What It’s Like to Be Transgender in a Psychiatric Hospital.
Going to a psychiatric hospital can be a scary experience, especially if its your first time. However, if you’re transgender it can go from extremely scary, to an absolute nightmare in the matter of seconds. In this article I will be sharing my experience in a psychiatric facility last week.
It was a Tuesday night, I was having extreme anxiety as well as the early signs of a panic attack. I’ve always had anxiety, but it was never this bad. My regular coping skills weren’t working, I was ready to do anything to make it stop. Once I felt myself progressing to this state, I walked into Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Upon a full psychological evaluation, they determined that I wasn’t safe. I was cooperative, and agreed to be transferred to a psychiatric hospital for a 5150 (72 hour) hold. Not that I had a choice, I just knew that being cooperative would be helpful for this kind of situation.
Since CHLA doesn’t offer inpatient psychiatric care, they had to transport me to a hospital that did. My stomach dropped to my feet once I found out that they couldn’t treat me there. I asked ER doctor several times if they were going to send me to a place that was transgender friendly. The doctor looked at me in the eyes, and said; “Yes Jaden, that is our top priority.” I trusted him.
Since they didn’t want me running away, they strapped me down very tightly to the hospital bed I was in, then I was moved onto a gurney to be transported to Del Amo Hospital in Torrance, California. The ambulance driver handed over my California ID card, and Medi-Cal health insurance card over to the intake nurse of the Youth Psychiatric Unit. She began filling out my paperwork while asking me 5 million questions about why I was here. Let me remind you, I’m still tightly strapped to the gurney. I wish I could have taken pictures of the marks those straps left on my shoulders, but they were gone by the time I got out.
Then, the awkward skip of pen came when she reached the “sex” question on the intake packet. Looking at my ID and Medi-Cal card (which both said male), then looking at me while biting her lip. She wasn’t positive I was actually male. She just skipped over that question and finished the rest of the packet. I was finally let out of the gurney, at that point my legs started getting sore from being in a locked straight position for so long. I stumbled to the ground as I attempted to walk again. She pulled a male intake nurse from the nurse’s station, and then directed me to a restroom with a new hospital gown.
“We’re conducting a safety check. We’re not sure if you’re male or female, so we need to check to make sure you and the other patients here are safe.” It was 2AM, and I was in no means to argue with anyone, so I just shrugged my shoulders and followed instructions. A big, bold, F was stamped on my intake papers. I put on the hospital gown, and off I was to observation. I was placed in this observation room for three hours, while the nurses wrote down my every move and breath. After the three hours, I was placed into an isolation room at the end of the hallway in the female wing of the youth unit. This room had no windows, just four walls and a toilet attached to the wall. The door closed, and then it was locked.
The nurses checked on the patients every two hours, at least that’s what it felt like. Every time you cried out, you were given more sedatives to sleep. That morning my breakfast was brought to me while everyone else was able to eat together in the common room. Why was I being isolated? All I’ve done was cooperate with everything they were saying. I just assumed that’s what all new patients went though. I lost track of time in that small room. The four off white walls were driving me insane. I was more anxious than I was when I came in, since anxiety was what I came in for anyway.
That afternoon it was my turn to see the doctor. The nurse came over to my room, unlocked it, and then directed me towards the doctors office. She stood in the corner of the room while I had a five minute conversation with the doctor. In that five minutes, he was on his cell phone texting and scrolling through Facebook. He asked me questions, and then interrupted me as I tried to answer. From that five minute conversation, he was able to diagnose me with Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression, and Anxiety. He was able to prescribe me medications that he “knew” would cure my problems. I was directed back to my room. The nurse came over with a small cup full of 5 pills. I asked her what they were, and what the side effects were so I could make an informed decision about whether or not I wanted to take them. Since I do have the legal right to refuse medications in a psychiatric hospital. She refused to tell me what they were, and that if I didn’t take them I would have to stay in the hospital longer. I took them. Now, in this room there is no clock. I don’t recall much of this day, I just remember sleeping A LOT. I have no idea how long I was sleeping, and I still don’t know what kind of medications she gave me.
It was the next morning, I was woken up by a nurse checking my vitals. I asked her what time it was, and what the date was. She gave me an angry look, wrote down the information and left me. I forced myself to stay awake even though the medication was making me sleep, for the 2 hour check up to get more information about my treatment plan here. When I was checked on, I asked when I would be able to attend support groups and interact with other patients. She told me that it was hospital policy for me to be isolated. I asked her why. She then told me that transgender people have a high risk of sexual assault and violence, therefore it was for MY safety to be isolated. At this point I knew my 72 hour hospital stay was turning into an awful nightmare. I asked to use the phone, which is my right by the way. She agreed, and let me make a phone call.
This was when I found out it was still my first full day in the facility. Since this conversation was monitored, I was extremely careful with what I said. The person I was talking to knew something was wrong, but had no idea how to fix it. I assured everyone I was okay for the sake of getting out of there ASAP.
There are lots of myths about testosterone making it unable for you to cry. I’ve been on T for six months, and haven’t had any luck crying since my first shot. However, when I was stuck in isolation I cried about 75% of the time in there, but quickly wiping away the tears when the nurses did their bi-hourly checks. (Yes, anytime you are caught crying they keep you a day longer.)
Now, I didn’t spend these 72 hours alone. They did put me in a room with another transgender male. He didn’t really talk much, but he was compassionate. He did help the time pass, whether was it was secretly holding hands from behind the bed, to a long 5 minute crying hug. To a verbal identity validation every time the nurse misgendered us, or deadnamed him. He was in just as much pain as me, only he was 3 years younger than me. So much respect for that kid.
Soon enough, after 72 hours of not seeing sunlight, being completely isolated from the world around us, I was released. I gave my room mate one last hug, while secretly passing him a piece of paper with my contact information for when he got out. He’s being held on a 5270 (30 day) hold. Ever since my discharge he’s called my cell phone using the hospital phone everyday. There’s only so much I can do from the outside, but I do plan on visiting him; even though going back there is extremely triggering.
Upon discharge I posted about my awful experience on social media, and got a wonderful response. Hundreds of messages from strangers, showing their sympathies. Other trans people who have been mistreated at this hospital also reached out to me to encourage legal action for a violation of patients rights. I did file a complaint with the hospital. A patient advocate called me back dismissing my complaint because I was “hospitalized for a reason.” Seeking help from free LGBT legal aids, I am determined to take this place down for their transphobic policies that go against basic civil rights. After this experience, I now understand why transgender people hate psychiatric hospitals so much. This is how we’re treated when we simply reach out for help.