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CBS Sunday Morning: The Sex Change Capital of the U.S.

On Sunday, September 7, CBS Sunday Morning did a fairly long story on Trinidad, Colorado, the home of Dr. Marci Bowers, one of the leading sexual reassignment surgeons in the U.S.  I don’t like the phrase “sex change” but the story is pretty straight forward and not at all sensationalistic.  I was in Trinidad in July to support my friend Mari through her surgery.  It’s a nice little town, similar to many other mountain towns I’ve visited in the West; the people were friendly; and the care at the hospital was, for the most part, excellent.  Marci is friendly and personable but, like most doctors, entirely too busy. From what I’ve seen, the surgical results were excellent, with only a few minor complications.  Here’s the video:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

If you’d like to learn more about Trinidad and how it has dealt with the attention that having a leading SRS surgeon (actually, for many years, the only SRS surgeon in the U.S.) in its midst, there’s a new documentary out called Trinidad that is now touring the U.S.  Look for it at your local LGBT film festival.

The Outing

Over on my personal blog, I just posted the story of how I came to be a student of A Course in Miracles and how, last week, I came to the decision to tell the weekly study group I attend my story of growing up trans. Because of its length, I’ve decided to just give you a taste of what’s in it. If you want to read, the whole thing and hear how it turned out, you’ll have to go here.

As I prepared to transition, one of my hopes was to be accepted as a woman among circles of women. (I talked about this with Lori recently on one of her podcasts.) Unity Church has turned out to be one of the places where that dream has been realized.

The principles of Unity Church and A Course in Miracles share many basic ideas, but the Course is rarely mentioned, at least at Unity of Prescott. In July 2007, however, a retired Unity minister and student of the Course started a study group at the church on Thursday mornings. I wanted to attend that group from the beginning, but I was afraid about whether I would be accepted there, especially since I didn’t feel then (and still don’t) that my voice is very feminine. In August, however, almost exactly one year ago, I overcame my fear and began attending that group. Although men attend from time to time, the group fairly quickly became almost exclusively women. It also became one of those places that I had dreamed of where I am accepted as a woman among women.

When I began attending that group, I expected that, at some point, the fact that I am transgender would become known. (None of the people attending the group had known me before my transition.) At the same time, however, I had no desire to make myself the center of attention or distract the group from discussing the lessons that we were all trying to learn from the Course. So, I waited, expecting that, at some point, the subject of my transition would become relevant to whatever we were discussing and I would mention it as an example of how I have applied the lessons of the Course in my life. That moment never arrived, however. Instead, I felt increasingly constrained about talking about my own life because these women did not know that important part of my story. At one point, I remember thinking about sharing a story about my childhood. However, when I realized that the best way to start the story was to say, “When I was a little boy . . .,” I held my tongue. As I have said before, I didn’t spend the last 13 years of my life trying to find out who I am and what I need to be happy to turn around once I found those answers and hide the truth about who I am and how I got here.

I also realized some time ago that I want the world to know who I am. I am proud of who I am and believe, rightly or wrongly, that sharing my story can help people understand what it means to be trans and that, like them, we are simply striving to find a way to live with peace and dignity. Consequently, the fact that these women, with whom I have become very close, did not know about my journey began to rankle more and more.

* * *

Finally, I decided that the time had come to share my story with the entire group and that the only way to do it was to simply ask for the opportunity outside the group’s normal routine.

The story continues here.

Pretty/Handsome and A Little East Of Reality

I first came across the rumor of a TV show (based on GID) called ‘Pretty/Handsome’ buried in the comments section of the excellent ‘Being T’ (Thanks, Bitsy!). I was intrigued, but heard no more about it until yesterday when I was checking out the personal blogs of some other ‘Being T’ commenters and found Chosha, who had watched the pilot episode and reviewed it, and added some interesting thoughts and observations of her own on the topic of transgender:

In the end what I know for sure is that I don’t understand the hatred some people feel/show towards transgendered people. Even if you don’t understand it, even if it freaks you out a little, why does that translate into painting ‘die freaks’ on their house? (That’s what happened in the show.) ‘Freaky’ often just means ‘something I would never do’ or ‘something I don’t understand’ and that isn’t enough reason to hate on someone. It just isn’t.

I encourage you to go check out Chosha’s blog. I love how she’s taken up the challenge of educating herself on a topic in which, at first glance, she has no personal involvement.

And she’s a fan of the Riftgirl too! Yay!!

Transgender Access to Health Care

I want to start off by just apologizing for being a little haphazard in my posting here. I am hoping to get on a more regular posting schedule. I have had a lot of different things going on, and I have had a lot that I have wanted to write about but little time to do it. I do appreciate those who have stopped by to see what is going on here, and I look forward to writing more and engaging in some discussions of the topics and issues.

