Pink toenails

                       “Well, how about the fact that encouraging the choosing of gender identity, rather than suggesting our children become comfortable with the ones that they got at birth, can throw our species into real psychological turmoil—not to mention crowding operating rooms with procedures to grotesquely amputate body parts?”

What is this quote from? Toemageddon made the news last week in ABC, CBS, with most of the controversy stemming from Fox News.  This is not a news story, but I’m not surprised Fox picked it up. It does surprise me, however, that the author of the op ed piece is a psychiatrist, and frankly this is professionally irresponsible.

Medicine isn’t exactly the most liberal profession, but it is our job to remain neutral, non judgemental and do what is best for our patients, even if includes life choices we would not make for ourselves. Controversial examples of this (although it baffles me that these are controversial) include harm reduction with needle exchanges, STI/sex education, methadone centers, and treating transgender patients with hormones.  But this is not a discussion about transgender children.  Pink toenails do not, in any way, make a gay or trans child.

Many things we consider inherently masculine or feminine are solely cultural constructs. Color coding pink to girls is a recent development:  “The Sunday Sentinel in 1914 told American mothers: 'If you like the colour note on the little one's garments, use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention.'” My father was put in dresses as a baby. The Scots wear kilts.

There are, of course, biological differences between the sexes. The prevalence of many diseases differs based on sex, anatomy and reproductive organs are different – but there are overlaps. Skene’s glands are considered to be the female prostate (and are responsible for female ejaculation), clitoromegaly (which can be a symptom of a congenital anomaly or simply be normal variation) can look like a penis.  If you give a female testosterone, as in the treatment of transgendered individuals, facial hair will grow and menstruation will stop. The dichotomy of the sexes isn’t such a binary after all, but a spectrum. 

So this is not a discussion about transgender children, as I said, but there are important points to be made regarding the treatment of transgender people and about their discrimination within medicine.  The idea that letting children of both genders engage in the same activities, like painting toenails will lead to “crowding operating rooms with procedures to grotesquely amputate body parts," especially needs to be addressed:

#1 – transgendered people are, by far, a minority.  (the American Psychological Association estimates 1 in 10,000 male births and 1 in 30,000 female births.) While the cause is likely multifactorial and not well understood as of yet, we are at least 85% sure that it's not due to pink nail polish.

#2 – There is so much discrimination in health care towards transgender individuals, by the time someone presents to the medical community for help in their transition, it is something they have given a whole lot of thought to. Think about the last time you went to your doctor – did you think about what you wanted to say? What you wanted to ask? How much time did you spend on your mental preparation? Multiply that by years of feeling like you exist in the wrong body.  The idea that something like painting one’s toenails can make one transgender in a flash is preposterous. Moreover, that it will cause “crowding [of] operating rooms” is intentional inflammatory hyperbole.

#3 – Calling transgender surgery grotesque amputation of body parts is wholly irresponsible for it adds to the misconceptions and discrimination faced by these individuals.  The more stigma there is against any group of people in society, the more at risk their health is from long-term stressors. Teen suicide related to perceived sexual orientation has been in the news quite a bit recently. Many transgender people and those who treat them see transitioning as medically necessary.   There is a high risk of depression and suicide in transgender youth, especially related to stigma, harassment, and discrimination.  Any healthcare professional who adds to this stigma and discrimination, goes against his or her oath to do no harm. 


  1. Before I started seeing my family doctor, I was reading reviews on the internet and noticed that she was listed on a website that listed regional trans-friendly physicians. It seemed so sad to me that there was enough negative stigma to circulating among physicians that someone felt a need to actually create this list.

  2. I agree! Thanks for your comment!

  3. Very nicely said. It's tough to be different. Humans just aren't programmed to be terribly accepting or tolerant.


  4. Thanks for the comment, M!

    Although we may get discouraged, I think it's important to always hold people accountable and not let anyone get away with absolving their responsibility just because it's hard to understand "the other," who ever that other happens to be.

  5. Hey SR - just found your blog, and excited to follow! Is there a post where you summarize how you got where you are/what shool or area you are at? Just curious. Thanks!

  6. Glad to have you reading Axl! I don't have that info up. Check out my "Who Am I?" page.

  7. While I oppose the idea of homosexuality and transgender (the idea, not the people), I seriously think this is the best post I've read tackling the issue. You even remembered to mention about male and female genitalia actually have parts corresponding to each other, eg.the penis and the clitoris. And I do agree on the clothing thing; in fact (correct me if I'm wrong), pants/trousers/jeans are relatively new items and they originate in the western world (America?). In most parts of the world, men wear robes, skirts, kilts, sarongs...

  8. You oppose homosexuality and transgender? and you're going to be a doctor? I just hope you can put aside your judgement and opinions when treating your patients. Otherwise you will be detrimental to their health. If patients don't feel safe coming out to their doctors, they don't go to doctors.