LGBTQ+ Audiologist Round Table

This special episode highlights audiologists who are members of the LGBTQ+ community and their contributions to the profession. They discuss how their identities and careers intertwine and how to best foster an inclusive and compassionate clinical experience for LGBTQ+ providers and patients alike.

Full Episode Transcript

Kathleen Wallace 0:10
Hello everyone and welcome to This Week in Hearing. In honor of Pride Month this episode features LGBTQ+ audiologists. We’ll begin by highlighting each panelist expertise and contributions to our profession, followed by a discussion on the experience of the out audiologist, how our identities have shaped our careers less far, and the unique challenges one may face. I’m your host today Kathleen Wallace, a New York City based audiologists working clinically in an ENT setting, virtually at Tuned. I teach at the CUNY Graduate Center and I recently started dabbling in social media with my new educational Tik Tok called the Ear Doc of Tik Tok. I live in Brooklyn with my wife, our son and our dog. And now I’d like to introduce our five wonderful panelists that we have today. Cassie Fuller is an industry audiologist based out of Chatham, New York. She currently works as a clinical education specialist serving in New England, downstate New York and New Jersey. She identifies as a lesbian and lives with her wife and rescued up. Jonathan Neukam, is a research audiologist based in New York City. He works in the laboratory for translational Auditory Research at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, focusing on the adaptation process after cochlear implantation. In addition, he is an adjunct assistant professor at the CUNY Graduate Center. Jonathan identifies as a gay man and lives with his partner Sebastian, their 19 year old cat and two less Highland terriers. Henry Botzum is an industry audiologist based in Massachusetts. He currently works as a regional sales manager for New England in the hearing aid industry. Following his work as lead clinical audiologist at Berkshire Medical Center in Western Massachusetts. Henry is active in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging advocacy, presenting at national and regional conferences and serves on the DEI, and membership committees for AAA and as the Vice President of Clinical Practice for the Massachusetts Speech and Hearing Association. In addition to audiology, Henry holds advanced degrees in music performance. Dawn Flynn is an audiologist based in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is the owner of ear everything where she specializes in hearing conservation programs in motor sport. For the last 22 years, Dawn has worked with individual drivers, crew safety staff, photographers and media as well as their families. In addition, she works as a contractor in industrial settings and with musicians for hearing protection and education. And lastly, Kyle Langfitt is a clinical audiologist based in Indiana. He works clinically at a midsize Hospital in rural Indiana with interest in electrophysiology and cochlear implantation. Prior to becoming an audiologist, Kyle worked for nearly a decade as an American Sign Language language interpreter. In his free time, he likes to explore new hiking trails and try new recipes. So thank you all for joining me today. I would first like to just start with, you know, commenting on how eclectic of a group we are, you know, we have five, five guests here we have two industry, one owner, one person in research and academia one person that is working clinically. So this is really giving a nice varied perspective of Audiology. So I’d first like to sort of dive a little deeper into each of your backgrounds and your specific work. And really explore that space. So So Dawn, if you don’t mind, if we start with you, your work is obviously very niche. You are probably the leading voice in motorsport hearing protection in the United States and and largely in hearing protection in general. And how did you essentially get into it? What’s the what’s the backstory there?

Dawn 4:18
It was either a really big mistake or a really lucky moment to be in I was actually bartending to supplement starting a business for the purpose of musicians hearing protection. And the young lady walked into the bar. And she asked me what I was doing. And so I explained the concept of hearing conservation. And she thought outside the box, she said, that sounds like it would work in racing. And I told her I didn’t know anybody in racing, and she passed my name on to two people. And in less than six months, I was sitting in front of people like Michael Andretti and Dario, Franchitti and Al Unser senior, and I was working with the IndyCar technical team and we Make an earpiece special for the racecar drivers that has a tri axial accelerometer in each earpiece along with a speech transducer, so they can have communication. There was no standard before, there still is no standard. That’s what I’m fighting for. They give them a number to tell them their helmets the right one, they give them a number to tell them their fire suits the right one. And nobody educates them on why an earpiece should function as a hearing protector first and foremost, and allow you to listen at lower volume levels, extend your safe listening time. So when they wanted me to do the earpiece with the sensor in it, I think I said the most important sentence in my home or life, if we’re going to give them something, we should validate that it is a hearing protector, I would like to protect or like to evaluate their hearing on an annual basis. And make sure that we’re not seeing any changes and that we’re validating that it fits well. Rather than them complaining the racecar drivers so they complain about everything, but I don’t want them to ignore it and just turn volume up because there’s no limit on the volume going in. So you have to teach them how to be smarter. So

Kathleen Wallace 6:22
So you were in Indianapolis already and then turned into a motorsport professional. You didn’t move to Indianapolis for that purpose? Interesting. And any experience before you got there? Had you ever Are you a racecar fan enthusiast.

Dawn 6:38
And you New Yorkers might appreciate this. All the only racing I knew were the Italian kids racing there Iroc on Deer Park Avenue. That’s the That’s my line. That’s my line, because that’s all we knew. Nobody was a racecar driver. When I was going to high school. We heard about the straight line racing out in Ronkonkoma. But nobody did it. Nobody I knew it. And here it’s the largest single day sporting event in the world. And I get to I get to be responsible for their, their years.

Kathleen Wallace 7:11
So and you’ve been doing it for for 22 years now is that correct?

Dawn 7:16
22 years. And finally we’re gonna write a paper. I’m saying it out loud to an official group of audiologists. It’s gotten pinned a couple of times, because I am not the research audiologist. But I have 22 years of hearing test data that needs to be organized and the IU School of Medicine has shown interest. They’ve agreed to work with me on this because I think it needs to be said I think we need to put something out there. I’m just not a trained research audiologist and being a single person business, quite bluntly, I’ve been making sure foods on my table so that I can keep going. So I guess that’s that’s the hinderance of being the owner operator.

