Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

55° Evanston, IL
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Buckner: Honoring Dr. Abbott by fighting for transgender care at Northwestern Student Health

It’s not an easy thing to go to the doctor. It can be extremely vulnerable — discussing your body. Discussing sex. Bringing into the room experiences and bodily problems you’d rather not speak out loud.

Dr. Kristin Abbott made going to the doctor easy. She made it safe. She made it a place that, as a transgender man, I could feel heard. I knew she would never misgender me, use insensitive language or cause harm to me. Dr. Abbott was a special doctor, and a visionary for this University. 

On Jan. 21, 2024, Dr. Abbott died, and her loss strikes so deeply at my own heart and the hearts of other queer and trans students who benefited so profoundly from her care.

On Feb. 6, 2024, I received the email from Northwestern Now that Dr. Abbott had passed away. Her obituary notes that she died from cancer. Dr. Abbott was the medical director of Northwestern Medicine Student Health Service. Upon returning to Chicago from summer research in late August last year, I was told by a pharmacist that Dr. Abbott was on leave. When I asked one doctor if Dr. Abbott was okay, they said, “I’m sure Dr. Abbott would appreciate keeping her in your prayers.” I had a sinking feeling. 

Dr. Abbott was not an ordinary doctor. She had a vision for what trans care can and should be at this University. One of the first times I met with Dr. Abbott, she openly shared how the Health Service had not always been a place of safety and respect toward trans students. 

Trans students had had bad experiences. Many of them didn’t want to return. She took seriously and respected these students’ experiences, and she wanted to change the culture that had initially forced them to turn away from NU’s student health center. 

I cannot overstate the difference in care provided by Dr. Abbott and other practitioners, and why her leadership, training and orientation to trans care mattered. 

As a trans-affirming practitioner, Dr. Abbott was highly attuned to language. She knew which words to avoid so that I wouldn’t experience gender dysphoria. She knew how to use language that was inclusive of trans-masculine bodies. 

While Dr. Abbott was away on leave prior to her passing, I had many physical issues arise, many of which centered around gynecological care. Doctors, while well-intentioned, consistently discussed how I needed to seek out “Women’s Care specialists.” They collapsed my experience with that of cisgender women. They referred to “my breasts.” 

With Dr. Abbott on leave, one doctor told me I may not be able to receive testosterone if my medical needs are too complex. I may have to go off-campus to a trans-care specialist. While this may make some sense, it also means that trans students on our campus who are new to beginning testosterone cannot go to our own University for care and access to gender-affirming treatment.

Dr. Abbott wanted NU to be a place that was leading efforts on trans health and medicine. She wanted this University to be extraordinary in what it could offer to its marginalized students. 

In honor of Dr. Abbott’s legacy and determination and vision, I hope NU prioritizes and actualizes Dr. Abbott’s call for trans care. I hope they put in place specific initiatives and monetary funds to focus on trans care. 

I will miss Dr. Abbott. I will miss what she offered to my life and to the health of my body and mind. I grieve for her loss. I grieve for our collective loss of this most incredible doctor. She died at only 41. May her memory be a blessing. May her legacy continue.

Ray Buckner is a PhD Candidate in Religious Studies. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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