Gender identity and how to be more inclusive in aesthetics


June is Pride, a month dedicated to celebrating LGBTQ+ communities all around the world. So, what better time to explore how aesthetic clinics can be more inclusive?

We are living in a time where our ideas and concepts of gender are changing and where conversations around gender identity are becoming more open.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly transgender individuals, often face significant challenges when seeking aesthetic treatments, so it is important that clinics increase their awareness and education around how to better support this patient group.

Dr Vincent Wong has been a trailblazer in advocating for this community. His personal experiences with discrimination have fuelled his passion for creating a more inclusive and supportive environment in aesthetic clinics. He joined Hamilton Fraser founder and CEO Eddie Hooker and journalist Vicky Eldridge on the Cosmetic Cast recently to talk about his own experiences, how clinics can be more inclusive to LGBTQ+ patients and the work he is doing in the area of gender identity.

“For me, pride is about celebrating who you are without any boundaries. So skin colour doesn't matter; how you identify doesn't matter; your sexual orientation doesn't matter. It's just celebrating who you are and living life in that moment.”

- Dr Vincent Wong

Understanding gender identity and the role of aesthetics

Gender identity is a deeply personal and intrinsic sense of one's gender, which may or may not align with the sex assigned at birth.

While gender incongruence refers to the internal conflict experienced by individuals whose gender identity does not align with their assigned sex at birth, gender dysphoria encompasses the associated distress and anxiety. Not all transgender or gender-diverse people experience gender dysphoria.

For many transgender individuals, their outer appearance does not match their inner identity, so aesthetic treatments, particularly non-surgical options, help them align their physical appearance with their gender identity.

This is because non-surgical treatments offer flexibility and reversibility, making them a good choice for patients at various stages of their gender transition. By providing options to subtly feminise or masculinise facial features, practitioners can help patients explore their gender identity in a way that is both affirming and adjustable.

“I think the most important thing is to have the understanding and be open-minded to things”, says Dr Wong. “Yes, we have very typical feminine and masculine looks that we can achieve using surgical and non-surgical treatments. But then some people might want a mixture of two together. I think that, as an industry, we are entering an era of personalised beauty. So that fits with what your clients want and what suits their character best, rather than having this structure.
“Transitioning is a journey. It's not about your starting point and end point, and there's just one route you take. You can take so many different routes. And sometimes you decide that you don’t want to go to the end route. The end destination. You just want to go back to where you started and go somewhere else. And that's perfectly fine. And the benefit of having non-surgical is that it doesn't last forever. And that you can reverse it. And it just provides a safe environment for people who want to try, who are really serious about trying it to have a go and then see if it's for them.”

Inclusivity in the aesthetic clinic

At its heart, inclusivity means creating a welcoming environment where all patients feel seen, respected, and understood.

Understanding the difference between sex, gender, and sexuality is fundamental:

  • Sex is physical – male or female
  • Gender is psychological and social
  • Sexuality describes the sexual feelings we experience towards others.

Gender identity is an individual’s deeply felt sense of their own gender, which may or may not align with the sex assigned at birth. For instance, a person assigned female at birth but who identifies as male is a transgender man and may prefer he/him pronouns.

“I think a lot of people get confused between sex, gender, and sexuality”, says Dr Wong. “When I go to clinics or run the LGBTQ+ course that I do, that's one of the key things that I really focus on. So your sex is what you are at birth. Whether you're male or female. Gender is how you identify. You could be a biological male identifying as a female, a male, or non-binary.
“For certain injectables like toxin, some people would charge more for male patients. Because the muscles are a little bit stronger, they may require a bit more. But then the issue is, when someone is in the process of transitioning, do they go for a male price list or female price list? Especially in the early stage of transitioning, misgendering is quite a big issue and can cause a little bit of psychological trauma, and things like that can be quite upsetting.  I think businesses need to really take a step back and then think about how you can have one price list that is more inclusive and not have that differentiating factor.”

Pronouns play a crucial role in gender identity and recently, there has been a growing awareness and recognition of gender-neutral pronouns, which aim to be inclusive of individuals who do not identify strictly within traditional binary gender categories.

Traditionally, pronouns have been linked to gender, with he/him used for males and she/her for females. However, gender is not binary, and individuals may identify outside these traditional categories. Some may prefer gender-neutral pronouns, such as they/them, which are inclusive of all genders, for example.

