Well, Chaz Bono has been identified as someone who is going to transition from female-to-male, and members of the press went searching for a trans spokesmodel for comment. No surprise there.
But oops, it looks like the National Center For Transgender Equality‘s (NCTE’s) executive Director Mara Keisling bumbled an answer. So, let’s take a look, eh?
Someone’s decision to transition does not necessarily mean they are undergoing gender reassignment surgery, and in many cases they do not, said Mara Keisling, executive director of the Washington-based National Center for Transgender Equality.
“The whole media fixation on surgery is kind of misplaced,” she said. “Almost no transgender people ever have surgery. We don’t have any idea how many do.”
At a time when trans folk and our allies want to see health care benefits provided by the workplace increased for trans people — including genital reconstruction surgery that has been determined to be good for the health and wellbeing of many transsexuals — Mara’s phrasing for CNN seems at best unfortunate, and at worst actually damaging for increasing health benefits for those of us trans folk who actually identify as transsexual.
In other words, for me it would be nice for me if the Veterans Administration would do genial reassignment surgeries, but her comment “Almost no transgender people ever have surgery” makes it sound like my peers and I don’t want those surgeries for ourselves — so in the personal sense it sounds like she’s saying to the general public that I don’t want or need the VA to cover it.
The reality is that insurance doesn’t often cover genital reconstruction surgeries, so most transsexuals can’t afford the $15,000 to $60,000 for male-to-female genital reconstruction surgery, or the $30,000 to $150,000 for female-to-male genital reconstruction surgery out of their own pockets. Economics are often the main reason why the transgender people who identify as transsexual don’t have genital reconstruction surgery. Some transsexuals actually do identify as non-operative transsexuals, but my experiece is that those folk aren’t how most transsexuals identify — most who haven’t had genital reconstruction surgery identify as pre-operative even if they anticipate never being able to afford surgery on their genitalia.
I believe that what Mara was trying to say was that for transsexuals, when we are born what’s between our ears doesn’t match the genitalia usually associated with that gender. However, having genitalia that doesn’t match one’s gender identity shouldn’t be used by media or politicians to say that trans men aren’t really men, or trans women aren’t really women — Genitals don’t trump identity.
And too, not everyone who identifies as a transgender person is a transsexual person — there are crossdressers, genderqueers, and such that may identify as transgender, but not as transsexuals.
But, this isn’t what she actually said — or worse, what she actually implied — with how she worded her response to Chaz Bono’s transition.
Engh, I know that trans activist leaders are going to be quoted when “big news” transitions take place, and gaffs will occur when talking to the press. I just wish Mara would have thought about how to answer that standard question about gender and genitalia a bit more than she appears to have for this occasion; I hope she thinks through a “standard blurb” for that standard question on gender and genitalia for future interviews regarding high profile transitions.
And too, I certainly hope no one takes what Mara Keisling said this time and attempts to use it as an argument against insurance companies paying for genital reconstruction surgeries, or even covering other services for trans people — such as hormone therapy and psychological counseling. That would be tragic.
NCTE gets a monthly donation from me, and that certainly won’t change. Gaff’s happen; we all move forward. I do hope NCTE clarifies what Mara meant very early next week though, as this statement she made for CNN really is a gaff that could hurt trans people’s quest for a future thst includes more inclusive medical care.