February 12, 2013

Nick McDaniel lives within a couple of miles of the sites of some of his worst memories. Growing up in the farming community of Salinas, McDaniel, a transgender man, survived sexual assault and years of severe depression, multiple attempts at suicide, and many months spent in county psychiatric wards. Life may have improved in places like Monterey County for transgender people, McDaniel said, but there’s still a long way to go – from fighting discrimination in jobs and housing, to making inroads in health care. In seeking medical care, transgender Californians routinely face a number of challenges, particularly in more rural regions, where they often live their lives under the radar. “I do think in Monterey County, like in most areas, the needs of transgender people are not well-recognized,” said Jennifer Hastings, a family practice physician who started a Transgender Health Care Program at the Westside Planned Parenthood in Santa Cruz in 2005. People come a long way to see Hastings. Through word of mouth, many in the transgender community in Monterey and surrounding counties hear about her and find their way to Santa Cruz. Those who don’t have a car or the means to travel are often out of luck. In many ways, Hastings said, transgender people are the least understood group in a society that sees gender in a strictly binary way. But she sounds a hopeful note that – while there’s a lot of work to be done – the medical profession is making progress in treating transgender people.