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.