The Transgender Tipping Point

I was so ecsactic when I heard that Laverne Cox would be the first transgender person to grace the cover of TIME Magazine earlier this month.


The second I heard about this, I knew that I absolutely had to have a copy. Custom framed, preferably signed by Laverne Cox, prominently displayed on my wall. I imagine myself still having it in my elder years, explaining to youngins what this represented to me as a young transgender person in 2014.

As Kat Hache put it:
It is validation not only of Laverne Cox’s work, but the work of the entire transgender community.  It is a visible, tangible representation of our existence.
It’s a really, really big deal.

After not stumbling upon a copy by mid-June, a friend and I started really digging around for it. Baffled, we couldn’t find a single copy anywhere. After finally landing ourselves at a Barnes n Noble, an employee explained that their magazine stock was limited due to a major magazine distributor in the east coast shutting down earlier this month.

Ah, so that explained it.

Immediately, I asked my parents to find me a copy in Utah. They also had no luck, but my mom recalled seeing a copy at her dentist’s office.

Low and behold, TIME Magazine is a weekly magazine - not monthly. By the time we'd started looking for it, TIME was on to another issue. Ugh! Embarrassing!

But guess what my mom just texted me a picture of?


My own very copy, straight from the dentist!

An Extremely Transphobic Article, Courtesy Robert Jensen

Update: A more concise version of this was published on Dissident Voice titled, "Gender and Sexual Diversity" on June 21, 2014. 

The recent article by Robert Jensen, “Some Basic Propositions about Sex, Gender, and Patriarchy,” espouses concepts that both reflect and perpetuate cissexism and transphobia.

Jensen correctly anticipates that readers will recognize much of his article as unabashedly transphobic. He reacts by preemptively dismissing any such observations as mere “tactics.” In the third to last paragraph he writes,
 "Labeling a radical feminist position on these public policy issues as inherently “transphobic” or describing radical feminist arguments on the issues as “hate speech” are diversionary tactics that undermine productive intellectual and political discussion. A critique of an idea is not a personal attack on any individual who holds the idea."
An online search for terms like “hate speech” and “diversionary tactic” leads one to any number of authors repining how their opinions will be or have been similarly “misrepresented.” Regardless, it is insufficient to simply assert by force of will that those who recognize one’s opinions as transphobic or one’s statements as hate speech are merely engaged in the use of “tactics.” Rather, such a preemptive dismissal is itself a “tactic.” It is a disrespectful and derisive dismissal of the anticipated experience of individuals directly impacted by those statements and opinions.

Jensen’s precognitive defense is possibly due to his own personal history. In a quick Google search, I found a 2012 post alleging that,
"Robert Jensen had personally challenged the identity of a trans woman speaker. This woman, named Joelle Ryan, found herself berated on full account of her trans identity, and observed as Jensen proceeded to lambast every aspect of transgender culture."
This may not be the first or last time Jensen’s opinions will be “mis”characterized as transphobic hate speech.

Unfortunately, anti-transgender prejudice is so deeply rooted and systemic that it is rarely noticed or even considered. Discussions of anti-transgender prejudice, often amongst individuals never directly impacted, are replete with misunderstanding and misused or ill-defined concepts and terminology. For clarification, I’ll attempt to break down some of the relevant terminology in a nutshell:

  • Cissexual (or cisgender) refers to possessing a self-identity congruent with one’s birth assigned sex and gender. Broadly, people who are not trans* are cisgender.
  • Cissexism and transphobia have been defined in various ways, but generally imply that being transgender is inferior to being cisgender. This is often a consequence of the underlying perception that gender is properly and unambiguously determined by a simple "biological" sex dichotomy (male or female). Gender ambiguity is seen as a violation of a natural binary order. Whether intentional or not, both transphobia and cissexism have severe consequences for the victims of these attitudes.

For anyone interested in learning more, Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman wrote a great article on this titled, “What is Transphobia? And, What is Cissexism?”, where he also elaborates on a growing body of research examining the wide-reaching negative consequences of anti-transgender prejudice.