Kathleen Wallace 8:03
So you were the sole provider for this? And do you have any other employees are the sole employee of this operation?

Dawn 8:10
It’s kind of ridiculous. I am the only person keeping NASCAR afloat. Well, IndyCar, IndyCar mostly and then the IMSA, the International Motorsports Association. And then there are people involved in the cool stuff is that there’s people involved in all of those series in in little niche ways to there’s concussion people, there’s people that measure their bones. And so some of this stuff has the potential for collaboration. There was a gentleman doing some science about how the sound hits them, and where and they test their helmets. Of course, they don’t have very much hearing protection to helmets, but they try and I don’t know how valid their research is on that, either. To be quite honest with you. But

Kathleen Wallace 8:59
so, so we’ll come back for a little bit more, because there’s a whole lot more to talk about with hearing protection. That obviously is a whole future direction for Audiology, that perhaps we need to prioritize more. For now, let me just jump over to Kyle. So you have a very specific background as an American Sign Language interpreter for about 10 years and how often do you think that comes in handy for your clinical care? And do you think it should be essential for audiologists to know?

Kyle 9:32
Yeah, this is interesting question because I was first a member of the deaf community. So I kind of learned their perspective and their views on audiology as a profession, and it was never painted in a good light. So that’s kind of the mindset that I I assumed that my culture was teaching me that and therefore it must be true. So I decided to do something about it. And then I went to Gallaudet University and I learned a whole lot, the whole other side of the coin. So I think that right now, audiologists that are trained in these universities are only getting that side of the coin, but not getting the perspective that I had. And I think it would definitely bring compassion to the clinic. So I absolutely do think that it should be a part of every, you know, audiology education. I’ve like thought about some small business ideas where I could create a class or a master class or something like that to provide to the students but I just graduated, this is my first job, I thought maybe I should take a slow, kind of get to clinic and migraines, and then kind of explore that, but there’s definitely a need there.

Kathleen Wallace 10:48
And your so your shift into audiology was also very intentional, right? You had 10 years work experience, and has audiology? Is it what you imagined it would be? Based off of your experience? I think sometimes people have a certain conception of the concept of audiology of what it will be, and that we are working primarily with the deaf community when that isn’t always the case. What is your experience been so far?

Kyle 11:17
Yeah, actually, it’s interesting that I used to like, I would know that the phrase that deafness is it’s like a small incidents disability. And I could stop that anywhere. And I didn’t really internalize that. And so I entered audiology. And I thought, wow, there are a lot of people who, you know, they get by just fine in quiet environments. But as soon as there’s background noise, that’s where they have trouble. And that’s a totally different aspect of hearing loss. So in a way, I do find that there are similarities,

Kathleen Wallace 11:51
and then just jumping up to Jonathan, I’m going based off of how I see it on my screen. And moving away from the in person clinical experience into both the classroom and the research environment. You’ve now been at NYU for a good stretch here. And with the CUNY Graduate Center, did you always envision it was going to be research audiology?

Jonathan 12:16
No, no, I, you know, I went to Indiana University, I went to IU and I I worked with chinchillas a little bit there with Bill Shoffner, and, you know, I ended up doing my fourth year in a hybrid clinical research. So I, I always liked research and I liked learning. If I could go get degrees the rest of my life I would. And I did a little bit of clinical work before I came, I went to Interoperative monitoring before I came into NYU. And you know, it was kind of, you know, just serendipitous. I’ve always wanted to work with cochlear implants, always from the beginning of my audiology stretch. I just thought they were coolest thing ever, no offense to hearing aids, but I didn’t like hearing aids, I just thought cochlear implants are really it. And, you know, an old research friend of mine saw the ad at NYU, and said, you know, it looks like they’re looking for somebody exactly like you. And it’s true, it really was, you know, we have an amazing team. And, you know, it’s not that I haven’t had opportunities to switch into clinical. But I see my value in research. And I do interact with patients, just on a different level. It’s nice to not be their clinician. And it’s nice to be kind of actually like the back, you know, the back end man that can get a lot of things done for them that otherwise wouldn’t happen. So yeah, that’s where I’m at.

Kathleen Wallace 13:55
And how has cochlear implants changed in your career so far?

Jonathan 14:00
Well, Criterion are loosening constantly. I mean, I don’t know, I could talk about this all day. It’s like, you know, we don’t see unilateral implants anymore because we allow residual hearing. And then, you know, the whole the whole aspect of there’s single sided deafness implantees now and the push right now is residual hearing whether or not that’s useful or not, we don’t know yet. But you know, preserving hearing in the implant year is is kind of a big thing. But, you know, implants have, you know, the devices themselves have really reached like, great potential, and I don’t know that we can keep making the device better. It’s that we can change the approach to the electrode. And we may we may be able to, you know, I do do some cognitive research at NYU and we may be able to kind of hone in on what it is that make A bad performer, a bad performer? So, yeah, that’s how it keeps changing

Kathleen Wallace 15:08
plenty of research questions to answer you’ll be employed for as long as you want to be employed. And then Cassie, just shifting over to you. What was your thought process between the the shift from going into the industry side of things? And do you miss clinical interactions, you’re still in clinics to some capacity. But how are you liking the niche that you are in so far?

