Low on the learning curve

I teach sexuality, but I know far too little about the transgender community. I’ve corrected people for referring to someone with a disrespectful pronoun like “shim” or claiming that gender identity is a choice or mental illness. But, I'm not naive enough to think that separating right from wrong is the same as having a comprehensive understanding of transgender issues.

“What do I mean by ‘transgender?’” you might be wondering.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, as cited in Ryan's project for my class, transgender is:

An umbrella term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth, including but not limited to transsexuals, crossdressers, androgynous people, genderqueers, and gender non-conforming people (NCTE). Transgender is a broad term and is good for non-transgender people to use. “Trans” is shorthand for “transgender” (NCTE).

On his blog, Ryan writes:

I plan to explore society’s perception of gender expression and how it is affected by the powerful influences of social media….I have become fascinated by the different dynamics of power and privilege that are dependent on one’s social location in our society. Gender expression and how we perceive gender play a big role in this. As social media dominates the lives of younger people, I am interested to explore what impact this has on how we see gender, gender identity, and gender expression.

Ryan specifically examined “the different developmental milestones of four different groups of identities: FTM (Female-to-Male), MTF (Male-to-Female), female-presenting cross-dressers (CD), and genderqueer (GQ) (Beemyn and Rankin).” In his project, he also showed “the similarities that bind these experiences under the umbrella of the transgender experience, but also the differences and clear distinctions between each group and how these experiences are also not all the same.”

I had been thinking about Ryan's findings, when I learned that a friend’s partner decided to transition and was scheduled to have top surgery (a double mastectomy). It saddened and disgusted me to find out that very few insurance companies will cover his procedure, and that his surgery and travel to an experienced doctor will run between $8,000-$10,000. He will also need to pay for laboratory fees, hormonal therapy and an appointment with a therapist.

Even when insurance doesn't cover top surgery, the patient must obtain a letter from a Gender Therapist, stating that "Transgender Surgery is the next step in their treatment for Gender Identity Disorder or Gender Transition," and "they are psychologically ready for this next step in their therapy."

Who would decide to have a major surgery such as a double mastectomy precipitously?

Why must a therapist diagnose a patient as having a "disorder" since that is both insulting and irrelevant?

And, finally, why won't insurance companies consider paying at least a portion of the costs for a medical procedure that is necessary for a man to become whole?

I have a lot more to learn, but I’m thankful for people like Ryan who are willing to educate others and encourage dialogue.

Interested in reading more of Ryan’s findings? Check out his blog and follow him on Twitter.

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