“Some of the consequences of these hostile, unfair, and harmful acts are obvious and immediate. These range from the physical and emotional damage caused by transphobic violence to the increased risk for poverty and homelessness due to limited and constrained job opportunities because of transphobic discrimination.  The added stress (known as “minority stress“) of hostile attitudes and treatment for transgender and gender nonconforming people wears on their health, placing them at elevated levels of physical, mental, and sexual health problems.” Read more

Jensen interprets transgender via the myopic lens of his personal ideology. He seems to have little or no genuine appreciation of the experience and perceptions of those who are transgender. And I strongly disagree with and felt deeply offended by his article. Below I summarize some of my reasons.

Point of clarification: I would like to disclaimer that “transgender” is an umbrella term for many people who defy mainstream expectations and assumptions regarding gender, and can be used to refer to transsexuals as well as people who are gender nonconforming in other ways -- for example, feminine men, masculine women, transfeminine, transmasculine, genderqueers (who do not identify exclusively as either women or men), to name a few. There are many different ways to experience and interpret gender as human beings. And there are also several ways to conceptualize gender. For example, here is a visualization of just three different theories.

Since Jensen focused exclusively on the mainstream media use of “transgender” in terms of the medical procedures that an individual might undergo (e.g., hormones and surgeries), I will do my best to limit my scope somewhat to this specific sub-group who require surgical intervention to function optimally - particularly in my response to his “Ecology” argument.

Still, it’s extremely important to note that many trans* people find such definitions to be objectifying (as they place focus on body parts rather than the person as a whole) and classist (as not all trans people can afford medical intervention). For these reasons, I personally favor definitions based on self-identity. And while I am an advocate of gender transgression and do not identify within the gender binary, there are many transgender people who do and deserve equal respect, validation, and inclusion. So goes the beauty of diversity and the “problems” nature poses for a society determined to stuff it all into a couple (or few) simple categories. Which is no easy task.

Biological and Cultural

Jensen sets up the foundation of his argument by drawing the reader’s attention to the classification of humans as a “sexually dimorphic species”. Ignoring, for the moment, distinctions between biological sex and gender, even human biological sex is not as simple as Jensen's ideology demands. The construct of sexual dimorphism can be a handy tool for classification, but it is a vast oversimplification that denies the reality of millions of humans. And while many humans can be categorized as either male or female based upon simple biological characteristics, there are many people who do not fit neatly into these categories. The lives and personal experience of these millions of individuals are just as valid and important as those of the majority. One can not simply dismiss value of their existence because they cannot be pressed neatly into an overly simplistic and rigidly binary worldview biologically and/or socially.

Nature presents us with a variety of sex spectrums. For those unfamiliar with such variations, here is a snippet:

Sex chromosomes - XY chromosomes = man and XX = woman, right? Wrong. On the Y chromosome, a gene called SRY generally causes a fetus to develop male. But the SRY can show up on an X, turning an XX fetus essentially male. If the SRY gene does not work on the Y, the fetus develops essentially female. An XY fetus with a functioning SRY can essentially develop female. In the case of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, cells in the body are not entirely receptive to androgens (masculinizing hormones). Subsequently, the body ends up appearing female-typical but the individual lacks body hair (which is dependent on androgen-sensitivity). Women with complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome are less “masculinized” in their muscles and brains than many other cisgender women, because cisgender women in general are more receptive to androgens.

Genitals - The genitals of every sex and gender come from the same stuff, and many individuals (who are not intersex) have ambiguous genitalia and are still referred to as men or women. Moreover, a person can appear to be male-typical but is biologically female-typical, or vice versa. For instance, cisgender men with extreme Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia may be entirely male-typical but discover later in life that they have ovaries and a uterus. Even though these individuals have XX chromosomes and ovaries, their adrenal glands make so many androgens that their bodies develop male-typical (including their muscle development and gender identity).

Hormones - All genders and sexes make the same hormones, just in different quantities, on average. The average man has more androgens than the average woman. But what about athletic women, who are more likely to have naturally high levels of androgens? There’s a lot of variation here, also - such as the 1 out of every 10-20 women who have polycystic ovarian syndrome.

In other words, while we may be classified as a sexually dimorphic species, the reality of sex and gender are biologically diverse. Attempting to clearly delineate the wonderful and vast spectrum of human experience into two simple cissexual categories will take a lot of endocrinologists, gynecologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, and so forth. None of whom are going to be able to simply run a test that can do so. While science could inform their decisions, they’d have to decide which of the dozens of characteristics of biological sex matter.