Cassie 15:33
So I went into this, hoping that I would someday reach the industry side, I had started out wanting to be in interoperative monitoring, ended up falling in love with hearing aids. And, you know, really kind of getting to know a little bit more about the industry side and knowing that’s the path that I wanted to take. So I work more on the education side. So I do a lot of training, a lot of teaching, which is really my favorite thing to do is to teach and present and, you know, I love the education piece of it. But half of what I do is also still seeing patients, I always joke that, you know, I have to keep telling myself that most patients are very happy with their hearing aids, but 100% of the patients that I see tend to be unhappy with them so but I love the challenge of going in and seeing those difficult patients that are having issues and learning from them and learning from the people that I work with and doing some problem solving with that. So it’s really been a great, great transit transition. And I love the travel to I actually really do enjoy the travel of of everything and seeing the country and working with lots of teams on a on a global team and on the US team and you know, you really get a lot of variety on the industry side.

Kathleen Wallace 16:52
Yeah, and I imagine you and and Henry both working for industry side, the fact that you have touch points at so many different clinics probably gives you a very good glimpse into the world of audiology, you probably have a very good pulse, at least both of you at a minimum, the Northeast. So that will certainly I’d like to circle back to that. Henry, your background in music, I actually share a similar background. I’m also a music major. Where did that transition come of going from music? And was that the plan all along to go music into audiology? Or was there How did this happen?

Henry 17:33
You know, I still not sure. I, you know, did music for a while, played the tuba. And so when you play the tuba, it turns out there’s not a lot of job opportunities, unless you’re like really, really, really good. And so I got through, you know, a master’s and it was like next step is a DMA, doctorate. And it was like, based on the way everything’s going, that doesn’t seem fun. So I took some time off, I started working around, you know, and kind of realize, coming out with music, I don’t really want that to be, you know, my day job. And as any good millennial does you listen to podcasts, and hello, dream come true now. And I heard on like NPR, audiology, great work life balance. And so I was like, You know what, that seems fine. I looked into it. You don’t need necessarily any prerequisites my music degree would get me there. I applied. And I was like, it makes sense sound music, like let’s do this. And so they accepted me in and cannot go on from there.

Kathleen Wallace 18:34
I have a very similar path that I was not to, but I was trombone. But the the understanding of sound really does lend itself obviously to audiology, the acoustics class at a minimum, certainly comes a little easier. And then it Cassie and Henry, both of you, what do you think are misconceptions of the industry side of Audiology? Are there any

Cassie 18:59
interesting questions? So I’ve been in industry for almost three years? I would say, you know, we, at least from from my perspective and the work that I do, we really do have, you know the audiologists at heart and their patients at heart and you know, their hearing care providers. But we do think about the future of the industry and we do what we can to preserve that and do the right thing.

Henry 19:28
Yeah, and to echo that. I mean, I haven’t been in there nearly as long as Cassie it’s only been about three months for me. For me. It felt like I was kind of going to the dark side. It was a little like scary especially I went to a very heavy like ivory tower type type school it seemed like and so to kind of come from that and be like a sell out to the industry. I felt you know, a little apprehensive, but then I kind of realized as you hit on like we are the people spreading the information to the audiologist, we Are the one training them and without us, we can’t impact our patients. And so it really helps me like, one of my, you know, core values was to be able to elevate audiology. And by being able to access that many people, I can therefore elevate audiology. So it really I think paired well, but it was one of those that I was a little I was a little scared at first, and we’re going to find out and see how it works. But hopefully, it works out. Well.

Kathleen Wallace 20:26
So far, so good. And I just want to pose a few questions to all of you about the current state of Audiology. What is your view of where we’re at? It seems that to a certain extent that audiology is at a crossroads of you know, are we a rehabilitative field? Are we a device driven field? Are we are we going to keep fighting insurance? Are we going to expand our scope of practice? There’s a lot of big questions. So what are your takes on the current state of Audiology? Some? What are the challenges right now? What are the biggest opportunities in your mind? And, Don, you want to chime in first.

Dawn 21:05
So I think the biggest opportunities are things like Tuned, that’s coming up, the access to the patience, the all of the wearables, everybody wears something now in their ears, and it is cool. So the stigma is kind of gone. So I think that we can really maximize that potential and make it sciency for people health driven instead of just electronic gimmicky given. And then the state of it, I just, I’m glad to see that hearing aids, right, we read our hearing review, you know, the market is so flat for so long. So I’m sorry that we had the pandemic, but I’m glad that it improved people’s perception of some of the hearing aids, right. And I think they get better and better, but I don’t think they solve everything. So getting people to understand that they have to do more, I think is also becoming easier and easier. So

Kathleen Wallace 22:06
and Jonathan, what do you think?

Jonathan 22:10
You know, I, I’m so far removed from from hearing aids. And in some ways, I, you know, I kind of love that, but because I know, you know, Ci is our insurance covered, and we don’t necessarily think about that stuff. You know, I think the technology that has came out on the market, all these OTC stuff, you know, I am all for access. Like, I just love the fact that somebody doesn’t have to spend so much money, someone with, let’s say, a mild hearing loss, or mild to moderate, that can go out and get a device that will help them. And it also may help them in the future just overcome the issue of going further. But you know, I had a very, very long meeting with some a bit we had a huge meeting today. And talking about just like penetration of the CIS because this is always a big topic. And I don’t think it’s audiologist anymore, that aren’t referring hearing aid patients to see eyes. That it’s, you know, it’s a very complex problem that, you know, I think that patients themselves have bad perceptions of CIS and, you know, you know, there’s plenty of people out there that are CI candidates that are still not getting them, for sure. You know, and for whatever reason, I don’t know. But yeah, I don’t I mean, I guess, in my, in my mind, see, eyes are not going to go anywhere at all, they’re just going to keep expanding. But hearing aids, I don’t know, you know? Yeah.

