Friday, September 15, 2017

A Transgirl Abroad

Though I'm hardly what one might call a frequent flyer, I've traveled before. In fact I've traveled thrice while presenting female: once to South Carolina, once to Washington DC, and once to Chicago. And all three of those went fine. I didn't encounter any issues with the TSA. The people in South Carolina were all friendly and I didn't encounter one lick of transphobia. Chicago and DC are probably the closest places to my own NYC in the US, so going there I really didn't worry about encountering transphobia or anything. So, yeah, my experience travelling as a transwoman has thus far not been too different from going about my daily life.

But, Chicago, DC and South Carolina, while charming in their own ways, are not what one would generally call exotic. It's been years since I've actually left the country and I haven't traveled abroad since I started living full time. But, my passport was the last and final thing on my massive list of documents on which to change my name. I've been wanting to travel abroad for a while and now I finally have the opportunity!

Yep, Kath and I are travelling to Deutschland, the place of my birth. I've not been back since I was born. It's been a while. When I was born there were still two different German states and the Berlin Wall was still stood. Now we're going back and I'm super excited.

But of course I'm also nervous. I'm always nervous when it comes to travel. Will people be cool? Will people stare at me? Will people be mean to me or assault me? I mean, it's Europe. It should be cool, right? Western Europe is more liberal than San Francisco and Brooklyn put together. But will people be jerks? It's an unknown. I'm hoping everything will be okay. A friend of mine lives in Berlin and we're seeing her and she didn't warn me or anything. It's still the unknown and it makes me nervous.

Plus I worry about passing in Europe. Sure, I'm probably slightly thinner than the average American. But I'm probably way fatter than the average European. No matter what I'll stand out like a dumb American, but I'm hoping I won't stand out as a dumb American transgender girl. Maybe the German people will be too polite to say anything. Hopefully.

Then there's the issue of passports and customs. It's a whole other TSA to get through. Now, I've luckily not had any difficulties going through the TSA, so hopefully customs won't be a big deal too. Though, I'm not going to lie - I do plan to bring back a good amount of Haribo. But for personal use. Just for personal use, okay!

But I'm more excited than nervous. I've never been to the Continent as an adult. And Europe is a huge place full of tons of walkable cities with good food. Why have I never been before? Plus it's historic and beautiful with so many opportunities for pictures! I can't wait!

Speaking of pictures, thought I'd share some I recently took during a break from packing. Hope you like them!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Being Transgender at Hogwarts

Harry Potter author JK Rowling has not shied away from her beliefs in LGBT equality. Though not mentioned in the text, she has admitted that she wrote key characters, such as Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, as gay. When asked by a fan if she thought that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was a safe place for LGBT students, she replied that of course it was. 

But is Hogwarts, and the rest of the Wizarding World shown to us in the Harry Potter series,  really all that friendly to LGBT people? Here, we'll focus mainly on transgender individuals within this universe. How are they they treated and how is their gender dysphoria addressed? Do transgender people exist in the Harry Potter books? There are no specifically transgender characters, and JK Rolwing has yet to announce such a thing on Twitter (though if she were planning to do such a thing, I would hope it was Luna Lovegood, just because she's my favorite character in the series). 

Rowling has, in tweets, hinted that transgender people exist in this world and that they might use magic to address their dysphoria.“All I’ve done so far this week is change three characters’ genders," she wrote "And I still don’t know whether their current genitalia are permanent.” Now, gender has nothing to do with genetalia, but the fact that she's stated that her characters' genders are not set in stone could imply that there are transgender kids in Hogwarts and that these kids are capable of using magic to deal with their dysphoria. I mean, you can't have LGBT kids Hogwarts without T kids right? But what it is like being one of those transgender kids? 

The Wizarding World of the Harry Potter books does seem quite conservative. Or should we rephrase that to "incredibly conservative?" Slavery still exists and is practiced even by Hogwarts. Minorities like werewolves are openly oppressed. The Ministry of Magic seems to entirely ignore the concept of human rights. Accused criminals are not given due process and the only punishment handed out is life in prison where the accused are subject to continued torture. In fact, the entire Ministry of Magic seems to be run with a Medieval  mindset, despite the series taking place in the 1990s. It's clear that the Wizarding World had not yet caught up with the rest of the UK when it came to liberal values such as equality.