  • Identifies as male – he/him
  • Identifies as female – she/her
  • Identifies as non-binary/gender-neutral – they/them

Using the correct pronouns is important. It shows respect, affirms a patient’s gender identity and validates their sense of self. Misusing or refusing to use someone’s preferred pronouns can be hurtful and invalidating and make them feel unwelcome in the clinic.

Educating yourself about pronouns and being open to learning about different gender identities is a crucial step towards being more inclusive.

Dr Wong advises having open conversations about patients' preferred pronouns rather than assuming based on their appearance or perceived gender. Not only does this help foster better communication, but it also breaks down barriers, making patients feel more comfortable and valued.

“I think a lot of people have this fear that they might say something wrong or they might do something that shows a bit of bias, but actually it’s really easy”, says Dr Wong. “One of the key things is surrounding pronouns. So simple things like being open and speaking about pronouns. Being comfortable in that conversation is a good start. Bearing in mind that a lot of people who want to have an aesthetic procedure done from the LGBTQ+ community are probably quite nervous to begin with because you hear so many bad stories and horrible experiences about people who have a phobia towards the community. Or just the lack of understanding. So just make them feel comfortable. Sometimes we make mistakes. So, as long as you apologise and explain that you made a mistake, we are generally quite forgiving.
“The way I do it is to say, ‘Hi, I'm Vincent. My preferred pronouns are he/him. May I know what yours are? And that's a perfectly simple and acceptable way to break the ice, so to speak. And you'll find that it's amazing how people just connect instantly. And then, based on that, then you could always say something like, ‘We're going to go through your aesthetics consultation. We'll see what we can achieve. But if I suggest something that doesn't fit your beauty goals, please let me know.’ And then you have that understanding from the get-go.”

Moreover, clinics must be aware of the unique challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community, including discrimination, bullying, and mental health issues. By understanding and addressing these issues, practitioners can offer more compassionate and comprehensive care.

Five practical ways to enhance inclusivity in your clinic

  1. Undertake special education and training. You can undergo training to better understand the specific needs and experiences of transgender and non-binary patients. This includes learning about gender dysphoria, hormone therapies, and the psychological aspects of transitioning.
  2. Use inclusive language. Employing gender-neutral language in communications and marketing materials can significantly impact how welcomed and respected patients feel.
  3. Create a safe space. Clinics should strive to be safe havens for all patients. This involves not only physical safety but also emotional and psychological support so this means being prepared to offer or refer patients to mental health resources as needed.
  4. Personalise treatment plans. Each patient's journey is unique, and treatment plans should be tailored to their individual needs and goals. Practitioners should consider the patient's stage in their transition, hormone treatments, and any previous procedures to provide the most effective and affirming care.
  5. Visibility and support. Clinics can show their support for the LGBTQ+ community by participating in Pride events, using inclusive imagery in marketing materials, and visibly supporting LGBTQ+ causes. This demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity and can help build trust with potential patients.

“Clinics can demonstrate their support for the LGBTQ+ community by featuring diverse individuals in marketing materials, including people of different sexual orientations and gender identities. They can also use inclusive language and imagery that is sensitive to the concerns and experiences of this community”, says Alex Bugg from Web Marketing Clinic. “For example, businesses can use gender-neutral language in marketing materials, such as using “they” instead of “he” or “she” or featuring photos of LGBTQ+ individuals and couples. They can also use inclusive hashtags in social media posts, such as #LGBTQ or #PrideMonth, to show solidarity for the community. Sponsoring or participating in events or organisations such as Pride parades or LGBTQ+ health fairs can also show support.”

You can check out Alex’s article on How to be more inclusive in your marketing on The Consulting Room.

It's important to remember that incorporating gender diversity and inclusivity into your practice is not just a trend; it’s an important part of the evolution to meet the needs of a growing and diverse patient population. As such, aesthetic practitioners have a significant role to play in supporting transgender patients, which often extends beyond physical transformations. By embracing inclusivity, aesthetic clinics can provide better care, foster a supportive community, and ultimately help patients achieve their desired appearance and identity.

Listen to the full episode of The Cosmetic Cast with Vincent Wong.

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