Kathleen Wallace 23:48
And, Henry, any thoughts?

Henry 23:51
I mean, for me, I think a lot of it comes into the education of audiology, that’s what’s been produced in what has been produced. And we can talk about a whole host of issues, and I think it comes down to what are what’s going on at the graduate school level. So I could probably go on for far too long about that side of things. And in general, I think, having been in music, there’s a lot of pessimism in audiology. And it’s like, you know, we’re like, oh my gosh, we can’t do really or because it’s so expensive. And it’s a 10,000 piece of equipment like dollar piece of equipment, like my tuba cost more than that like and I was expected to have that two of them for undergrad like you know, let’s like compare the apples oranges you know, here are apples apples are like for education, you have to get a masters in DMA in to be able to view music in university setting. And here we go, you know, two years less than the masters and it’s like, you know, I understand it’s more expensive and all that but there’s a lot of other people in the same boat. So like, let’s be optimistic and like, hey, we actually have a decent paying job. You have a good work life balance. And we are actually helping people. There’s a lot of issues, don’t get me wrong. But like, if we had a little bit more optimism and like we can actually do this, I think it would go further. And aside from that, a lot of it comes into gender for me, and we can talk about that later. But I think there’s also a gender thing that not necessarily is helping or hurting, but it’s, we need to talk about.

Kathleen Wallace 25:27
And, Cassie, what’s your take on all this stuff, the current state of audiology,

Cassie 25:31
the current state of audiology, that’s a loaded question. But kind of going off of what Jonathan had to say, you know, talking about CIS versus hearing aids, you know, I don’t know that much about CIS. But I do know, hearing aids pretty well. And what I do know is that we are a service based industry. When it comes to the hearing aid side, it is heavily service based, I think, personally, with OTCs, it can only be good for us, because that’s going to get a lot of people in the door, that’s going to get their foot in the door. And that’s one of the main problems that we have in our industry is getting people to come in earlier, especially those people with more mild to moderate losses. And what we do know is that with hearing aids, they need a lot of care, they need a lot of upkeep, they’re difficult to you know, take care of patients have, you know, if you give you fit a patient with a hearing aid, you know, they’re going to come in for a follow up because they need some fine tuning, because every single patient is different. Everybody has different preferences and the way that they like to hear the world around them. So they’re eventually going to need a hearing care provider, I think that can only actually be good for us as an industry to get them in sooner, and get them fit with, you know, something that’s going to be appropriate and really help their, you know, cognitive health in the long run by fitting them sooner. So I think you know, we have some really great opportunities here in the future.

Kathleen Wallace 26:58
Absolutely. And Kyle, you’re the freshest data grad school. So I am curious, what’s the messaging in grad school? And what’s your take on this right now have, you know, on the early end of your career?

Kyle 27:10
Oh, that’s a good question. I didn’t even think about my experience in graduate school. So even though I am recently detached, I think that maybe the way that I approached school didn’t lend itself to a lot of discussion about the current state of state of Audiology. I was I’m like a very nerdy in the books kind of guy. So having that conversation as like a casual thing, or like getting someone else’s perspective, whether it be a student, or like a professor who has been in the field for a long time kind of picking their brain, that’s, I guess, maybe a missed opportunity for me. But just like, with deal, as far as the first year clinician in the clinic, I definitely see barriers to access, and OTC hearing aids are the way to provide that access and circling back to the cochlear implant outcomes. I wonder if people who are amplified from the very earliest when it just noticed their problem or their difficulties. Kind of like me, I have hearing loss in both ears. And it’s high, high pitch in nature. So I struggle on background noise. And that happened during grad school. So it’s kind of interesting to experience that communication, difficulty in noisy places, but I can get along then just like one on one. So I think that I wonder if that experience lends itself to better outcomes down the road. So I think that OTC and cochlear implants are really going to be kind of blown up in the next like, 10 years.

Kathleen Wallace 28:56
Yeah, I absolutely agree. And I’m glad that we have a pretty optimistic group here because Henry, as you pointed out, audiology can be a little pessimistic, and it is what you make of it. And there are plenty of avenues. We just have to start exploring them getting out of the bucks. And dawn, I think you’re certainly on the right track of hearing preservation and Prevention has to be a huge part of the push forward as well. segwaying a little bit more into why we are all gathered here as LGBTQ+ audiologists. You can’t help but notice how homogenous audiology is. We are overwhelmingly a sis white straight female profession. And in my book, that is not a good thing. Diversity is a value for a whole lot of reasons. And how can we actually improve our recruitment to audiology and increase that diversity? Do you all agree that it is a problem? What are some Your takes on that?

Kyle 30:01
Yeah. So I went to my first ASHA conference back in November, and it was predominantly speech language pathologist. So I talked with, and I found a few gay SLPs. And we kind of clinged to each other throughout the conference. So we went together at and there were a couple of males. So we went through this. It’s a caucus of male SLPs. And they kind of tackle that same issue. So in my mind, I think, okay, female dominated down to male down to gay male, and then you kind of hit the nail on the head, those who are kind of not cisgender, or that was very eye opening for me.

Kathleen Wallace 30:45
Has anyone else noticed that at conferences or have any thoughts about what the effect of that homogeneity is in our profession? Do we need to be better at recruitment?

