Mel Rodis

Danny Barrera


Mitch Marshall

Mel Rodis, Danny Barrera, Mitch Marshall (L-R)

Transgender men getting specialized care at Phoenix clinic

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Mel Rodi, Danny Barrera and Mitch Marshal credit the clinic at MIHS for helping them live the lives they've always wanted. (Source: 3TV) Mel Rodi, Danny Barrera and Mitch Marshal credit the clinic at MIHS for helping them live the lives they've always wanted. (Source: 3TV)
Dr. Megan Schendel-Dittman says caring for her transgender male patients and helping with their transitions is her favorite part of being a doctor. (Source: 3TV) Dr. Megan Schendel-Dittman says caring for her transgender male patients and helping with their transitions is her favorite part of being a doctor. (Source: 3TV)
Rodis, Barrera and Marshall when they were children. (Source: 3TV) Rodis, Barrera and Marshall when they were children. (Source: 3TV)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

Some transgender men in Phoenix say they are finally starting to live the lives they’ve always wanted, thanks in part to a safe place to take care of their health concerns. 

Mel Rodis is an attorney in his 30s. He said he knew as early as 3 years old there was something wrong. He was born a girl, but felt like he was really a boy. 

"I had a fit every time my mom tried to put a dress on me," he said.  

Rodis said he suffered from dysphoria growing up, disassociating from his body as if it didn't belong to him. 

“You’re not comfortable with certain body parts, and you’re not comfortable with the sex you were assigned at birth," he explained. 

For the past three years, Rodis has been getting care through a clinic at Maricopa Integrated Health System. It was set up after a former doctor realized transgender men with women's health concerns didn’t have a place to go. 

"When I would go to doctors' offices, especially an OB/GYN, I would just feel like I was in the wrong place," Rodis said. "I had to leave my body in order to have those services for 10 minutes. I knew that it was important to do, but I didn’t want to be there." 

Dr. Megan Schendel-Dittman is the OB/GYN who runs the clinic. She delivers about 200 babies every year, but says caring for her transgender male patients and helping with their transitions, as it’s called, is her favorite part of being a doctor. 

"They're just so happy -- like it's really a clinic where I feel like I get to make people happy, and I get to see them be fulfilled," Schendel-Dittman explained. 

The clinic began offering services to transgender men in 2012, opening up once a month for about six patients. Today there are about 60 men who come for transgender care. The clinic has now doubled its hours of operation. 

Schendel-Dittman said in addition to giving her patients hormones to help in their transitions, she also works with them on preventative care like pap smears and services that transgender people still need. 

She says in their paths to happiness, their changes are not just physical.  

"You can just feel how much more confident and how much more comfortable they are with themselves," she said.

Mitch Marshall is another patient at the clinic. The 50-year-old has been getting care at MIHS, which bills itself as "the health care safety net for citizens of Maricopa County," for a year and a half. 

"Coming here has been the best thing I could have ever done for myself," he said.

Marshall grew up Michelle and was resigned to living as a lesbian because he didn't know any trans people and thought he was too old to make the transition. 
 
"Now I can actually be happy and be me," he said.

Rodis has been married for two years,  and Marshall just got engaged. 

Both are with women. 

They stress there is a difference between gender and sexuality. It depends on the sex with which the transgender person identifies. 

Many people would have a hard time detecting these men were born women. With testosterone shots, their transformations let them easily blend in. 

They say their bodies have changed dramatically with facial hair, wider shoulders, narrower hips, less fat around the middle and a lot more muscle mass. 

Danny Barrera, 21, is another transgender male patient at MIHS and said it's just like going through male puberty. He, like Marshall, is getting help from AHCCCS to help cover the cost of his care.

"I'm much happier," he said. "I couldn’t imagine not doing this, and I’m so happy that I found out about it at such a young age because if I had to wait, I don't know where I’d be."

He describes growing up as feeling lost and lonely.

"I thought that I could never be anything or like, have any friends and now I’m out all the time and want to move forward with my life," Barrera explained.

Although he’s found happiness in his new life after beginning his transition six months ago,  he said his dad still doesn’t understand.

"It's just hard because I haven’t changed as a person," he said. "I've just changed my outside to match my inside to be more comfortable. It just hurts me because I just want him to see me as a son and love me and spend time with me and like, be a father to me, but he just can’t get past it."

All three men stress they are just regular average people, human beings who hope increased awareness of the transgender community will lead to a better understanding and wider acceptance. 

Rodis is the president of Trans*Spectrum of Arizona, a group that offers support and resources to those in the transgender community.  

[SOCIAL: Trans*Spectrum of Arizona on Facebook | @TransSpectrumAZ on Twitter]

The Gender Clinic at MIHS is located at 2525 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix. It is open the second Thursday of each month. For more information, call 602-344-1015.

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