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“Every Now and Then I Get Flagged for a Pap Smear”: Gender Transition, Embodiment, and “Sex-Specific” Cancer Screenings

Sexual and Gender Minority Health

ISBN: 978-1-83867-147-1, eISBN: 978-1-83867-146-4

Publication date: 15 January 2021


Purpose: We respond to a call for studies of “embodied experiences of stigma in context” by investigating how transgender embodiment shapes perceived needs for access to and experiences of “sex-specific” cancer screenings (SSCS) (e.g., breast and prostate exams, Pap smears) in the North American healthcare system.

Design/Methodology/Approach: We analyze data from semistructured interviews with a diverse sample of 35 transgender-identified adults. Based on thematic narrative analysis, we explore four themes in relation to embodiment: discrimination; discomfort and hyperawareness of genitalia; strategic reframing and active management; and SSCS health care encounters as positive and gender affirming.

Findings: In relation to SSCS, transgender individuals experience discrimination, do emotion work, and actively manage situations to obtain needed health care, and sometimes forego care because barriers are insurmountable. Health care providers' responses to transgender embodiment can disrupt health care encounters, but they can also facilitate access and create opportunities for affirmation, agency, advocacy, and new forms of interaction. Embodiment- and gender-affirming interactions with health care providers, which varied by gender, emerged as key influences on participants' experiences of SSCS.

Research Limitations/Implications: Our sample primarily includes binary gender-identified individuals, and while our interview guide covered many topics, the SSCS question did not explicitly reference testicular exams.

Practical Implications: Cancer prevention and detection Cancer prevention and detection require health care professionals who are prepared for differently embodied persons. Preventive cancer screenings are not “sex-specific”; they are relevant to individuals with medically necessary needs regardless of gender identity or embodiment.

Social Implications

Originality/Value: Few medical sociologists have focused on transgender embodiment. Findings enhance our understanding of how transgender embodiment and minority stress processes influence access to needed SSCS.




We thank the reviewers for their time and thoughtful support in writing this article. We also thank all the people who made time to share their life stories with us. Without them, this research would not have been possible.


Wentling, T., Elliott, C., London, A.S., Simpson, N. and Wang, R. (2021), "“Every Now and Then I Get Flagged for a Pap Smear”: Gender Transition, Embodiment, and “Sex-Specific” Cancer Screenings", LeBlanc, A.J. and Perry, B.L. (Ed.) Sexual and Gender Minority Health (Advances in Medical Sociology, Vol. 21), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 253-275.



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