Tuesday 8 September 2015

Don't dis my sis!

Okay, I may be tough as nails and I try not to take things personally, but  don't dis my brothers and sisters.

Please folks, if you are a FB friend and you don't already know I am transgender, you may or may not want to unfriend me, otherwise I can only assume you are empathetic, or in the best case scenario, an ally.

Many of you have shown your encouragement, love and unwavering support, and for this I thank you. 

However, since the very public coming out of Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair, I have come across a few of my so-called 'social media friends' who have disappointed me to say the least, and I have found some comments quite shocking.

The first message came from a former co-worker.  Now again, all of these people know of my trans status and up until now have been supportive. 

This person posted a message in relation to the Caitlyn Jenner story.  "Enough already, all the glamour and glitz. Jenner just looks spooky"!

Here is a guy who wears T-shirts and shorts to work.  Last I noticed he was bald and was still sporting a bit of a mullet from our days in radio back in the 80's.  What the hell does he know about glamour?  And, what gives him the right to judge what constitutes beauty?


Many feel now that Jenner has declared her womanhood it gives them the right to judge her on her looks.  Celebrity is a double-edge sword it seems.

Not long after that, another acquaintance on FB took it upon herself to complain that Jenner should just stop whining.  "If she was a real woman she might have something to complain about."  The writer went on to list all the female health and weight problems she has been suffering and lamented.  "I don't have my face and body on the cover of Vanity Fair."

This is true, but who is to say that Caitlyn has not suffered? 

Jenner most certainly has suffered with the mental anguish of being born and living full time in the incorrect body.  I know from my own personal experience the stress and difficulty in trying to keep that freak show alive.  I have suffered long bouts of depression and self-loathing as a result. 


And most recently, I found this post shared on my FB page by a so-called  friend.  This was taken from an entertainment website, For Fuggs Sake Now that is Funny

With all this transgender talk going on, I feel it's time I share my secret...I'm transfinancial, which means I am a rich woman born in a poor woman's body...please send me your money so I can fix my financial identity issue.

Well, not so funny, Fugg!

It's not about money, it's about survival and the human spirit.

The statement implies that by putting out a plea for something you should be able to get it.  But its not as easy as that.  Like Caitlyn Jenner, I was never comfortable in the body of my birth gender and I too waited until later in life to do something about it.  It's one of the hardest, but most gratifying decisions in my life. Why would anyone ridicule someone simply for wanting to be their true self? 

Yes, life isn't easy, and while Jenner may have millions of dollars to do with as she pleases, perhaps the greatest gift is her freedom to be true to herself.

I have fought long and hard for where I've gotten and so has Jenner.  Coming out to family, employers and losing some people along the way.  Painful surgeries and long wait lists for health care many Canadians take for granted.

So be warned, if you say you are my FB friend and you take a punch at Caitlyn Jenner or any other transgender person, be prepared for me to hit back.

Tuesday 2 June 2015

Welcome to the 'sisterhood' Caitlyn Jenner

Bruce Jenner is gone and we are happy to welcome Caitlyn Jenner to the ‘sisterhood.’

I was thrilled and proud to see her glowing face and gorgeous female curves on the July cover of Vanity Fair and to read about her struggle for freedom.

As she so articulately shared, “This shoot was about my life and who I am as a person.  It’s not about the fanfare, it’s not about people cheering from the stadium, it’s not about going down the street and everybody giving you, ‘that a boy Bruce,’ pat on the back, O.K. This is about your life.”

I get it.  Caitlyn is now 65, and still has a few good years to live her life, a genuine life, the way she had always hoped.  She doesn’t have to lie, feel uncomfortable in her body anymore, and is free to express herself as the gender she most closely identifies with.

Many people take this for granted in their everyday life.  Those who feel comfortable in their gender rarely think twice about looking at themselves in a mirror, or having to put on clothes that may as well be a clown suit.

The day after Caitlyn’s cover shoot was announced, I was shocked to read some of the social media messages about her new-found freedom to live her life as she chooses.
Although I expected to see some of this backlash on general media posts, these were some of the people who I used to consider friends.