I just got off the Town-Hall conference call with Donna Rose, Jamison Green, and Becky Allison. I thought it was a good start, and I hope there can be more opportunities for our community to come together like this. I think one of the major benefits of calls like this is the breaking down of economic barriers. Today’s topic was essentially health care, and underlying the need for coverage is the need to break down economic barriers. Far too many in our community are unemployed or underemployed. For many, making the journey to a conference may not be possible for economic reasons. Calls such as this will help those members of the community to be able to reach out and interact with the Transgender community at large. I think this will also be of value to those who may live where there is no trans community to speak of. 

Now on to the topic. I think most of us have heard about the AMA resolution in June and the WPATH statement in July. These were both significant statements. I would like to start with the AMA statement, which was actually three statements related to removing barriers to careremoving insurance barriers, and removing financial barriers. The one thing that struck me was the repeated use of GID throughout the statements. They did, however, reference GID as a medical condition, and referenced not only the DSM but also the ICD. Now, I was not familiar with the ICD until this evening. I would appreciate information about it if anyone knows a little more about it, and how GID is treated in the ICD. I think that it is positive that the AMA referred to GID as a medical condition as opposed to a mental disorder. I am curious about how this statement in conjunction with the WPATH statement and other papers could serve to help legitimize our need for treatment if GID were removed from the DSM.

I am behind Kelley Winters’ efforts, my only concern being that we have another avenue by which can can continue to gain the medical treatments necessary to transition. I know some have argued that they do not want to be medicalized. To those I would argue, how can one justify medical treatment in the absence of a medical condition. I want to be medicalized, I just don’t want to be pathologized. I believe that part of our process towards equal health coverage is strengthening the medical need and the recognition of GID in the medical community as a medical condition.

I rather liked the fact the the WPATH statement included things such as chest reconstruction and FFS. As Jamison mentioned, chest reconstruction is the only surgery that many FTM’s want at this time, and for many of them, this surgery is very validating for their gender presentation. The WPATH statement acknowledges that the path to transition is about more than GRS. There are other surgeries and procedures, which some consider cosmetic, that go a long way towards helping to affirm ones gender identity and help make a transition more successful and less emotionally painful (I think anyone who has been through laser or electrolysis knows these don’t reduce physical pain!). 

I think one of the most powerful things in this statement was the AMA’s statement of dispelling the myth that treatments, procedures, and surgeries for trans people are cosmetic or experimental. For us, these procedures are necessary for us to be able to live a life that is more genuine and more true to who we really are. These procedures reduce the emotional stress that can cause so many other health problems. When it comes to insurance companies arguing about cost, I have a few examples of my own situation. Prior to coming out and beginning transition, I smoked almost a pack of cigarettes a day and I was borderline high cholesterol. Within days of coming out, I quit smoking. I stopped cold turkey, now that I was on the road to being me, I didn’t need that crutch. I also changed my eating habits and reduced my stress levels significantly. I was no longer eating the bad foods we eat when we stress eat, fast food, high fat foods, high cholesterol food, you know that stuff that tastes so good but is horrible for you. Since then, my cholesterol is half of what it was before. Not smoking and reduced stress are also significant. Essentially, I likely saved my insurance company easily hundreds of thousands of dollars by transitioning. I greatly reduced my risk of heart attack and stroke, reduced my need for cholesterol and blood pressure reducing medications, slashed my cancer risk each year that goes by, and greatly reduced the potential costs if depression were to lead to suicide or suicide attempts and the related hospitalizations. You tell me, which is better. I think I would take the road of paying for therapy for a few years, GRS and a few other procedures, and HRT. Over my lifetime I bet that it will cost them a lot less then the bypasses and other procedures I was headed towards! 

Another thing I did take away from this was the need for education. Educating our employers, the insurance companies, and the insurance brokers that our companies deal with. There were several stories of brokers discouraging Trans benefits, or pricing them too high to be affordable. I worked in the insurance industry for a brief period of time, and when you are a smaller company, you have little or no ground to negotiate when it comes to benefits. It all comes down to what can I and my employees afford, and what do we have to give up this year. The education has to start with the insurance companies and the larger companies that have the negotiating power. If every company listed in the Fortune 500 index said we want full coverage for out trans employees, I am sure that the insurance companies would take notice.

I find it interesting that many insurance companies offer full benefits to their trans employees, and yet make it difficult and expensive for other companies to provide the same benefits. I wonder about the concept of creating an index that would measure and rate insurance companies not only on the benefits they provide their own employees, but also on how they make the same benefits available to subscribers. Imagine being self employed and having to shop for health insurance with trans benefits, I am sure that is impossible, and if possible prohibitively expensive. 