We see this also in the name of the school that Harry and his friends attend. It's the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Gender differences are highlighted in the very name of institution. Terms like wizards and witches retains a hetero and cis normative view of gender. Boys are wizards. Girls are witches. There's no option for non-binary or gender queer magic users. We don't see single use restrooms. Instead they are all divided into male and female. Perhaps a gender queer student could use the Room of Requirement when they wanted privacy, but that clearly seems unfair.

So in a world where the gender binary rules, where the bureaucracy is unwieldingly byzantine, and where people have few (if any) rights, how does a transgender kid go about becoming their true self? Would they become forever stuck in front of the Mirror of Erised, staring endlessly at a reflection of themselves as their true gender? Or would they more likely turn to magic and use one of the various spells, incantations, and charms that can bend reality itself?

First off, there are the healing spells. Episkey can heal minor wounds and Vulnera Sanentur is a more powerful healing spell that can be used to repair more grievous injuries. We also see the Oculus Reparo, a type of mending charm, used to quickly and easily fix broken glasses. Could a tap from the wand and an uttering of Genus Reparo fix a transperson's gender too? Would healing or fixing erase dysphoria, making the person happily cis, or would it transform them into their preferred gender? It might depend on the skill of the spell caster, so you'd be better off getting help from Hermione and maybe leaving Ron out of it.

Would a Switching Spell allow one to switch out body parts for more preferred ones? It does allow Neville Longbottom to turn his ears into cacti. Could it allow one to turn a penis into a vagina, for instance? Again, it might depend on the skill of the magic user in question. The more powerful spells do seem to be more difficult after all. Luckily, though, there are a few more powerful spells that young Hogwarts students could turn to.

Metamorphmaguses like Nymphadora Tonks are described as rare, but a transfiguration spell seems a good bet. In the books these spells are described as being extremely difficult and dangerous. One slightly incorrect movement could cause the subject to turn into something else entirely. Though it really can't be that difficult, as we see mere students using it for pranks. There is however, a risk of getting stuck in your transformed state, which would be great it you do a good job and transform yourself into say, a female version of you. But if it goes wrong, you could be stuck as something horrible forever. So perhaps transfiguration is better left to only the best transgender witches, wizards and other magic users.

One other option of course polyjuice potion, the magical elixir which allows the imbiber to assume the complete physical appearance of another person. It can change your age, your height, and even your sex. We're told that it's difficult to make, but, when brewed by a skilled potions-master, it can last for a full day or more. It can't be that difficult to whip up a quick batch of polyjuice though. After all, we see Hermione make an effective batch in only her second year. What transgender kid wouldn't want their own batch of polyjuice potion?

Polyjuice potion does however present a major ethical question. It can't turn you into, say a female version of your assigned-male-at-birth self. It only turns the individual into a copy of an already existing person. Not only that, but making the potion requires using the other person's body parts, usually hair. In the one case we see of someone living as another person, they had actually kidnapped their subject to ensure they had a daily source of hair at their disposal.

Even if no kidnapping were involved, how would you feel if a classmate, even a close friend, decided to live as you? What would you do if classmate asked for your hair so that they could look exactly like you? Would you be flattered or, more likely, completely creeped out? What if they stole your hair from the Hogwarts barber shop? Would it feel like a violation? I think it would.

Perhaps a transgender kid would need to have a particularly close friend they could ask. It would probably need to be a quite selfless friend. Maybe Ginny, stuck in a house full of boys, wouldn't mind if Ron approached her, explained his deep feelings, and asked if he could have a bit of her hair every day so he could live as her twin sister. It's a tough question, and I think that it presents a lot of challenges to any transgender kid who plans to go the polyjuice potion route. And it also presents some serious challenges to any donor.

So are there no really good options for a young transgender Hogwarts student? Though JK Rowling has never discussed it, I would hope that any good and decent professor like Dumbldore or Minerva McGonagall would be willing to help any young Hogwarts student who came to them expressing transgender feelings. Perhaps they would then send an owl to the student's parents, explaining the situation. I'd like to think that even if you had terrible parents like the Malfoys, Dumbledore would still let the student take on their true form during their time at Hogwarts, even if their parents didn't agree. That seems like something Dumbledore would do, perhaps with a sly smile and a "We shall keep this within the walls of Hogwarts for the time being, and of course Hogsmead too." Then he would would make a deft move with his wand and and say "Revelare verum genus!" And in the end, all would be well.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Gender Rebels Podcast: Coming Out Transgender at Work

The Year of the Knife

November 2017 will be my first full time anniversary and my two HRT anniversary. Not only are those important moments in my transition, those dates are also goalposts, at least as far as my insurance provider is concerned. You see, my health insurance company isn't willing to pay for certain surgeries until I've been on HRT for two years and lived full time for an entire year. So it looks like 2018 is going to be my year for going under the knife.