One former work colleague messaged on Facebook, “OMG people, stop posting the creepy Jenner pic. Aghhhh! “

It felt like a punch to the stomach that people, who I considered intelligent and understanding about my transition from female to male, would feel this way about Bruce becoming Caitlyn.

Perhaps they see her in a different light, and are swayed by her celebrity.  There hasn’t been much sensitivity from the public or media for the circus they call “the Kardashians.”  And, Bruce is still part of that kooky family.  But I expected more compassion about Bruce’s journey. 

He explained during his interview with Diane Sawyer, April 24th, “I just can’t pull the curtain any longer,” Jenner said. “I’ve built a nice little life, I just can’t—again, Bruce lives a lie. She is not a lie. I just can’t do it anymore.”

Throughout my own transition, I have struggled with body dysphoria and have been pulled into prolonged periods of depression where I can’t get out of bed.  It’s painful and debilitating. 

I think many people are missing the point.  Caitlyn Jenner is not coming out as a trans woman for publicity; she is doing it because she has no choice.  While she revealed to the author of the Vanity Fair article, Buzz Bissinger that following some recent facial feminization she suffered a panic attack, questioning later what she had done, she had this to say: “If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life.  You never dealt with yourself,’ and I don’t want that to happen.”

I believe Caitlyn has a rich opportunity here to turn peoples’ lives around by maybe changing their perspectives, but more importantly, addressing young people who are questioning their own gender and struggling to conform. 

Jenner told Vanity Fair in the July issue.  “The uncomfortableness of being me never leaves all day long.  I’m not doing this to be interesting.  I’m doing this to live.”

One social media poster surmised on the online version of the article, if only Leelah Alcorn had been alive to see Caitlyn Jenner on the magazine cover.  Leelah was a 17 year old U-S teen who killed herself by walking into traffic and being stuck by a tractor-trailer on an Ohio highway a few miles from her family home.  Alcorn struggled with her gender identity and could not convince her religious parents to enable her to transition.  She saw no alternative and died December 28, 2014.

Maybe Leelah Alcorn would be alive today if there were more people like Caitlyn Jenner who were able to come forward with their stories and life experiences.

Monday 25 May 2015

FML, and why I feel like a rodent in a game of whack-o-mole

It's not that I am an ungrateful person.  I am grateful, and I never hesitate to let others know when they have graciously extended themselves for me and for others.  But, my patience is wearing thin.

Recently, the BC government approved funding for trans men in the province to receive gender reassignment surgery, phalloplasty and metoidioplasty in Montreal with Dr. Pierre Brassard.  Many of us have been waiting years for this gender-confirming surgery, and for this we should be grateful.

However, the BC government is busy trying to play catch-up after approving funding in 2012, but not giving trans men access to these surgeries.  Then Medical Services Plan (MSP) staff had the gall to say "no one came forward."

I doubt that very much. 

Okay, fast forward to now, or for some of us, slow-forward to now, 2015.  A handful of BC trans guys are now booking their surgical consultations with Dr. Brassard in Montreal.  For phalloplasty surgery, Dr. Brassard requires you travel to see him in his Montreal office.

However, for some of us this is a financial hardship because we are required to pay out of pocket for our airfare and accommodation.  The air fare from Victoria to Montreal (checking it today on Westjet.com) is $1,163.32.  You may be able to get a cheaper fare depending on when you fly.

When I recently traveled to Montreal for my consultation, I stayed at the downtown YWCA, which amounted to just over $300.00 for 4 nights.  And, even though I scrimped on the hotel, I decided to stay for a few days to tour Montreal, as it was my first visit there. Because of the personal cost, this is not an option for all BC trans men.

During my consult with Dr. Brassard, he informed me that phalloplasty surgery involves four stages, meaning four more trips to Montreal at my own expense.  In addition, Dr. Brassard requests that his patients convalesce at a private clinic associated with his surgical practice.  I have heard that this is top quality care, and the best you could receive anywhere in the world.  I am grateful for that.  I would be even more grateful if the BC government would cover these costs.  Currently they are not.