But apparently, a professor of journalism can make this decision with the following delineating criteria: “.. only females can bear and breastfeed children, which no male can do.” and, "Other observable or measureable physical differences (average height, muscle mass, etc.) between males and females may be socially relevant depending on circumstances. Sex-role differentiation based on those differences may be appropriate if it can be shown to be necessary in the interests of everyone in a society.”

While Jensen pays lip service to the existence of individuals who are intersex, he immediately invalidates their lives with these statements - both of which are riddled with flaws and have very concerning implications. Should an intersex person who can breastfeed and bear children be forced to identify as female? Is an intersex person who can’t, inherently male? Is a woman who has entered menopause or had a mastectomy in some way less female? Is that really all there is to being female - the ability to bear and breastfeed children? Are cisgender men who can lactate female? Are athletic women who are taller and more muscular than average, male? What about transgender men who have the ability to bear and breastfeed children (e.g. Matt Rice and Thomas Beatie)? Such examples illustrate the absurdity of  attempting to fit everyone - intersex and/or (cis/trans)sexual - into false sex and socially constructed gender dichotomies.

Based on this flawed delineating criteria, Jensen concludes,
"Therefore, human communities have always, and will always, recognize two distinct sex categories, male and female. There has always been, and always will be, some sex-role differentiation in human communities.”
To claim that human communities have always recognized two distinct sex (or gender) categories is culturally ignorant and untrue. For instance, most, though not entirely all, American Indian tribes recognized social gender categories beyond “male” or “female” collectively known as Two-Spirit. In 1700 AD in England, there were writers who described themselves as members of a third sex (e.g. Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Magnus Hirschfeld, Edward Carpenter, etc.). These are just two of many historical examples I could provide.

In the present day Australians have been able to use “X,” an additional gender marker since 2003. Germany identifies “Indeterminate” sex on birth certificates. The Hiijra of India are a well-known and populous third sex type in the modern world, and in 2009 India started listing eunuchs and transgender people as “others”, distinct from males and females of cisgender experience. There are also “Gaddhi” in the foothills of the Himalayas, another third sex/gender. There are three gender options legally in Nepal, New Zealand (indeterminate), Pakistan (khawaja sara), and Thailand (kathoeys). And the list of human community complexity and acknowledgement of diversity goes on and on. If you’re interested in learning more, PBS has an interactive map of gender-diverse cultures.

To impose the false sex and gender dichotomies prevalent in the United States on to the rest of the world, and throughout the history of human communities, is incredibly ethnocentric.
"... we should assume that all or part of any differences in observed behavior between males and females in these matters are a product of cultural training, while remaining open to alternative explanations.”
The “nature vs. nurture” debate is old news. The two aren’t diametrically opposed, and humans are influenced by nature and nurture (e.g. just take a peek into the fields of behavioral endocrinology, epigenetics, and neuropsychology). In regards to sex/gender differences, there is also a growing body of literature supporting the hypothesis that one’s internal sense of gender and sexual anatomical attributes are hard-wired in the brain1, which are subsequently influenced by (but not determined by) social environments. These results are further evidenced by the failure of behavioral interventions, such as the case of John Money and David Reimer. This is a notorious case that still influences thinking regarding gender - particularly among radical feminists. To this day, because of this misguided thinking, some intersex children are still subjected to mutilating medical procedures and are forced to conform to one of two sex categories (male or female) that are not biologically in concordance with the true diversity that exists in the world.

In a brief nutshell, John Money was a psychologist and strong proponent of blank slate theory, primarily throughout the 60s. Like Jensen, he believed in sexual dimorphism and was convinced that most behavior exhibited by men and women is socially constructed. So when a baby named Bruce Reimer was born in 1965 and suffered a botched circumcision, he recommended that the boy be surgically altered to live as a girl. Bruce had a twin brother, which provided Dr. Money the perfect control set on which to test his theory of gender neutrality - raise one twin as a boy and the other as a girl.

