Transgender men face significant health and social disparities, including barriers to health care, research, and essential HIV-related conversations with their health care providers. That is why Paige Wermuth, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in the Department of Management, Policy, and Community Health, and graduate student Lou Weaver of The University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth Houston) School of Public Health are launching a pilot project to examine and develop communication materials for trans men and their health care providers regarding HIV prevention.
The initiative, titled Health Communication Scripts for Trans Men and HIV Prevention, is spearheaded by the UTHealth Houston Center for Clinical and Translational Science’s Community Health Initiated Research Partnership (CHIRP) fellowship program, which has teamed up with the community organization Doctors for Change (DFC) to launch the program. The pilot project is designed to foster community and academic collaboration through community-engaged research and funding.
“We hope to facilitate effective communication around reproductive and sexual health, HIV risks and prevention, and contribute to positive health care experiences. Understanding and improving health interactions may help trans men receive timely, needed, appropriate, and affirming health services,” Wermuth said.
In an effort to open dialogue and encourage communication, Wermuth and Weaver seek to address stereotype threat and create helpful communication tools such as scripts, talking points, and fact sheets. Stereotype threat occurs when a person is worried about behaving in a way that confirms negative stereotypes about members of their group. “This can result in avoidance of important sexual health conversations and delays in health care altogether,” Wermuth said.
Weaver, a queer trans man, is personally aware of the issues surrounding stereotype threat and health care services for transgender men. “Trans men and assigned female at birth (AFAB) nonbinary people are often left out of the HIV prevention conversations,” Weaver said. “That needs to change in order for the community to have the information needed to take the best care of their own health.”
PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a medication that helps prevent HIV infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two medications are approved for use at PrEP: Truvada® and Descovy®. More sexually active trans men (58%) than trans women (35%) are familiar with PrEP, but only 2.3% of trans men are taking the medication, according to a 2020 study published in Social Work in Health Care. “PrEP needs to be offered to everyone who is sexually active,” Weaver said.
Weaver has served as the co-lead of the DFC Queer Health Committee since 2019, and he has been involved in trans advocacy for even longer. “Risks should be assessed based on sexual activity, not identity. I hope this research will help trans men feel empowered to ask health care professionals for the HIV prevention medicine that will work best for them,” he said.
In the project’s first stage, focus groups will be scheduled to discuss challenges and barriers to health communication, issues to be considered for health care interactions, and concerns regarding HIV and PrEP topics including language with the trans community, followed by a workshop scheduled for early 2022 to begin drafting communication materials trans men can use with their health care providers.
“I’m excited to work with Lou and DFC. I hope our project will contribute to improving sexual health communication for trans men and support better health care experiences,” Wermuth said.
The project’s results will be presented to trans men’s social groups and support organizations, and they will be submitted to peer-reviewed journals. While the goals of this pilot project are to serve the trans community directly, future work could expand the communications materials to health care providers.
If you identify as a trans man or AFAB nonbinary and would like to help by participating in a focus group, please visit the website. Additionally, if you are interested in learning about the CHIRP Fellowship, which funds three community-based projects each year, please visit https://redcap.link/chirpfa.
Media Inquiries: 713-500-3030