Dawn 31:00
Thinking about what the effect of? That’s a good question? Sure, it has an effect. I go back, I get to go back to the university, and I get to go talk to them and share with them what I’ve done. I think that they’re most surprised that I don’t, like hide the secret of what I’ve done. The most significant thing that happened recently was this young lady she was like, but it just seems like it was all luck, how you got to where you got to. And I was like, but I will help you. So I think that that’s really important that we have to just get you’re knocking things and we just have to really pay attention to each other and always just bring each other up, right? There’s the optimism part, and support. Like there are patients that I deal with, it’s someone who handles their hearing aids, and I handle their racing earpieces, I don’t need to be in there hearing aids, maybe there’s somebody in New York, maybe it’s one of you guys that handles them. And I want to let you do what you need to do. And I just want to help them focus on this one thing, but I don’t know that I answered your question about how that affects our margin. And you’re not gonna say the word you say the word.

Kathleen Wallace 32:11
When those words that the emphasis changes in the different forms, I had to think about it, too.

Henry 32:16
So it was for me, you know, for thinking diversity. You know, when George Floyd incidents have happened, I think audiology had a big push of like, oh, my gosh, we are all white. And it was like, well, obviously, like, we could have told you that. But then they’re like, well, we just have to recruit this diversity, and the emphasis being on the color of a person’s skin. And I remember sitting there as a student at that time, and I was like, Well, hey, like, I am this queer person, and you don’t really care about me, like, why am I going to want to recruit someone who is going to have a much harder time? Because their diversity is reflected on the outside, right? And it was just like, throughout all of this, it’s kind of like, why are we trying to recruit people into a profession where you don’t have the support already built. And I mean, for me, it’s definitely multi layered of so I’m a trans guy. So I went through school as a female bodied individual. And so now being on the other side of that, like, I can see all of the ways in which the system was flawed in a lot of, you know, for me, and also in terms of audiology, and I think, just, we need the diversity, because even even taking away the color of the skin, or the LGBTQ, it just makes us better. And like, you know, as a musician, it was just like, I think differently than you. And that’s not a bad thing. But I think differently than you. And yet, it almost felt like I was like, not supposed to be in here because I thought differently. But one of the beautiful things for me like about LGBTQ is that it doesn’t matter who you are, like we are found at every minoritized community, historically minded that like so, you know, if it’s the color of our skin, if it’s religion, if it’s just a bit like disability status, or whatever, like you can find an LGBTQ person in that. And so I think that’s where we’ve done really well in that we have gained a lot of rights quicker probably than other historically marginalized communities. However, that is also not necessarily being uplifted in audiology. And so you know, I know that this is happening for me. I can’t imagine what it’s like for my people that people of color and my colleagues on the other side of the table who haven’t much worse, so yes, we need it.

Cassie 34:46
I think it’s really important that we elevate the voices of the people that are in in audiology. Like I think us doing this right now is really important. I remember being a year unclear audiologists and being relatively closeted because I didn’t know how people would react or how people would treat me. And, you know, I had an experience where a colleague had opened a door for me, essentially, to make me feel comfortable in coming out of the closet, and write that in there, I decided, you know, that that was it for me, like, I am not going to be back in at work, I’ve mentioned it in every job interview that I’ve ever had. Because that is something that’s really important to me that I am in a safe space, I’m in an accepting space. And I think that’s really important for me to do that for other people as well. For you know, the other baby Cassie is out there that you know, might have some fears going into things, you know, I want to make sure that I’m, you know, a voice to help them, you know, have that that courage and know that it’s okay to be in the space.

Jonathan 35:54
I’m taking it all in. Because, you know, I live in a bubble. And I say this all the time, like I really do, and NYU is very progressive. And, you know, I am the only male audiologist at NYU. And I happen to be gay, but I’ve never ever once felt, like, out of place or anything around my immediate people. But as an industry. Yeah, I don’t know, you know, I went to IU. And it was, it was relatively I don’t know if it was an issue, or maybe it was an issue for people and I didn’t pick up on it. I don’t know, because I’ve never not. I’ve never not just honestly, I’m flamboyant I am. And that’s that’s just who I am I but you know, everybody’s comments have brought me back to like these weird, I remember, I interviewed once, and this girl tried to basically polite girl, I shouldn’t say that. But the interviewer said, you know, she was like, Well, you have a very young face, how are you going to manage that? And I was kind of like, What are you talking about? I mean, I don’t. But I think she was kind of pointing out like, how do you gain respect? How do you gain rapport with people? And luckily, you know, I landed in New York City, so I didn’t have to worry about it. People would be shocked if I said, you know, my wife here, right? They were they really would, they would be freaked out and probably walk out the door. But, you know, I think that, you know, I had I had an interesting conversation with a colleague, not, you know, probably a year or two ago, just about the nature of audiologist and how not, you know, nobody here. But you know, many audiologists come in, they’re female, they want a protocol, and they want to follow that protocol, and they never want to change. And I, and that’s something that keeps audiology down, it really keeps us down. And, you know, so I try not to teach like that, definitely. And I tried to emphasize, like, get out of that box, get out of that box, as much as you possibly can. And, you know, I don’t know, I don’t know anything about recruiting new audiologist or anything, because I feel like, it’s a very specialized field, and you have to have interest, but what really, what propels you to do that, you know, what I certainly I hear complaints still, sometimes I see I hear complaints from the audio of the clinical audiologist I work with, um, who are all female. And just some of the ways that they’re treated because of that, you know, and I, I guess, I don’t feel that I’m treated differently, because I’m gay. But I definitely feel that I am treated sometimes differently, because I’m white and a male. Oh, so? Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know how to make that better.