To facilitate this, Dr. Money had Bruce castrated, renamed to Brenda, and provided strict instructions to the family on how to raise Brenda as a girl, instructing them to never, ever tell her the truth about her birth.

A biologist named Dr. Milton Diamond questioned all of the success around Brenda that Dr. Money had been publishing. Diamond argued that a person’s sex is determined in the brain prior to birth. After years of trying to find Brenda, Dr. Diamond finally succeeded and discovered that all of the success Dr. Money had been publishing was a lie - that, by age 14, Brenda had undergone a double mastectomy, went through multiple genital-reconstruction operations, took regular testosterone injections, and now went by the name of David. Dr. Money was still publishing on the success of Brenda Reimer even after these surgeries. And sadly, in 2004, David Reimer committed suicide.

The most obvious and clear reason that David killed himself was due to being denied his biological identity. Yet when confronted with news of his suicide, social constructionists to this day go out of their way to assuage themselves that gender is still 100% a social construct.

Strikingly, the prevalence of suicide attempts among transgender and gender non-conforming respondents to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey is 41 percent, which vastly exceeds the 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population.

Patriarchy

Sexism is not an overly simplistic, unilateral form of oppression, where men are the oppressors and women are the oppressed, end of story. As Julie Serano puts it:
“… there are numerous forms of sexism—that is, numerous double standards based on a person’s sex, gender, or sexuality. In addition to traditional sexism (where men are viewed as more legitimate than women), there is heterosexism (where heterosexuals are viewed as more legitimate than homosexuals), monosexism (where people who are exclusively attracted to members of a single sex are viewed as more legitimate than bisexuals/pansexuals), masculine-centrism (where masculine gender expression is viewed as more legitimate than feminine gender expression) and so on.”
While sexism has been historically framed in terms of patriarchy, the existence of transgender persons and gender identities beyond the false gender dichotomy threaten this ideology. The very gender binary that Jensen is perpetuating - that those assigned male at birth grow up to be men and those who are assigned female at birth grow up to be women - results in marginalizing individuals who do not naturally conform to the binary, such as intersex persons, gender non-conforming / gender fluid / pangender individuals, transgender persons, etc.

Ecology
“Many people… are critical of high-tech medicine’s manipulation of the body through the reckless use of hormones and chemicals … or the destruction of healthy tissue to conform to arbitrary beauty standards” and, “People are not machines, and treating the human body like a machine is inconsistent with an ecological understanding of ourselves as living beings who are part of a larger living world."
Here Jensen perpetuates the fallacy that being transgender is a cosmetic issue and motivated by a simple “want” to be female or male, by someone who was not assigned such at birth. However, extensive medical research into transsexuality dating as far back as the 1920s and into present day have demonstrated otherwise, and consequently, medical standards of care have included Gender Reassignment Surgery (GRS) as a necessary procedure for decades. “Gender Dysphoria” is the present name for this condition in the American Psychiatric Association (APA), and treatment follows the standards of care established by the World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH, formerly HBIGDA), which includes GRS. The American Medical Association has also stepped forward advocating the necessity of surgery and its coverage. In fact, like the AMA, the American Psychiatric Association also support GRS as a medically necessary part of treatment.

Treatment of Gender Dysphoria incorporates surgical and endocrine intervention, because analytical and aversion therapies have historically proven damaging. The futility and harmfulness of electroshock therapy, anti-psychotic drugs or conversion ("ex-gay") therapy is well-documented: modern medicine has realized that this approach simply does not work, and usually results in suppression, suicide or extreme antisocial behavior. Aligning body to mind for this sub-population of the trans* spectrum, however, can work.

Gender Dysphoria is currently (and controversially) listed as a mental health issue, but as I mentioned earlier, ongoing study of both genetic ”brain sex” and Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) show the possibility of some biological causal factors. For instance, a researcher famous for his groundbreaking work in phantom limb syndrome has provided a great deal of evidence that the brain has innate, hard-wired templates for human anatomy. He reasoned that this hard-wired template may also be responsible for a person’s internal sense of gender and how this relates to one’s sexual anatomy, “both of which develop through different biological mechanisms, probably in utero” (Ramachandran & McGeoch, 2008, p.10). Ultimately, he found support for this hypothesis that one’s internal sense of gender and sexual anatomical attributes may also be hard-wired in the brain.