I totaled up all the costs including five flights to Montreal plus the cost of the surgical aftercare and I come up with something very close to $10,000.  I don't have this money and neither do any of my trans male colleagues.  I am hearing that the Ontario government is covering these costs for its trans male surgical clients.  It's fine to fund surgeries for residents, but if they do not have the means to get there for life-saving procedures, then how are you actually providing equitable health coverage?

Recently an article appeared in the Toronto Star outlining barriers facing the trans community in Ontario.

An alarming quote in the article grabbed my attention.

"More than 75 per cent of people attempting gender transition consider taking their own lives and almost one in two attempt suicide, according to the 2010 Trans PULSE project, which surveyed 433 people from Ontario’s trans community."

It should be no surprise to many that long waits for gender-affirming surgeries are putting many of us over the edge. It doesn't take a expert to see a link to depression, drug addiction and self-harm.  I have had some very painful episodes of depression as a result of waiting for my surgeries and I don't want to go down that road again.

Recently, a meeting was held in Vancouver, Trans Health Future Directions While the event did not offer any decision-making or announcements, it did bring the community up to speed on current provincial service planning recommendations. 

Through the involvement of the trans community, Ministry of Health representatives and other important community stakeholders, there was a shared commitment to improve service delivery.  

Some of the recommendations deal directly with the current lack of access to timely gender reassignment surgeries and future funding for non-surgical costs like air travel and accommodation.  There has been no firm timeline for these recommendations to be implemented, but all parties agreed that they need to be put into action sooner, rather than later.

Although I have been cleared for funding for my phalloplasty surgery in Montreal with Dr. Brassard I still face some major obstacles.  I do not have the money to cover the non-surgical costs for travel and surgical aftercare in Montreal.  I am 56 years old, and Dr. Brassard informed me that the earliest he can book me for the first stage of surgery is September 2016.  In addition, because phalloplasty uses donor skin from the forearm, hair removal needs to be done through laser or electrolysis.  I was told by a credible dermatologist and his staff that it will take up to two years to rid my forearm of the hair, and Dr. Brassard will not perform phalloplasty if any hair is remaining. If I am to follow this timeline, I will be 60 years old before I have completed my surgery.  

I have already gone through four years of struggling to get to this stage of my transition, and I am tapped out physically, emotionally and financially.  Some people who don't understand what dysphoria feels like are telling me, "just hang in there, what's another two years, you've come this far."

I appreciate the fact that those who are close to me believe I have the strength and fortitude to continue the fight, but I am tired, friends, very tired.

Luckily, I have a supportive community of friends, colleagues, and have just begun an new romantic relationship with a woman who loves me for who I am. She loves and supports me in every way as the man I strive to be.

For that I am truly grateful.

Monday 20 April 2015

Canadian Blood Services discriminates against trans Canadians

Last year, a Vancouver trans woman was turned away from giving blood at a Canadian Blood Services (CBS) location.

A year later, CBS has introduced a new policy, whereby transgendered people may donate blood, but it is still discriminatory, and may cause some trans Canadians unnecessary duress.

I was speaking recently with one of my trans brothers in Victoria who had visited a local CBS donation office and when he identified himself as trans, the nurse informed him that he would still need to be screened as a female.  This despite he has been on testosterone for a number of months and has legally changed his name and gender on his birth certificate.

Coincidentally, I too was scheduled to give blood a few days later, and decided to ask the nurse what was up.  She went over the new protocol, a three-page policy document she said had been sent to donor sites across the county a few weeks prior to my visit.

The edict, titled Credit Criteria, Procedure Number: CS01200v begins by categorizing transgender and transsexual donors separately.  Transgender donors are described as, “identifying as opposite of birth gender, have not had gender reassignment surgery, and present documents that may reflect opposite gender.”  Transsexual donors are those who have had “gender reassignment surgery (GRS)—genitalia consistent with gender they identify with.” They also must present documents that reflect gender reassignment.

