PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As we celebrate the LGBTQ+ community throughout the month of June, we’re taking a look at one of the issues many of those in the transgender community are facing — a need for hair removal, but a huge shortage of electrologists.

Sheila Ahern, an electorologist at the Electrolysis Clinic of Portland, has recently been treating Kendra, a transitioning transgender woman. Getting an appointment can be tough — some people have to wait an entire year for an appointment.

“I believe this Saturday is my last one and I can’t get anything until December,” Kendra explained.

This is an issue impacting electrologists and the people who need them all over Oregon. Ahern estimates there are only 70-80 electrologists licensed with the state.

“I’m not taking any clients the rest of this year,” Ahern told KOIN 6 News. She says this is a big concern in general — and in the transgender community, even more so.

Kendra worries she will be physically attacked for her gender, which is why she’s first focusing on facial hair.

“It’s very dysphoric to have it, especially on the face and talking with the therapist,” Kendra stated. “It’s a safety issue, you know, more or less my safety and not getting assaulted.”

There are also medical reasons behind electrolysis for someone who’s transitioning, including the threat of infections.

“Part of the anatomy is turned inward,” Ahern explained. “So if there is hair still growing, we can no longer see it [and] it can become a problem for discomfort, as well as some other medical things could happen that I’m not even aware of.”

Why is there a shortage of electrologists?

For starters, Ahern says most insurance companies are now covering gender reassignment surgeries, including the Oregon Health Plan so more people can afford the procedure.

However, the big electrologist training program in Oregon closed down permanently during the pandemic. The closest training now is all the way down in California.

“They’re going to need to be down there from anywhere from six weeks to three months, depending on how the hours of the school run and things like that,” Ahern explained. “So they have to leave their jobs and all that.”

Additionally, there’s the time factor. Electrolysis appointments take hours and require many appointments, especially for someone like Kendra who is looking to remove all body hair.

But, if waiting is the only option — Kendra says it’s worth it.

“I would definitely say swing out there and do it,” Kendra told KOIN 6. “Like I said, for me personally, it was very dysphoric and I’m sure for others it’s that way, too.”

There is some promising news — in the absence of a school, the Oregon Health Licensing Office is now working on getting an electrolysis training program up and running in 2023.