Dear Doctors: Not everyone is a (cis) male

Women and others are understudied and suffer for it

A woman has her hands over her uterus, signalling pain. The photo is cropped so as to not include her head, or below mid-thigh.
Human anatomy — and its afflictions — extend beyond that of a cis male. Photo: Cottonbro / Pexels

By: Hannah Kazemi, Peak Associate

After seeing a dermatologist, an endocrinologist, and enduring three months of blood tests and ultrasounds, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a common hormonal condition that affects the internal reproductive system and menstrual cycle, and also puts those affected at a higher risk for other health issues such as diabetes and infertility.

I was lucky to have been diagnosed with PCOS at the age of 20 — most people who have PCOS don’t actually get their diagnosis until they’re in their late 20s or even their 30s, after they try and fail to conceive for the first time. Over 50% of cases of PCOS go undiagnosed because symptoms are disregarded as insignificant or exaggerated, and many cases of PCOS are misdiagnosed as something else. There are many illnesses specific to those with internal reproductive systems which contain ovaries or uteri. These can have similar symptoms, requiring extensive testing to differentiate, and yet many people are sent home with instructions to take Advil for the pain and hope that it gets better. We’re told to just deal with it, lacking resources and education on the issues that are plaguing our own bodies.

Healthcare presents many difficulties for people who don’t fit a narrow identity. Women, trans and non-binary people, and POC regularly face worse results than white men when accessing healthcare — if it’s even accessible in the first place.

Often, issues with uteri and ovaries are not discussed or seen as “important” enough to be taught, so going to see a doctor who isn’t well-versed in this area can prove to be more frustrating and disheartening than it is helpful. Advocating for yourself shouldn’t be this difficult; people with uteri shouldn’t feel afraid to express concerns to a doctor — they should feel confident that their worries will be addressed and taken seriously.

Medicine is an area that is historically male-dominated; not just in the way of doctors and medical school professors, but also in the study of health and the body. The White Male has perpetually been the standard and main focus of study, leading to a severe lack of research for any other identity. This has been going on for centuries, and is rooted in the idea that cis men are biologically superior.

Healthcare is a system built by men for men that has painted women as “hysterical” people with the idea that their problems aren’t real and don’t need to be addressed. When people with uteri are constantly dismissed by doctors because they’re made to believe their symptoms aren’t as bad as they say they are, that can take a toll on mental health. If medical schools aren’t teaching about these things, how are patients supposed to get the right support and treatment when they need it?

This level of medical care isn’t good enough. So why is it the standard?