Kathleen Wallace 39:01
Yeah. And it’s interesting, because it’s not just recruitment, as you mentioned, it’s, you know, when we’re in the classroom with them, and the AUD training of how we’re talking about audiology, and in my mind, the more diversity there is, the more differing of opinions, as we’ve all sort of alluded to, the more we will think out of the box or get out of the box thinkers in there, to just sort of change the status quo for Audiology, because it does need to move forward a bit. But you all also touched on something interesting, where I think there can be this sort of dilemma for all of us of you know, we are obviously audiologist. That’s what we do. We’re also members of the LGBTQ plus community. Are those intertwined? Are they independent in our minds, you know, does one inform the other or, you know, do you think of yourself as just an audiologist or does it actually have an effect on your ability to do your job being a member of the LGBTQ plus community.

Henry 40:05
So what do you say that two things kind of come into my mind of? I can’t remove myself from it. So yes. And I think in a lot of ways, if we look at someone who’s struggling, and some people may not have had as much struggle in their life as others, you know, it gives that little bit of empathy to where you can really connect with them. Right. And so I think that, it does definitely impact that. But for me, my lens is probably too far skewed, in some ways on a gender spectrum. And kind of like what Kyle had said earlier in this discussion of the diversity of audiology, but also into how it impacts our care, is what he was talking about the male speech SLPs and trying to recruit SLPs. And I got asked to be on like a male, like getting recruitment of men in Asha. And I was like, first like, well, we don’t need more men in audiology, like, why, like, why do we care, like, women are awesome, you know, like, and then I was like, Well, you know, what, our patient base is so much broader than just women, it’s so much broader than just white women. And we need to have a profession that reflects the population. And so in that regard, like me, being able to relate to an LGBTQ patient helped so much like to see them open up, and I can actually, like, have a conversation about like, Oh, your partner isn’t just, you know, your roommate. And this is the struggles that you’re having. It just elevated their care. And so I think, at the end of the day, I can’t remember that because it is who I am.

Dawn 41:45
So the racing industry is terribly white and conservative, and it is horrible, and hard. And my … nobody said Facebook, and I’m not addicted to it, I swear. But you have to make sure that you keep some of the profiles of those people that say horrible things, so you know who to walk around and not be so welcoming to. Because I go by myself to racetracks. I go to upstate New York, I go to California, I go to Alabama, I go to Florida, and I just have to be a smart New Yorker, right? Can’t walk around looking at the big buildings, I got to make sure that I’m doing my job doing it well. Representing the things that I want to represent well, both in my profession and my personal life, and then just making sure I know who I’m safe around. Some of the things that people have said, have really surprised me. I’ve been friends with people for years and years. And it makes me very, very sad. Very sad that that’s the way that they’ve chosen to express themselves. And then and then I’ve had the pence campaign asked to make him an earpiece. I know Look, Jonathan, I saw that. Yes. So I believe I opened a business to serve all the people that I’m supposed to serve. So I would not say no, that I’m going to stand by that. I don’t appreciate what he stands for any of his family stands for taking care of the brother, but I wouldn’t hurt them. And ethical audiologist, I would not bring up my political stance there. Although some of you might disagree with me. But I just I’d started my business to do better for people, while people. So I would say those are my two hard things. Otherwise. I don’t think it’s really affected me that much. And I don’t know if that just comes from my New York, just to keep going. Like I’m not a sensitive person. So you can’t be right. So yeah, but different. Very different.

Kathleen Wallace 44:07
Yeah. Kyle, did you have anything to add?

Kyle 44:11
Well, I feel validated by many of her statements. I am someone who came out like in 2017. So not too far away. And I feel like I lost we all lost the year to the pandemic. So it feels really fresh and moving to a rural place like Indiana where I kind of do feel that sense of I need to be careful about who I share what with patients, they all live here. I live close by so I do think about that, especially. So for example I like to go running and it’s very beautiful living in rural Indiana. You get some nice scenery, very refreshing. But then I think like what are these People get to see like when I have a date or things like that. So definitely something that you always keep in the back of your mind. And

Kathleen Wallace 45:10
yeah, yeah. And I think that’s something that’s interesting. Both Don and Kyle, you touched on it that audiology, we have to serve all, you know, we, we work with the general public, we have no say over who is put in front of us. And we have to have a sort of monitor on behavior and reactions. And we generally work with a population that, you know, skews older traditionally. And I do think this idea of disclosure really comes into play of how much do we share with with one with a patient and something that seems uniquely audiology to me, compared to other healthcare professionals? is how much personal information audiologists disclose to build rapport with the patient, especially hearing aid patients? I don’t know, if it’s because you’re seeing them so frequently, and the appointments are long, but there is a lot of personal information that’s shared? And is that just my experience? Or have you all noticed that from from those that are patient facing? And do you think your ability to not disclose everything or have to sort of navigate what you’re going to disclose has affected your ability to relate with patients or build a patient relationship,

Cassie 46:29
you know, working in industry, I have the luxury of not necessarily always having to follow up with patients. So I get to leave and, and walk away, but I have found that, you know, while I was working in clinic that, you know, I also don’t want to let my bias judge a lot of my patients, you know, I was lucky to work in a pretty liberal and accepting area. So most people, you know, wouldn’t bat an eye at me coming out or mentioning that I have a wife or a girlfriend or anything like that. But I have been in those clinics where, you know, I wouldn’t feel as comfortable. But I also, like I said, I don’t want to let my biases of, you know, seeing somebody and judging them and what they might say to me get in the way of really being my true self, because, you know, we do disclose a lot about our personal lives. Our patients ask us about our personalized because we asked them about theirs, you know, we have to know what they do day in and day out in order to give them you know, the services that they really need, and to help them the best we can. So I’ve found that a lot of times, you know, talking a little bit about my identity has been actually pretty helpful in gaining that trust with a lot of patients

Kathleen Wallace 47:52
Henry, you’re only a little bit removed from from clinic life. How did you toe that line of disclosure? And did you find it problematic of how much personal information patients want to know about their audiologist?

