The soon-to-be governor of Pennsylvania made headlines this weekend by selecting the state’s first transsexual physician general – a pediatric psychiatrist who began living as a woman about five years ago, despite the fact that he was born a man.
Democratic Gov.-elect Tom Wolf named Dr. Richard Levine – who now goes by “Rachel” – as his pick for physician general on Saturday, at the same time as he announced three other proposed members of his cabinet. If confirmed by the state Senate, Levine will become one of the highest-ranking transsexuals of any government body in the United States.
“Dr. Rachel Levine is well-respected in the fields of pediatrics, psychiatry, and behavioral health, where she [sic] has practiced for close to three decades,” Wolf said in a press release explaining his selection. “She [sic] has been a leading voice in efforts to treat teens with medical and psychological problems, as well as adults and children with eating disorders. It is important to me that we place equal emphasis on behavioral and physical health issues. Dr. Levine will bring expertise and wide-ranging knowledge to this important role advising the secretary of Health and me on medical and public health matters.”
Levine, who has two teenage children with his ex-wife, Martha (they divorced in 2013 after 30 years of marriage) has spent most of his career treating eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, but since his decision to “come out” as transgender, he has been increasingly focused on homosexual and transgender activism. He currently sits on the board of gay advocacy group Equality PA, and serves as the LGBT liaison for the Office of Diversity at Penn State Hershey, where he is a professor. He previously served as the faculty advisor for the campus LGBT club, and founded a faculty-student mentoring program for people with same-sex attraction and gender identity issues.
Levine told the Patriot-News that he believes his status as an open transsexual will help him to advocate more effectively for other people whose sexual expression is outside the biological norm.
“I think that [being transsexual] has helped me in terms of the LGBT community in terms of understanding what all the issues are,” Levine said. “And I think I've been able to serve as a mentor and role model to LGBT individuals at the medical center as well as in the community.”
Homosexual and transgender activists welcomed Levine’s appointment, taking to social media to offer their congratulations, and predicting that his selection will be a boon for their healthcare agenda in Pennsylvania.
But some of Levine’s former eating disorder patients say they feel betrayed by his decision to deny his biological sex and begin living as a woman while simultaneously encouraging them to embrace the body they were given by nature regardless of their own feelings.
“Many of us who go [to Levine’s clinic] have body image issues and we cope with it by means of our eating disorders,” wrote one former patient on health care review site Vitals.com. “Dr. Levine is sending the wrong message by undergoing his gender change. Love your body for what it is … since I am a diagnosed anorexic but still feel I am fat does this allow for me to continue to lose even more weight or because I feel fat still to seek out surgery to change the way I see myself?”
“I have not been in [Dr. Levine’s] office for years, but I'm very weirded out right now,” another wrote. “I hear now he is changing to be a woman. Things like this do not bother me, but what does [bother me] is this is a place where they tell you ‘Love who you are and what God gave you,’ but now he is changing himself?”
As physician general, Levine will be responsible for advising the governor and secretary of the Department of Health on medical and public health-related issues. If confirmed by the state Senate, he will be a member of the governor’s cabinet. If not, then Wolf may opt to keep him on as a senior adviser without the blessing of the Senate.