Technical Communications Behind Hormone Therapy
Photo: Avery Edenfield, assistant professor of technical communications.
USU professor receives award for transgender hormone therapy research
By: Lyndi Robins, CHaSS Communications Journalist
Avery Edenfield, an assistant professor of technical communication and rhetoric in the Department of English, received the 2021 Conference on College Composition and Communication award for Best Article on Philosophy or Theory of Technical or Scientific Communication.
His paper, Queering Tactical Technical Communication: DIY HRT, proposes a connection between technical communication, specifically when shared by independent audiences on online forums, and hormone therapy when completed by members of the transgender communities without professional medical assistance.
This first-of-its-kind research was published in collaboration with Jared Colton, assistant professor of technical communication and rhetoric at Utah State, and Steve Holmes, assistant professor of technical communication at Texas Tech.
Hormone therapy is medical treatment given to transgender individuals to help them develop the attributes that match their gender identity.
Many transgender individuals struggle to access the necessary healthcare to complete hormone therapy in a medical facility for various reasons, some of which include lack of funding or insurance, discrimination based on gender identity, availability, and proximity to healthcare facilities.
Do it yourself (DIY) hormone therapy occurs when a transgender individual undergoes gender transition by purchasing hormone medication from either legitimate and illegitimate pharmacies and controlling dosages themselves by monitoring lab results.
DIY hormone therapy treatment can be hazardous but, according to Edenfield, life without transitioning can also be very dangerous for transgender individuals.
“Transgender people are facing increased suicidality, not because there’s something about being transgender that makes people suicidal but because of the social, familial, and societal rejections that people experience,” Edenfield said. “These micro and macro aggressions wound people and hurt them. It keeps them from reaching their full potential.”
Technical communication is everywhere and accessed by everyone. Edenfield proposes that it can harm marginalized groups of people when technical documents are exclusionary in nature.
“Most people think of technical communication as applied, neutral writing but because technical texts are written and used by people, they include biases at times,” Edenfield said.
In Edenfield’s research, technical communication is the information sources that allow individuals to take hormones themselves. His research specifically focused on how transgender individuals were accessing and using this information to self-administer hormone therapy.
Through his research, Edenfield found that DIY hormone therapy is a complicated topic and individuals engage in it for complicated reasons.
“It’s a range of practices that people are going in and out of all the time,” Edenfield said.
Edenfield found that information for DIY hormones was not always being created but rather appropriated. For example, an individual could watch a video about insulin injections and apply that knowledge to their own injections.
Since publishing his research, Edenfield has had the opportunity to present his findings to health providers.
“I was able to unpack some things about DIY and help them understand that it’s never an in or out kind of thing,” Edenfield said. “I was able to present it as a behavior that is not based on noncompliance, ignorance, or a dismissal of doctors but rather comes from a place of self-preservation and should be approached with compassion and advocacy.”
Edenfield recently published another article, titled Managing Gender Care in Precarity: Trans Communities Respond to COVID-19, which examines the impact of the COVID-19 shutdowns on the transgender communities and their ability to access the necessary healthcare to continue their transition.
As a minority, transgender communities had a decreased ability to access healthcare and hormone therapy throughout the pandemic. Edenfield’s article discusses examples of the actions taken to help one another and increase communication.
During COVID-19 shutdowns, people were reusing their own needles, which puts users at risk for blood infections, to create a larger supply to share with others. Others were sharing information on how to complete self-administered hormones, so individuals could continue treatment without access to medical care or enough funding. Edenfield calls this idea “radical sharing.”
He concludes his article by saying: “This response is not unique to the current pandemic; trans people will adapt to meet the next injustice, caring for themselves and others as they always have through actions facilitated by tactical technical communication—for medical care, housing needs, safety protocols, or social networking. For trans communities, appropriation of institutional knowledge is a radical act of self-making.”
Edenfield hopes his research will inspire individuals to advocate for better transgender healthcare programs.
“One of the first things that a person could do is to understand the health coverage at their job and how it protects transgender individuals,” Edenfield said. “Even if you are a nontrans person, you don’t know what another person or their child is going through. You can lobby to create more inclusion in your healthcare policies and advocate for others.”
Jared Colton, co-researcher alongside Edenfield, believes that all people can lobby for change.
“There’s different ways to help but, rather than just sitting idly by, write a letter or talk to your kids,” said Colton. “Figure out how you can be a support, no matter the level.”