Note: I co-wrote this post with Jaime, so that I could get her insight into this situation I may have lacked as a cis person. I am posting this with her permission.
On a discussion about Canadian healthcare on Clarissa’s Blog, I made a point of mentioning one of the facets of the Canadian healthcare system that I am most proud of: The fact that, apart from in Alberta, SRS (Sexual Reassignment Surgery) is almost completely covered. The life of a trans person is full of uncertainty and worry, and we cannot tell you how much of a relief it is to not have to worry about how we will pay for SRS. In America, I had trans friends who went bankrupt to stay on hormones alone.
The dichotomy was very stark and frightening: The very scarce rich trans people or ones who were lucky enough to have an insurance which covered SRS got it and lived happily in their true gender, ones who were poor (poverty is too often a fact of life for trans people) suffered by being stuffed into boxes they didn’t fit, scrounged up enough money to go to Thailand, turned to sex work to pay for it, or ended up ending their own lives because they could never be truly happy. I get tears in my eyes thinking about how many sweet, beautiful people’s lives were snuffed out by greed and bigotry. In Canada though, there’s a chance, and it’s a beautiful beacon for trans and gender non conforming folk.
One commenter however, took issue with the fact that SRS is covered, saying:
I don’t know if SRS is a particularly good use of our limited health care resources. Given the % of people that this would benefit, compared to money better invested in orthopedics, oncology, diabetes, etc. . . .
I was headed to class when I first saw it, and didn’t bother to respond. After all, this is highly typical. If I had a dollar for every time a cisgendered person believed that trans people did SRS for shits n’ giggles, and didn’t realize what an essential surgery it is for ensuring the mental, emotional, and physical health of trans people, then shit, Jaime and I would be able to pay for her electrolysis (which isn’t covered sadly) in a matter of months.
Now though, I feel compelled to answer this misconception, and this idea that unless something presents an immediate physical danger to your health, it’s not as important. After all, like I said, this isn’t an isolated incident.
I don’t know why people think that if you magically cut program XYZ, money will be magically freed up for causes which you think are important. SRS is not funded in Alberta, did Alberta suddenly get a lot more people with cancer and diabetes getting the attention and resources they needed, when previously they’d been pushed aside with, “No, no, we’ll take care of you later, we have to perform an SRS, I’ll pencil you in for next month!”? No.
It is also ignorant to suggest that malady X is more dangerous/important to treat than malady Y. Transgenderism isn’t fatal, but for many, being constantly misgendered, being forced to perform as the wrong gender, and having a body that does not conform to your gender can have a horrific toll on one’s psyche. Mental health is, contrary to popular myth, just as important as physical health, and having that ignored can be devastating. I’m trying not to read too much into the comment, but I feel that, with many sentiments like this, there’s a hidden malice: This idea that trans people are disposable, that their lives are somehow inherently less valuable than those of cis people. Needing SRS is no different than someone with an eating disorder needing an ED clinic, or a depressed person needing counselling and therapy, so why do we think SRS in particular is what should be slashed?
Jaime said that she would compare being trans to being born with a cleft palate or some other physical deformity present at birth: It’s not something that you yourself can prevent or that you have any control over, but it manages to majorly impact your self-esteem, the way you interact with others, and your entire quality of life, and you are reminded of this each time you look in the mirror.
However, nobody ever questions the motivations of someone getting surgery to correct a cleft palate, but the number of bureaucratic hurdles a trans person undergoes to get SRS is incredible, and nobody would ever say that surgery correcting cleft palates or other deformities is a waste of limited resources.
If you want to get an idea of just how important living and identifying as the correct gender is to trans people, just think about what they are willing to go through in order to make sure they can do so: Many lose their families, their loved ones, their friends, their jobs. For the rest of their lives, they will be branded second class citizens, and have a significantly harder time getting and keeping work and housing, and with almost no legal protections in place in either the United States or Canada, losing their job or their home is a very strong possibility.
Would you risk everything, literally everything, just for anything? No. It matters greatly to trans people. This reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from V For Vendetta:
But it was my integrity that was important. Is that so selfish? It sells for so little, but it’s all we have left in this place. It is the very last inch of us. But within that inch we are free.
With all that in mind, how can one continue to deny the great importance of SRS, hormones, and other trans-specific therapies and treatments? It would not be a matter of ignorance then, but outright cruelty and contempt for the lives of trans individuals.
But, to be sadly honest, such contempt and cruelty has never managed to shock me.