April 25, 2016
by Av Anderson
Today I got my very first injection of testosterone. This is a really big deal. Finally getting my queer little hands on a hormone prescription feels like breathlessly finishing hurdles in junior high gym class—only a thousand times better than that.
I’ve been visiting the Alex Youth Centre in Calgary for over three months now in pursuit of a low-dose testosterone prescription to combat my intense gender dysphoria. Living with dysphoria day-to-day is difficult, to say the least. I can’t look at myself in the mirror without feeling anxious, angry, and hopeless. I usually bind my chest for over ten hours a day without breaks, risking changing the shape of my rib cage and spine rather than go a day or two without a flat chest.
Three months of waiting doesn’t sound like a long time, and all things considered, it isn’t. But it felt like an eternity. The reality is that most transgender people wait much, much longer than I did for hormones. This is an ugly, harmful, and often deadly side effect of a cis-sexist/cis-centred health care system. One of the hardest parts of accessing health care for transgender individuals is the lack of structure and information. When I talked to my trans friends who were also chasing the proverbial white whale that is hormones, I received incredibly varied advice on how the “system” worked.
I heard from my roommate Cass, a trans woman, that doctors would only give patients prescriptions if they had been diagnosed with gender identity disorder (GID) by a therapist first. This in itself is a seriously outdated and a seriously offensive idea; GID diagnosis allows the medical community to see being trans as a “treatable” disorder. I heard it was hard, expensive, and time consuming to convince a therapist to write said diagnosis. I heard doctors wanted to “know” their patients for a year after giving a diagnosis before prescribing hormones. I had no clue what to believe. The hormone rumour mill perpetuated by a inaccessible health care system is enough to stop a trans person in their tracks.
This is exactly what is happening. Trans people are killing themselves while they wait for hormones. It’s difficult to say how many as trans people’s identities are often erased after death by their own families and the media. But once you’re involved in the community you watch the body count rise. The trans community has a vibrant online presence; I take to websites like Tumblr and Instagram to get involved with the huge online support system we trans people have. Luckily, I haven’t lost any friends to suicide, but when someone takes their own life, the community feels the loss. We notice when one of our own is gone.
I was the exception and not the rule when it came to hormones. I was very privileged in my experience and it was still difficult. I still felt like I was jumping through hoops, saying the “right things,” and keeping information to myself in fear of being denied a prescription I needed. While I understand that health care is not always instantaneous for cis-gender people either, I think it is ridiculous and cruel to keep someone from a life saving drug because their doctor “wants to get to know them better.” Which is something my current doctor said to me. I was lucky enough to find a new doctor in Calgary, relatively close to where I lived, who was trans-friendly and trans-educated. I was only able to do this because of the trial and error of my trans friends, and I owe them for that. My doctor, who I call “Dr. Jane,” only arrived in Calgary six months ago from Toronto and seems to be a leader in trans health care here. I found out from a friend that Dr. Jane would prescribe testosterone. This is uncommon: although general practitioners can prescribe hormones, they rarely do and mostly refer patients to endocrinologists, adding to waitlists, and increasing the amount of time the trans patient is without hormones.
Even though I had a doctor who was “on my side,” I still had to prove that I needed hormones. I went to appointments to talk about what I knew about hormones, what I wanted hormones to do, and I spoke about my gender dysphoria, depression, and anxiety. This was all just as uncomfortable as it sounds. It felt like I had to earn my hormones in the eyes of Alberta Health Care. When you’re trans, you’re always waiting for something. For a doctor to become available, for therapists, for hormones, for references, for surgeries, for the health care system to catch up to you.
I don’t know why doctors make trans patients wait; I wish I did. But when it happens, it feels like your needs are put on hold.
It sounds weird, but I am so happy to be getting a needle in my butt every Monday for the rest of my life. I’m grateful to have made it this far, and I want more of my friends to make it this far too. I want better for the community, I want the health care system to stop failing my trans brothers, sisters, and siblings. We deserve better.
Av Anderson is a freelance writer currently based in Calgary, AB. Anderson’s practice ranges from the poetic to the journalistic and their research is concerned with defining an intersectional and inclusive feminism to understand queer issues both within Canada’s queer community and the community at large.
Image via tumblr.