We need insurance companies to recognize trans benefits as a fundamental part of any group or individual plan. Spread over a sizable group, the costs are negligible. I believe one study showed that it was pennies per premium. I will find that presentation and post it later, I think it was from an Out & Equal conference. If this is part of every policy, cost would not be an issue, and we would finally have equal access to health insurance and the procedures that we need. 

I look forward to future calls, and the discussions and actions that they will generate. There are a few things out there that are dividing some of us, we need to concentrate on many of the things that bring us together. We will always have differing opinions on how to tackle a particular issue, but I think we need to respect the diversity of opinions in this community. We are an educated community, and we need to realize that there is more than one way to approach an issue. Good night to everyone, and hope to talk about some of this more.

Will the proposed amendment to Arizona’s Constitution to ban same-sex marriage change the treatment of existing marriages in which one partner transitions?

Recently, on one of the Arizona trans-related Yahoo groups that I belong to, one member stated her belief that the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages in Arizona, known as Prop 102, would change the law so that “[e]xisting marriages involving a transsexual could easily be nullified.” (The proposed amendment states, “Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state.”) Here is my response:

I disagree. Prop 102 will have no more, and no less, effect on marriages in which one partner transitions after marriage than the existing statute.

That statute (ARS 25-101(C)) states, “Marriage between persons of the same sex is void and prohibited.” There is no material difference, from a legal standpoint, between a statute, or constitutional amendment, one of which says same-sex marriages are void and the other of which says that only marriages between a man and a woman are valid. Both have the same potential to invalidate existing marriages in which one partner legally changes her or his sex, if the courts choose to recognize that change for purposes of marriage, thus rendering the marriage an illegal same-sex marriage. (Note that, this is not the approach the courts in Kansas and Texas took. Those courts refused to recognize a legal change of sex for purposes of marriage. Under those rulings, a marriage in which one partner legally changes sex after marriage would continue to be valid. As noted below, however, I know of no cases in which that holding has been extended to pre-existing marriages, rather than marriages in which the partner transitions prior to marriage as were involved in those cases.)

In either case, any attempt to declare an existing marriage that was legal at the time it was first entered into, void because one partner transitions would face significant problems under the due process and equal protection clauses of the federal constitution, which always trump state law. There is a long line of cases saying that, as long as a marriage was legal when and where it was entered into, then it remains valid until and unless the partners legally divorce. That’s why people did, and still do, go to Las Vegas to get married instantly and can go back to their home states and have their marriages treated as valid, even though their home state would have imposed additional requirements, such as a waiting period or a blood test. It’s also why first cousins from Arizona can travel to a state where such marriages are legal, get married, and return to Arizona and have their marriage recognized as valid, even though Arizona law says that marriages between first cousins are “void and prohibited” (ARS 25-101(A)), which is the same language used in the ban on same-sex marriages.

The validity of existing marriages in which one partner transitions after marriage hasn’t been resolved anywhere in the U.S., at least, as far as I know, but there is no reason to think that such marriages are any more, or any less, at risk under Prop 102 than they are under existing Arizona law. Nonetheless, I think that anyone in such a marriage needs to be aware of the risk that their marriage might be challenged at some point, and take precautions, e.g., mutual wills and medical directives, to ensure that, if that happens, they will not lose all of the rights and benefits they expected to receive from being married.

Cross-posted from my personal blog.

A recent study that we all should read!

I found the link to this study along with a copy of the paper at Transgendernews, a yahoo group. Here’s the link.

http://www.intersexualite.org/Zucker_boys.html

I think you’ll find it quite enlightning about Zucker’s real agenda, but you should read it and make up your own mind.

Amber

Review: ‘Transvestite Wives’ on BBC America

Edited to add: “Transvestite Wives” will also be shown again on Sunday, July 13, 2008 at 6:00 PM, if you missed it the first time around.

Last night, I caught the premiere of BBC America’s “Transvestite Wives” episode in their BBC America Reveals series. From their website:

Transvestite Wives looks at three transvestite relationships, as seen through the eyes of their wives and partners.

In the Scottish Highlands, Sheila discovered seven years into her marriage that her husband Dennis was a transvestite. In Newark, 20-year-old Sam, is embracing her 40-year-old partner Chris’ tranny lifestyle; and in Barnsley, Robyn, who has struggled to be accepted for her weight problem, at last finds happiness with her cross-dresser husband Dean.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised from the title, but none of the relationships had the trans partner in full-time mode. The couples were shown in both same-sex and opposite sex modes, although in the case of Sam and Chris/Rachel, we saw only Rachel for the majority of the episode.
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