Studies of EDCs show another, possibly concurrent potential that exposure to chemicals that simulate hormone characteristics can affect the signals sent out to determine psychological gender and biological sex, which appear to develop at different times during gestation. In all fairness, nothing is conclusively proven at this point (for the etiology of transexuality OR cissexuality), but a growing body of empirical data from EDC and brain studies tends to support an innate origin or component of intersexuality, transsexuality and cissexuality. I provide this information only to demonstrate the wide spectrum of diversity in nature - not to infer that an understanding of the etiology of homosexuality, heterosexuality, transsexuality, cissexuality, or any other variation is a prerequisite to respecting our basic rights and freedoms.

There is more. Without GRS, many transsexuals experience severe logistic limitations - for example, with employment, where we can go (i.e. the gym, public restrooms, swimming pools), difficulties in establishing relationships, in hospitals, or in prisons that house by physical sex rather than gender identity creating potentially risky or extremely isolating situations. There is also an extremely high risk of violence faced upon the accidental discovery that one's anatomy does not “match” perceived gender. I could go on and on. But in sum, no other supposedly "cosmetic" issue so completely affects a person’s rights and safety.

In response to an aversion toward “treating the human body like a machine”, would the author similarly argue that we must abolish hormone therapy for women who are unable to conceive babies? Or deny young men with severe gynocomastia (a common condition characterized by the benign enlargement of breast tissue in males) surgical intervention? How is it that cissexual individuals have a right to medically necessary care, but for transsexual individuals it’s “cosmetic”?

Public Policy
“Forcing female-only spaces to accommodate people who identify as transgender reinforces patriarchy as a system and harms individual females.”
This statement is entirely cissexist and based on the belief that women of transgender experience are not as legitimate as women of cisgender experience. They are.

Overall, I found Jensen’s “public policy” section to be misguided and extremely concerning. The people harmed here are transwomen who are denied access to the space consistent with their gender identity. And regarding his “serious moral questions about our collective obligation for children’s welfare,” what about the extreme distress experienced by a child whose gender identity is not affirmed? His framing of GRS as a “freedom to choose” issue is simplistic and uninformed.

Conclusion

While I understand that Jensen may be experiencing some kind of cognitive dissonance between his belief in the gender binary and the existence of transgender persons, it’s unethical to resolve the dissonance through scapegoating the transgender community - a community that face incredible health disparities.


According to a report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey titled ‘Injustice at Every Turn’, a series of bias-related events lead to “insurmountable challenges and devastating outcomes for study participants”, most notably:
  • Discrimination was pervasive throughout the entire sample, yet the combination of anti-transgender bias and persistent, structural racism was especially devastating.
  • Respondents lived in extreme poverty. The sample was four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000/year compared to the general population.
  • 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population, with rates rising for those who lost their job due to bias (55%), were harassed/bullied in school (51%), had low household income, or were the victim of physical assault (61%) or sexual assault (64%).
  • Double the rate of unemployment. Survey respondents experienced unemployment at twice the rate of the general population at the time of the survey, with rates for people of color up to four times the national unemployment rate.
  • One-fifth (19%) reported experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives because they were transgender or gender non-conforming; the majority of those trying to access a homeless shelter were harassed by shelter staff or residents (55%), 29% were turned away altogether, and 22% were sexually assaulted by residents or staff.
And so on. Read the full report here:
http://www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf

This isn’t an imaginary demographic. These are 6,450 transgender and gender non-conforming study participants who are very, very real. And these outcomes are not a product of a patriarchal gender ideology, but rather the very anti-transgender prejudice that individuals like Robert Jensen perpetuate.

I really hope that Jensen and others in the academic community who may share his perceptions will take a new approach, and instead actually try to make a genuine effort to understand the experience and perceptions of persons who are transgender.

As Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman so aptly put it:

“the strict social norms regarding gender identity, gender expression, and sexuality also constrain the freedoms of cisgender people, as well.  We all risk facing ridicule, being shunned, or even experiencing discrimination and violence, if we step outside of the narrow range of acceptable gender identities and expressions.  As others have said, transphobia hurts us all.”