Henry 48:05
Oh, I definitely find that a little. Just for my even I think person even regardless of status, it’s just like, I don’t want to share this with you. But you know, I did my externship in a female body, but I looked at that time, gender non conforming, and I was shocked at the number of people who asked if I had, at that time, a boyfriend, in a hetero relationship. And I was like, this is interesting. And it was in Columbus, Ohio and a VA. So like, you know, kind of Trumps America. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that, but I just did. And so, you know, it was amazing. The blinds, you know, the people had of like, you know, gay people don’t exist. And I was like, alright, so but I don’t feel comfortable telling you that I have a partner of the same sex at that time, right? And now like, to be honest, I don’t necessarily I haven’t come out to anyone, like, when I was practicing as a trans guy, like, it was one of those like, what do you say like, Oh, hey, by the way, I’m trans too. Like, you know, like, I felt like it. I didn’t have that opportunity. But also because I could kind of toe that line it. I think I tried to make it as welcoming and as possible. And so it did allow to have better relationships. But yeah, it definitely feels weird of like, what I’m asking and what they’re asking for me, didn’t always line up.

Kathleen Wallace 49:27
Jonathan, you don’t have much clinical exposure. I know you do see study subjects? Do they ask about your life?

Jonathan 49:35
I mean, so I guess to put things in perspective, you know, when I see patients and sometimes I follow them over the course of a year or and, you know, I end up seeing them for like three to five hours at a time. So there’s a lot of talking and I don’t I don’t I don’t hold anything back. You know, I’m really lucky. You know, I have pictures of my partner and I on my desk and people off didn’t ask like, Oh, who’s that? And and, uh, you know, it’s not that big of a deal I remember, but I will tell this story. And this was this is sort of the paradox of living, living as a gay man. And also, you know, coming from a small town in the Midwest, that I had a patient once that, you know, I worked with her, I don’t know, quite a few times. And it didn’t occur to me that, you know, she was a pediatrician or whatever. And she goes, Oh, do you have kids? And it like, shocked me. And I said, Oh, God, no, that it shocked me because she was a pediatrician and knows that gay people have kids? Like, that’s, that’s where she was coming from that I was coming from like, what do you think I’m straight? And you know, so I think that sometimes we I can even miss perceive somebody’s comment, you know, that yeah, I don’t know me, I can be my my full, authentic self, I think with patients, for the most part, you know, for the most part.

Kathleen Wallace 51:09
Yeah, I. So I now have a three month old son and the very confusing conversation of having to tell patients that I’m going out on maternity leave. But no, I didn’t give birth my wife did was just a whole whopper of a coming out for some of my patients and their heads were spinning. So it is, it’s a lot to navigate even in New York City sometimes that was that that confused a lot of my 90 Plus patients. Yeah, it’s very interesting. And when you think about the building of rapport of you know, they rely on us giving personal information, because we are asking them for personal information. How do you think we can make a more inclusive and you know, compassionate environment. So our patients are signaled that this is a safe space, you know, of bringing their, their their partner or their spouse to an appointment or talking openly about their communication partner? What do you think audiology can do? Just be open to using the right language, I guess, right? Isn’t that a nice little key? matters? Yeah, have you been using just partner spouse rather than the heteronormative language? Anything else that we think would signal good care for? This is also just a PSA for other audiologists out there.

Jonathan 52:33
I know that this is not obviously applicable, everywhere. And that that saddens me, but you know, there’s one person on this podcast that has pronouns listed in their, in their, in their little box. And, you know, it’s very, very common in NYU now to list this in your email. And I guess it would shock me if somebody’s not accepting that would list their pronouns, why would they do that? But it’s a very, very welcoming, friendly, saying, like, this is this is our safe space. And I know that, you know, I’ve introduced myself to patients before, and they even tell me their pronouns, just basically telling me like, it’s okay that you’re gay. And I’m like, okay, cool. Like, he him. Okay. So think like little bitty, nuanced, things like that. And I don’t, I don’t know that, you know, let’s, let’s be blunt. I don’t know that you can do that in Ohio. I don’t know that you can do that in Texas. You know, but it’s definitely a step.

Henry 53:45
I mean, I would say, so, as a trans person walking into a healthcare facility, you’re kind of walking in knowing that you’re going to war in a little bit, you know, especially when my name didn’t line up with whatever I looked like, and gender markers. And, you know, there’s a huge flux and flux flux of who am I and what and legally, not legally, whatever. And I would say rainbows were like a pretty big indicator, though, they’ve gotten a little popular to where it’s like, you might be kind of an ally, or think you’re an ally, but you’re really not informed. So like, that’s a problem. But like, in general, I have a shot, I feel like of like, having maybe the right name and not having like a Bible thrown at me. So rainbows are good. And I think you know, the email thing, and signatures with your pronouns. I think in general, like, it’s just great, especially like, if you’re talking to an athletics, I don’t know, if you’re a male or a female, like, and so you don’t want to, especially if you’re gonna go meet them, and you’re just like, oh, shocked, like, oh, gosh, I don’t know, I didn’t that’s not what I thought or sometimes I say India, you know, whatever. Like, it just helps. Right? So I think those are very good points. And honestly, at the end of the day, I just think we need better education in our grad programs and continuing education. version that have all this stuff like where it’s kind of a go to have, this is what happens when a person comes in with these pronouns, where they’re like, has a different name. And it we shouldn’t rely on like the institution of a hospital to teach that to someone.

