Board member Michael Wetson, from Dallas, TX, (NY 2017)

Due to biological and social constraints, gay men as a category face the most obstacles in their quest for parenting, not the least of which is financial. Until MHB was established, there was not a single organization to assist gay men, who are not considered “infertile” even though they need substantial third party assistance in order to become parents. At MHB, we believe that when done correctly, surrogacy can be a positive, affirmative, and all-around empowering arrangement for everyone involved – and we are very active in creating ethical and practical guidelines to facilitate this. We are gay parents and surrogates who got together to make the dream of parenthood a wider reality to more gay men — and in the process we believe we make society a better place for all of us.


If you’re going to be in the Austin area this weekend, you can register for the expo and conference here.