1. Bio-references:


Navigating the trans-exclusive insurance labyrinth

A few weeks ago I received an orientation packet for the graduate program I’m starting this Fall, which referred to the availability of a subsidized insurance plan for graduate students. We were sent a link to the Student Health Insurance Policy brochure for review and told to let them know if we want the health insurance coverage. If so, they “simply put you on the tuition waiver list and check yes or no for coverage.”

As a student who’s well aware of the fact that many transgender people are denied health insurance coverage altogether solely because we are transgender, I knew it probably wouldn’t be that easy. While it's really great news that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) now bans discrimination that has prevented many transgender people from having health insurance coverage (Section 1557), there are still many problems - most notably, interpreting what is and isn’t discrimination has been left to the states. For instance, insurers have, "used the exclusion to justify denying transgender policyholders coverage of not only hormone replacement therapy and transition-related surgery, but also mental health services and treatment for physical injuries that have nothing to do with gender at all, such as a broken arm."


Overall, navigating the labyrinth that is health insurance is no easy task. For anyone, I'm sure - but as a person of transgender experience it's ridiculous. Even after reading articles galore, attending three workshops related to navigating health insurance at the Philly Trans-Health Conference, and doing my best to read the subsidized insurance policy available to me as an incoming graduate student, I'm extremely confused.

I started by reading the health insurance policy, which does exclude transgender service. But the policy is also outdated (2013-14) and may have changed with some of the changes that are applying gradually with the ACA.

With the help of the adorable presenter I met at the conference, we came up with the following game plan on how to proceed:
  1. Call up the insurance provider and ask about their "sexual reassignment surgery" protocol, as most insurers have them. The policy is usually an insurance wide document.
  2. When I call, ask them about what I would need to change the university's coverage, i.e. requiring a supplemental rider. Also, ask them if there are other plans offered at the university that would provide the coverage I am seeking.  Not all plans are accessible to students, but may help bolster my argument to get the school to change their coverage.
  3. Ask my benefits administrator (or head of insurance enrollment) about the other plans available.  I could say that I need access to services that are not covered on the plan and is there any other way that I can get the specific coverage I need.
  4. If my program has a place that provides LGBT services, they may be able to provide help as to how prior students have dealt with the insurance exclusion in the past.  
I confessed that I was nervous about calling the insurance provider, as I don’t want to be flagged as a “trans patient” and denied service across the board. But, I decided this morning that I’d proceed and called the insurance provider.

s.c.a.r.y.

The conversation was extremely brief and uneventful. When I asked for a copy of the 2014-15 policy brochure, I was told that it is not available yet. When I asked about their “sexual reassignment surgery” protocol, I was told that this is excluded and explicitly decided upon between the school and insurance company. And when I asked if there was anything I could do to change the coverage available to me as a graduate student - such as potentially getting a supplemental rider or opting for another plan - I was told that there’s nothing I can do and there are no other plans available to students.

So then I proceeded to steps #3 and #4. I first wrote to the individual who’s signing us up for insurance, as I'm not sure who the head of insurance enrollment is:

Hi, ____ - 
I have been investigating the ______ subsidized graduate plan and it looks like transgender services are excluded in the 2013-14 policy. Given that the policy may have changed with some of the non-discrimination changes that are applying gradually with the ACA, I called to request a copy of the 2014-15 policy and was told that they do not have this yet.  
As a transgender student, I will not be able to get the specific coverage I need from the present graduate plan. Would you be able to point me to the benefits administrator or head of insurance enrollment at the ______? I would like to speak with them to see if there's any way I can get specific coverage I need. 
Thank you,
Dexter
And I also wrote to the on-campus LGBT resource center:

Hi, ____ - 
My name is Dexter Thomas and I am an incoming M.S./Ph.D student in the ______ department. We received some orientation materials, part of which refer to having the option to opt into the ____ subsidized graduate plan. Unfortunately, it looks like transgender services are excluded in the 2013-14 policy. Given that the policy may have changed with some of the non-discrimination changes that are applying gradually with the ACA, I called ____ to request a copy of the 2014-15 policy. I was told that they do not have this yet, and that there's no way to opt for anything else (e.g. other plans, a rider, etc.).  
Do you know of any other transgender graduate students who have tried to navigate the health insurance labyrinth? Or do you have any resources/suggestions? 
Thank you,
Dexter 
To my surprise, I received a swift response from the LGBT Resource Center, which cc'd the director. And they expressed interest in looking into this. Promising!

