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.

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