So, if a person presents as trans male and has the proper I-D showing legal name change and male gender marker, but has not had GRS, that person is still processed by CBS as their birth gender, female.  In the case of my trans brother, he was asked questions pertaining to being female, for example, “are you, or could you be pregnant.”

When I attended the CBS donor site a few days later, the attending nurse remembered interviewing my friend and agreed that the questions she asked were inappropriate, but she was merely following CBS protocol.  I indicated that this line of questioning is traumatic in most cases, and she agreed.  She informed me that the CBS staff in Victoria have difficulty with the protocol and find it both confusing and awkward. She mumbled something about trans women need to be asked (as birth gender males) whether they are sleeping with men to screen for the possibility of AIDS.  I explained to her that not all trans females sleep with men, and that a large number were straight males and married to women prior to transitioning.  She looked at me, eyes glazed over.  She seemed overwhelmed with all that I was telling her.

The policy goes on to explain that once a trans person has had “gender reassignment surgery—genitalia consistent with gender they identify with and have documents changed to reflect gender reassignment,” that client can then donate blood as the gender they currently present as. 

Well hallelujah, isn’t that grand!  It’s not until you tell the CBS nurse,  or staff what you have in your pants, and can prove it with a letter from a surgeon, you can do your good deed by giving something as precious as your own blood.

You can’t tell me that cis-gendered people who come through the doors of a CBS donation site are asked what they have in their pants.  I doubt this very much.

And, my question is, would they make a trans person take down his/her pants to prove what type of genitalia they have? 

This current screening policy is disgusting and discriminatory.

Friday 17 April 2015


Very early on in my transition I began losing my hair.  I knew this was a possibility with taking testosterone and the fact that male-pattern baldness runs on my Mom's side of the family.  My grandfather and my Mother's brother were bald, as were some uncles on my Dad's side of the family.  Both of my brothers also have dealt with hair loss.

As a female I loved my hair.  It was thick and had some wave and I used to love getting highlights and having it coloured.  However, I was not going to put off transition in favour of keeping my hair.

When my hair first started falling out, I visited my doctor and he prescribed Rograine. While it is not covered by my health benefits through work, it is still worth the cost and has kept the hair loss to a minimum.  Rogaine is dispensed in a mousse-like consistency and is applied to the crown of the head.  Unfortunately it is not effective for the receding hairline, but does prevent more hair from falling out, and I've noticed a downy type hair growing where I would normally be left with a bald spot on the crown of my head.  I keep my hair buzzed short and luckily I have a normal-shaped head for this. 

About a year after starting Rogaine, I noticed that my dog, Dixie, a chihuahua-terrier mix, started scratching herself on her hind end.  Soon there were bald patches on her fur towards the back of her body and I immediately took her to the veterinarian to find out what it was.  The vet was stumped.  

The doctor inquired, "have you introduced a new dog food?"

"No," I replied.

"Could it be your laundry detergent?"

Dixie does sleep with me in my bed, and it seemed like a fairly normal question.

"I haven't changed laundry soaps," I answered.

Concerned, the vet shook her head and sent me on my way with a medicated shampoo and asked me to monitor Dixie for any changes or improvement.

The scratching continued, and upon a second visit to the vet, an antihistamine was prescribed.

Still no change.

One night I was sitting watching some television and it stuck me.  Just before bed I apply Rogaine, and it rubs off on my pillow and I usually give the dog a nice massage all over her body before we fall asleep.  Although I wash my hands after applying Rograine, it's possible there is some residue left.    

So, immediately I began more thoroughly washing my hands and began wearing a cap to bed so that none of the medication would be left on any of the bedding materials.

Voila!  It worked.  The scratching stopped, the bald patches started to fill in and the dog was happy.

I am just glad I figured it out.

I haven't been back to the vet yet, but I am sure she will be happy to hear the results and will no doubt be chuckling a bit after I leave the clinic.

Thursday 19 March 2015

Dealing with dysphoria

The physical and mental state of dysphoria was never anything I thought I had experienced throughout my years living as a woman. 