In the meantime, I'm planning to also reach out to students elsewhere who have successfully gotten their plans changed at their universities. And I am also looking into potentially purchasing a plan through the exchange instead, which may provide inclusive coverage. Which I'm reluctant to do, as I have the same right to subsidized insurance that my cisgender peers have.

2014 Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference

I had the opportunity to attend the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference for the first time this past weekend. It was incredible, to have the privilege to experience such an indescribable sense of connectedness among so many trans* and cisgender persons. I heard from the grapevine that 3,000+ people were in attendance, which is apparently up from around 2,000 last year.


I was particularly impressed by the vast spectrum of activities offered. There was youth programming, all day programming with specific schedules (e.g. community space, spirituality space, native/first nations/indigenous gathering space), evening events, vendors galore, a gazillion different workshops, and so on. There was something for everyone!

For instance, I attended the conference with two friends who wanted to learn more about how to become better cisgender allies. One chum is a pastor living in Kansas and the other is a researcher at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). While my researcher friend and I attended the WPATH Graduate Student Research Symposium in Transgender Health, our pastor friend went to a "soulshop" called 'Spark Your Inner Light'. Essentially, during every time slot we all found interesting workshops - including multiple workshops FOR cisgender allies, such as 'How to be a Great Trans Ally'. Cuuuute.

I also came across the table for Original Plumbing (a quarterly magazine focusing on trans men) and this spiffy t-shirt:


... which I did have once before back in the day after receiving it as a gift from my uber cute friend Andrew, but lost after wearing once. ONCE.

After I posted this picture on my Facebook profile, I received a super cute request from my dad via text:


Twinsies!

All n' all, we all had a really great and inspiring time. And got to partake in insanely delicious vegan food in Center City, Philadelphia:


A philly cheeze steak, ranch chikn burger, banana whip with cookie crumbles, carrot ginger lemonade, and sweet potato fries from Hip City Veg!!
Yummy adzuki mushroom wraps and ginger pu erh tea from P.S. & Co!!!
So good. Ugh. Nom nom nom.

And traveling was cheap. I really appreciate that the conference organizers have made it a priority to keep the cost of admission to the conference FREE, so it's as accessible as possible. Especially to a community that's so disproportionately affected by poverty and various other access issues. My researcher friend found a super affordable place to stay on AirBNB.com, which I had never heard of before. Essentially, it's a website where people can rent out their own lodging - such as their apartments. She found a really nice apartment right in Center City, Philadelphia that a student was renting out to subsidize his income. Which subsequently saved us even more money, having access to a fully stocked kitchen and a fridge to store yums in!

So that worked out mega-great. And it was all worth it. I haven't had time to fully digest everything I experienced and learned at the conference yet, but it was great. And I particularly loved seeing so many cisgender physicians, students, providers, family, etc., there also. And the growing interest in recognizing and addressing the tremendous health disparities affecting trans* persons.

Not surprisingly, all of the workshops related to health insurance were packed to the point that many attendees had to stand. I took a million notes on how to navigate insurance plans, how the affordable care act impacts transgender healthcare, etc. It's all so complicated and specific to individual situations/options that I'm still pretty confused, but I am in contact with the awesome guy who presented. Fortunately, he's SUPER nice and is all willing to help me navigate the labyrinth that is health insurance - specifically, graduate student health insurance - to the best of his abilities. Aww!

Overall, the conference was really inspiring and motivating. On one hand, I was overwhelmed by the vast sense of connectedness and all of the progress that's being made. And on the other, recognizing how far we still have to go. For instance, I teared up in more than one workshop... I remember one moment where a trans woman in the audience expressed that she's presently forced to live in a homeless shelter for men - and that she "has to sleep next to and shower with men" on a daily basis and every day is "a nightmare".

Ugh. So yes, we do have a ways to go on in so many domains (health, stigma, discrimination, civil rights, violence, etc.), but we're definitely getting there.

Contact Form

Name

Email *

Message *