This naturally presents a few challenges. For one thing, I've never actually had surgery before. Yes, I've ad procedures done under a local anesthetic, but I've never actually been put under for anything. So that scares me a little bit. I've never had to recover from surgery. I've never even stayed over night in a hospital. In fact, I've been quite lucky in that I've managed to avoid serious medical conditions throughout my life. Surgery is scary and it's not something I plan to jump into lightly.

Add on top of that the fact that I am, in general, baffled by the bureaucracy and procedural red tape of the of the American healthcare system. Dealing with my insurance, making doctors appointments - these are things that have often been confusing and intimidating for me. Maybe their structured that way on purpose or maybe I'm just frustrated easily. Luckily, Kath has often been happy to step in to help me with navigating my health insurance.

This time I'm trying to do it on my own. Mostly via Google, I found the laws governing what insurance providers are required to provide in New York State. So I've got that law printed out. Next, after a bunch of Googling, four phone calls to my health insurance company, two chats with HR, and looking through a bunch of publications, I finally have a copy of my insurance provider's Gender Dysphoria Treatment Policy. I've got that printed too.

And isn't it fun that my insurance provider says that they won't cover things that are mandated by the state of New York? Guess I'm going to have to try and take them to task on that and see if I can get them to update their policy. After all the laws of the great state of New York are on my side!

So, what are my plans for these surgeries, assuming I can get insurance to pay for some of them? Well, I've had a consultation and learned that hairline advancement will not work for me. That means I'm going to need hair transplants to give me a normal hairline. I'm on wigs till then. I'm doing some research on hair transplants, but that's tricky because it means dealing with salespeople and not medical personnel. I hate salespeople. But as soon as I can manage to get a hundred different photos of my head from various weird angles, I can try and get some quotes and consultations. Then I just have to find a good place that doesn't cost a ton. That's one problem with the North East. We have a lot of resources, but things always cost more. So I'm also looking for places that are a cheap plane flight away like Georgia or Florida where the same procedures might cost way less.

Beyond that, I'm also planning to head to Callen Lorde on my next day off so I can get some of the required letters one would need to get for GRS. My insurance company says I need a letter from a therapist, which I'm hoping Callen Lorde can help me with. The standards of care actually no longer require therapy, but I guess my insurance company hasn't updated their policies on that one either. Well, I think I can convince a therapist that I'm sane and know what I'm doing. Plus I'll need a doctor note too, but that won't be too difficult since I have had medical care throughout my transition. Then it's a matter of finding a doctor and that's no easy task either.

Next, I would like to get breast implants, but that's the tricky part. The State mandates that providers cover breast augmentation under certain circumstances, and I'm confident I can get a doctor's letter verifying that I fit those circumstances. I won't get into too much detail on what the precise circumstances, but it all hinges on the meaning of the word "significant." All the lawyers at my work tell me I should be a lawyer. I think I can make a good case that I deserve to have the insurance provider pay for my boobs. If that doesn't work, then I guess it's not so bad to have to pay for breasts out of pocket. It is probably the lowest priced surgery.

Lastly, I looked up rhinoplasty and the insurance company's policy on that. Well, at one point I was thinking that I could try an argument that it was reconstructive since I broke my nose twice when I was two or three years old. But, there's not much a case for me to make on that one. So if I were to get a nose job or a brow shave, then that would also be out of pocket. So I probably won't be getting that in 2018. Even with my new raise at work, I won't be swimming in cash and surgery is expensive.

But the nice thing about transition is that it's for life. If I can't get work done on my nose or face or chest or any other body part in 2018, then I have the rest of my life to get that work done. There's no real rush. I just wish navigating health insurance and finding the best doctors weren't so complicated. Ah well, guess I'm gonna need some serious spreadsheets on this one.