Last month, a Calgary radio station announced a contest where women could compete for free breast implants by submitting a photo and a personal statement. Predictably, reviews were, um, mixed. Last week, Amp Radio selected ten finalists, from which online voters chose a winner.
The votes are in. Avery, a Calgary trans woman, won the ten-way contest with seventy-six percent of all votes cast. Beautiful.
This is how we work the system.
Societies are not generally open to paying trans* people's medical bills. Those of us who live in the United States aren't guaranteed health insurance. To the extent that we might have our own insurance, the corporations that profit from us typically don't pay for the care we need. Medicaid and Medicare don't cover our needs, even for qualifying individuals.
While Canadian society generally views health care as a fundamental human right, various governmental agencies determine what "health care" actually means. Some provinces (like Alberta) don't cover SRS/GRS at all. It's pretty typical for politicians to treat trans* people's bodies as budget lines and political footballs. Thus, it's never clear what various provinces will pay for at various points in time.
Toying with trans* people's lives is not a uniquely Canadian phenomenon. There are places that have "universal" health care that only allows an outlandishly low number of trans* people to access services each year. Some places have "universal" health care, but force trans* people to conform to narrow standards and submit to horrific psychological evaluations as a condition of their care. Often enough, both of these conditions exist simultaneously.
Of course, there's tons and tons of essential health care that pretty much all trans* women have to either pay for or forgo. Facial hair removal can, depending on circumstances, cost upwards of $10,000. Psychotherapy, which can be useful and/or required and/or horrifyingly unuseful can cost thousands more dollars. Getting breast implants cost additional thousands of dollars. SRS/GRS can costs at least $10,000, and frequently upwards of $20,000. Depending on the surgeon, SRS/GRS may require extensive hair removal beforehand, which again, may cost thousands. Hormones can be pricey, as can visits to the doctors that provide them, both in terms of travel and payment for services rendered. Have I mentioned that some trans* women need (and occasionally undergo) facial reconstructive surgery? Don't even ask how much that costs.
Trans* women typically count themselves as extremely fortunate if the have a health care provider that pays for therapy, hormones, and SRS/GRS. Everything else? Forget it.
I've been on the Internet once or twice, and I'm pretty sure typing the words "need" and "breast implants" is a sure-fire way to piss many readers off to the point where they won't make it more than halfway through your essay. I'm not going to bother with a lengthy, Ativan-fueled explanation of why many trans* women need certain medical procedures. Goddess knows, I've had plenty of strangers tell me that I'm living my life all wrong, and I'm supposed to suck it up and be comfortable in the skin they tell me I'm supposed to have. Bullshit.
However, permit me to explore breasts for a moment or two.
My breasts are spectacular. I'm not saying that merely to get a rise out of you. Even before I came out, I could occasionally feel the weight of my breasts. That might sound strange and disconcerting. I can vouch for the latter. Owing to the particulars of my transition, it was a good three years after my transition before I developed tits (Really? You know the name of the blog, right?). When it happened, it was very, very reassuring. I honestly can't say much that a bazillion trans* women haven't said before. I felt relieved and unstressed at the reality of finally having breasts. It was, in a word, spectacular. So, hugs and congrats to Avery on that score-- I hope she feels the same relief.
When my breasts came in, another interesting thing happened, something that Avery touched on in her statement. People stopped treating me like shit because I was a trans person, and started treating me like shit because they presumed I was a cis woman. Now, I've heard plenty of cis women call upon their personal experiences with the second clause in arguing that trans* women should be forced to endure the first.
Here's the thing: it's not trans* women's job, and trans* women's job alone, to rid the world of misogyny. Furthermore, it's completely hateful and mendacious to insist that we suck up violence and discrimination in the vain hopes that our "taking one for the team" will somehow eliminate gendered oppression, and by way of the magic of the post-patriarchy, make us no longer feel the weight of breasts that aren't there. So yeah, breasts are a human right.
The interesting part about Avery's story, of course, is that she had to go online and subvert a misogynistic contest by begging strangers (and corporations) for her rights. Believe me, as fun as cultural subversion can be, it's also stressful, awkward, and embarrassing. Thankfully in Avery's case, people were generous with their online votes. Thankfully in my case, people have already been incredibly generous with their donations.
Trans* people shouldn't have to be thankful. We shouldn't have to ask nicely. We shouldn't have to ask at all. We are human, therefore we deserve human rights.
I know there are people out there with absolutely no idea what it's like to live my life, or Avery's life, or anyone else's fucking life, who are happy to play oppression olympics, to argue that having tits (or not having tits) and having a cunt (or a wang) aren't actually real human rights, or at least aren't as important as other rights.
Rights are rights. I don't want to live in a society that treats justice as a zero-sum game. There are more than enough resources and compassion in the world to meet all of everyone's needs.
So how about it?
H/t to Shaker Sarah