Most transgender people I speak with tell me they struggled with and even hated their bodies growing up, and particularly during adolescence when they started going through puberty and realized they would not become the men and women they had hoped to become.  However, I do remember trying to hide my tiny breasts in baggy shirts when they started to sprout up at the age of about 12.  I also hated getting my period, which was nothing too out of the ordinary, as most girls did.  I've never met a woman who has said, "I love my period!"

I got through adolescence and then started dating women, happily enjoying my adult life as a lesbian.  I even married a woman.  Now, looking back, I was not very happy.  Although I did outwardly appear content with my life, there was always something not quite right.  I was never sure what it was, and just put it down to feeling marginalized and different as a gay person, but there was something more.  It was a feeling much like trying to be someone I was not and I felt like an imposter most of the time—like I was hiding something.  Well I was, even from myself.  I was also very depressed and had remained so since my teens.

In the years to follow I would experience a divorce with a woman I had been with for 22 years and two failed relationships and I still wasn't happy.  

It wasn't until I was 53 years old and playing street hockey with some workmates that I had an epiphany.  I felt comfortable for the first time, like I was meant to be there, not just the token girl playing goal.  A few days later I made an appointment with my GP and I started my journey.

I realized then that the depression I was suffering was the dysphoria I felt about being born in the wrong body, growing up in a female body, but feeling male.  Once I began taking testosterone on a regular basis, I started feeling calmer and more comfortable in my body.  Once the hair began to appear on my legs, chest and face, I felt fantastic.  I felt normal for the first time in my life.  I was elated.

Once I completed my chest surgery I began to feel even better, and then most recently with my surgical procedure, a metoidioplasty (meta) in California.  But, after about a month and a half post-surgery I began to realize that the procedure was not successful and did not provide the results I was expecting.  That’s when a depression like no other I had ever felt began to set in.  I spoke with my doctor about it and he changed my prescription for anti-depressants, but I knew this was not going to provide relief.  I would stay in bed most weekends, and force myself to work during the weekdays.  I began to isolate myself from friends, activities that I used to enjoy and became despondent.  My emotions were all over the place.  I would go from sadness to anger and began to hate myself and most of those around me.

I knew that the only solution was for a surgical revision.  But, I had no more money, having paid out of pocket for chest surgery and the meta in California.  The surgeon was distancing herself from the issue by saying that she had informed me of the possible results, but she did not.  In addition she said that she could not perform a revision because she is not a plastic surgeon.  There was no point in “beating a dead horse”, so I looked to a local surgeon who assured me he could remedy the problem.  However after a recovery of several months following what is called a “mons revision”, I was basically left at square one.  Over the past several months I roller-coaster between feeling okay and spiraling into deep depression.  As much as I try, I cannot seem to dig myself out.

My only recourse is to keep writing about it and to wait for a consultation with a surgeon in Montreal who may be able to perform another revision.  It is the waiting that I find the most difficult.  Unfortunately, the BC government will only fund surgery at the transgender clinic in Montreal, and paying for a revision myself at this stage would be too costly.  It could be up to a year until I am scheduled for surgery. 

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Frustration abounds

Although my decision to transition three years ago was easy, there have been several barriers along the way, the least of which is not having any control over my own destiny. This has lead to frustration, anger and even depression that has been hard to overcome.

For example, during the beginning stages of my transition, the BC government was funding top surgeries for trans men with Doctor Cameron Bowman in Vancouver.  I had heard that wait times were long and for me, being 53 years of age, I couldn't see myself waiting for this life-improving surgery.  Instead, in 2013, I chose to go to Florida to have a double mastectomy and chest masculinization done by Dr. Charles Garramone, who I had heard was a great surgeon with great results.  I paid for this surgery out of pocket and have no regrets. He did a fabulous job.

Prior to 2012, the provincial government was not funding bottom surgery for trans men, but was funding gender reassignment surgeries (GRS) for trans women in BC.  The government's rationale was that bottom surgeries for men (i.e. phalloplasty) were experimental and not yet proven.  In addition, although not deemed 'experimental', metoidioplasty for trans men was also not yet funded by the BC government.