Cassie 55:15
Yes, I think that, you know, just kind of educating about the right language to use, you know, everybody just kind of getting used to using, you know, non conforming language until you know, for you know, you until you know, somebody’s pronouns, or, you know, if this, you know, patient who’s a child, don’t ask for mommy and daddy, you know, asking what their who their parents are, what they’re, you know, kind of being more general like that. But also, I can’t tell you how many times when somebody is, you know, made a misstep. And then suddenly, they’re apologizing, oh, my apologizing, oh, my gosh, I’m so sorry. I just thought and they go on and on and on. And then suddenly, I’m apologizing to them. That is something that just drives me nuts. So I would say also, you know, we’re gonna make mistakes, I make mistakes. Just swiftly, kind of just say thank you for correcting me and move on. I think that’s a big thing that can help make everything much more comfortable for everyone as well.

Henry 56:18
Yeah, we? Well, I don’t know about everyone else. But in trans world, we call that a cis funeral. When that happens, and it’s just annoying, you know, like, we get it you messed up, stop made it about you now. Let’s move on.

Kathleen Wallace 56:32
Any more parting thoughts?

Jonathan 56:36
I, I really liked this part of the discussion, actually. And Henry had such a great, you know, kind of pinpoint thing and, you know, not that, you know, obviously, we teach at CUNY academically, but, you know, bringing this up early on in education, because it’s not, you know, gender is not binary, you know, it’s not the traditional thing anymore. And I think that, you know, as a health care provider, you can choose to be healthcare provider and care for everyone or not. And, you know, you may not agree with it, that’s okay. But the world is changing, and it’s going to change no matter what. So, I know that, you know, all the medical records at NYU, all, you know, have multiple pronouns. And but, you know, I’ve been, so I work with NIH a lot. And so I’m waiting, I’m waiting on the updated demographics to come piling to, like, come through, because we have to, you know, and there may be a lag, but I know it’s coming. I know that it’s coming. So and I think that’s a very positive thing.

Henry 57:42
Yeah. I mean, I don’t necessarily know your role, Jonathan. But it’s so it was so interesting. When I hear and have this conversation with other audiologists. They’re like, Well, what about this and it really comes down to like, what if they have otosclerosis I need to know that their gender like what were they born at birth? And it’s like, Do you really like are you actually diagnosing that? No, you would be going and seeing any anted as an audiologist, we are treating that professional like treat treating this the hearing loss or the dizziness or whatever it is. And in general, it has absolutely nothing to do with what you were assigned at birth. And if it does, you probably work in a hospital setting, and you will have access to that anyway. So I don’t care about oh, AES, I don’t care about the you know, NL NL two might have a gender norm, well, you know what, that’s actually going to be based on the person in their brain that they are in now, which is the gender that they are presenting that. And if they’re non binary, and AOMEI, and LCME, has to come up with something. But at the end of the day, like it was just kind of like, why is this going to be the hill you die on audiology, that we need to know this because we might have one case like, we just need to be open and just treat the person as they come in. That’s all we have to do.

Kathleen Wallace 58:52
And that’s a great note to end on. Thank you all for joining me i This was clearly just the tip of the iceberg. We had a lot of ground to cover because this is sort of uncharted territory. And certainly there’s a whole lot more to explore for all of you as audiologists and your expertise and I hope all of you get that platform to be highlighted in that manner. Because what all of you are doing is fascinating work for Audiology. And thank you also for partaking in the discussion about LGBTQ plus identity and audiology and how the two intersect with your careers. I hope this has been informative for the audiologists, listeners. And again, thank you all so much and have a happy Pride


Panelists include:

  • Kathleen Wallace, Au.D. (She/her/hers) is an audiologist based in New York City. She works clinically for the largest healthcare system in New York State, virtually as the Head of Provider Education at Tuned, and in the classroom as an adjunct professor at the CUNY Graduate Center. Kathleen also dabbles with social media, running an educational TikTok called the Ear Doc of TikTok. She lives in Brooklyn with her wife, their son, and dog.
  • Cassie Fuller, Au.D. (she/her) is an industry audiologist based out of Chatham, NY. She currently works as a Clinical Education specialist serving New England, Downstate New York, and New Jersey. Cassie identifies as a lesbian and lives with her wife and rescue dog.
  • Jonathan Neukam Au.D. CNIM (he/him) is a research audiologist based in New York City. He works in the Laboratory for Translational Auditory Research at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, focusing on the adaptation process after cochlear implantation. In addition, he is an adjunct assistant professor at the CUNY Graduate Center. Jonathan identifies as a gay man and lives with his partner Sebastian, their 19 year old cat, and two west highland terriers.
  • Henry Botzum, AuD, (he/they) is an industry audiologist based in Massachusetts. He currently works as a Regional Sales Manager for New England in the hearing aid industry following his work as lead clinical audiologist at Berkshire Medical Center in Western Massachusetts. Henry is active in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging advocacy, presenting at National and Regional conferences and serves on the DEIB and Membership committees for AAA and as the Vice President of Clinical Practice for the Massachusetts Speech and Hearing Association. In addition to audiology, Henry holds advanced degrees in Music Performance.
  • L. Dawn Flinn MS CCC-A is an audiologist based in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is the owner of earEVERYTHING where she specializes in hearing conservation programs in motor sport. For the last 22 years, Dawn has worked with individual drivers, crew, safety staff, photographers and media, as well as their families. In addition she works as a contractor in industrial settings and with musicians for hearing protection and education.
  • Kyle Langfitt, Au.D. (he/him) is a clinical audiologist based in Indiana. He currently works at a mid-sized hospital in rural Indiana with clinical interests in electrophysiology and cochlear implantation. Prior to becoming an audiologist, Kyle worked for nearly a decade as an American Sign Language interpreter. In his free time, he likes to explore new hiking trails and try new recipes.


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