This left me no other recourse because of continual, cycling dysphoria, to also turn to a surgeon Stateside to perform my bottom surgery.  I traveled to San Mateo, California in June of 2014 to have Dr. Marci Bowers perform my metoidioplasty, which included testiclular implants.  I felt I had done my research and picked a good surgeon for the procedure.  What doctor Bowers didn't tell me prior to the surgery is that the mons fat, a thick layer of fat common to many women, would completely cover what (if any) phallus I could expect from the surgery.  At the time of this writing, I am still trying to have the situation rectified.  Dr. Bowers says she made me aware of the problem during my pre-surgical examination and I say she didn't, so it is "he said she said."  In addition, she informed me that she was unable to guarantee a revision (monsplasty), because she is not "a plastic surgeon."  Her office also informed me that I would be charged for the procedure, which would amount to $5,800, funds I do not have after spending all of my savings on top and bottom surgery.

I was very lucky to find a local plastic surgeon, Dr. David Naysmith who agreed to do a revision at no charge. I was dumbfounded and very happy.  This man is an angel, and although the surgery did not fix the problem, it was not without his determination to make me feel normal and not without my hopes and prayers.

However, the elation soon turned to depression and an internal hatred towards my body in its current form. While it is not visible to the outside world it is evident to me and how I feel about myself.  I feel despondent, disappointed and depressed most of the time.

In the fall of 2014 I was having coffee with a friend and he had mentioned a human rights complaint that had been filed on behalf of a trans man in BC who had been waiting for chest surgery. He mentioned that a similar complaint was being proposed for bottom surgery.  Would I be interested in leading this cause, he asked?  I had to think about it.  Although I was completely disillusioned with how the BC government was handling trans medical issues and surgeries, I wasn't sure I had the energy or the stamina. But it was for these very reasons I decided to take it on.  If not for me, I believed it was for all the other trans men waiting unreasonably long periods of time for their bottom surgeries to be funded by the provincial government.

In order for a human rights case to be accepted by the BC Human Rights Tribunal, a complaint must show clear discrimination against the Complainant, in this case, me and other trans men in BC.

In 2012, the BC government announced that it would begin funding bottom surgery for trans men, phalloplasties, but was limiting them to five per year.  At the same time, surgeries for trans women were not being capped.  There lay the discrimination.  My complaint was based on what I charged as discrimination and the complaint was accepted by the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

It appears that this case will go to a hearing, and although the BC government has dropped its cap on the number of trans male surgeries it will fund, I am hoping to recoup the cost of my surgery in California as an additional remedy in my case.

We also found out that over a two-year period, from 2012 to 2014, although the BC government maintained it would fund five trans male bottom surgeries per year, no men had been sent to Montreal for surgery. The reason according to government officials was no one came forward. An article was written in the Victoria Times Colonist newspaper, November 23, 2014 by reporter Katherine Dedyna, B.C. say 'no one came forward' for gender- alignment surgery  that uncovered this information. This was very good work on her part.  As a reporter myself for radio, I felt I could not touch this as it would be seen as too self-serving.  But, I believed the story needed to be told.

The fact that a Ministry of Health spokesperson was quoted as saying no one came forward was utter nonsense. I am in touch with many trans men in BC, and no one I know, including myself, was ever contacted and offered access to bottom surgery at any time by anyone. I believe the article was clear in catching the BC government with its proverbial pants down on this issue.  

In the meantime, it is the very action of the human rights complaint that gives me strength and hope and keeps me clear of my depression.  It is inaction that keeps me trapped in my dysphoria.

Just after the article was published, trans men in BC began receiving letters from the Health Ministry advising them that they were now approved for funding and were to contact the office of Dr. Pierre Brassard in Montreal to schedule their bottom surgeries. Coincidence?  I think not. However, it was good news for as many as 100 trans men waiting desperately for their surgeries, myself included.  

Although I have already received a surgical procedure in California, it was not successful and I still need a revision.  I am hoping that a consult with Dr. Brassard will give me some options. At this stage I can also choose phalloplasty surgery in Montreal. I have heard that there is a backlog and it will be at least a year before I and the others are scheduled for surgery.