I would like to tell you a couple of things about me. First, my name is Saber and I've been transitioning (FTM) for about two years. Second, I have just recently joined the Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition (MTHC). There is a reason I have been motivated to do this, which you will understand shortly. But first, if you meet me, you'd probably say one of my most endearing qualities is my sense of humor and my ability to use it to put people at ease. Well, transitioning has given me quite a lot of material in which to find humor! Take for instance the following, one of the reasons I became involved in MTHC:
Not too long ago, I went into the doctor's office (up in the north land where I lived) because I was having some severe abdominal pain, around my ovaries. The doctor of our local clinic did an exam on me and said that what she would like is for me to get an ultrasound down in Duluth, wait around for the doctor down there to review the results, and if it is was what she suspected it might be, I would be hospitalized right then. She was guessing that I possibly had ovarian cancer. "OK" I said, "Just make sure that they know it is me, an FTM, coming down so they don't freak out when I get there."
So my doctor calls down to the Duluth hospital to order the test and fills them in: I am trans, female to male, and I am to have an ultra sound done on my ovaries to see if I have ovarian cancer and, she stresses, I am to wait for the results there so that I can be hospitalized right away if I need to be. It is the last appointment of the day and the staff will be waiting for me to arrive.
Great! It sounds all set up, so my partner and I leave to get me tested. We arrive and they don't know who I am and they are confused because I am a guy wanting my ovaries checked. So, after unsuccessfully trying to convince the staff that I do in fact have ovaries, they finally go get the head of the department to talk to me. I am cool and collected about the whole thing. I truly understand that I look like a male wanting my ovaries checked to them. I, too, would go get help. So, the head person comes out, we explain everything, she listens and says that she will be right back. She comes back and says that she is very sorry, that the paperwork got misplaced, but that everything is set up for me to get the ultrasound.
The tech comes out after a short bit to bring me back to my room. My partner comes with me. The tech looks at the paperwork and says to my partner, "What is your name and what test are you here for?" My partner corrects her and says, "No, I am Saber's partner, but he is here for the tests."
I state my name and that I am here for the ultrasound to check my ovaries for possible cancer. She looks at me and says, "But you're a guy." I explain that I am transgender, female to male, and that I am pre-op; that I still have all my female parts. (We sort of thought her boss would have covered this before she sent me in here.) She looks at me and then my chart and says again, like perhaps I am just very slow, "You're a guy, you don't have ovaries." I restate that I am a transgender person. She looks blank. I can tell the word transgender has no meaning for her. I explain again: I am a man, but was born into a female body, and now I am changing my body, but I've not had the surgeries to remove the female body parts such as breasts and ovaries. So even though I look like a guy, I do in fact have ovaries. She looks at me and then my chart again and says that she will be right back; she tells me to change into the gown.
After waiting at least (not kidding) fifteen minutes, my partner says, "I am going to go see what is taking so long."
A couple minutes go by. My partner comes back in and says, "You won't believe what just happened! I went out to find someone and everyone is gone. The place is empty. It's dark. I went to look out the door that connects to the hospital and a doctor was walking by and asked what I am doing in here. I explained, through the locked door, what happened, and he said that he would find someone to open the door and help us out. So I guess we just wait here now."
And we did, me sitting in my silly gown. Eventually a person came in to talk to us and then a tech was found from somewhere in the hospital and sent in to do the ultrasound. We asked to stay until the results were read, and explained (yet again) that my doctor had said that was imperative: no matter what I was not to leave until I knew the results. They said that the person who reads the tests went home already and that we couldn't stay, that this part of the building was closed. My clinic had closed already, too, so I didn't know what to do. Before all of this happened we were planning to go down to the cities to hang out with family. But if I had ovarian cancer I was supposed to be hospitalized right away.
Did we head back home, head to the Cities, hang out in Duluth?
We left and called my clinic hoping that they would have someone on call. I don't own a cell phone and playing phone tag with a pay phone is quite a chore these days. First, you have to find a pay phone that still works, and then you have to find one that can receive a phone call. I found out that day that most pay phones no longer accept incoming calls. We decided to try pay phones along the way to the Cities, thinking if nothing came of all this, we would start over with a doctor down there. (This was a bit nerve wracking, since my doctor had literally made me swear not to leave the hospital without the results.) We actually never found a pay phone that accepted incoming calls, so eventually we stopped at a gas station and asked if we could give their number and wait for a call. They agreed, and with that we finally got in touch with my doctor. She was rightfully appalled at our story, and promised to get the results and call me back. She wasn't sure how long it would take.
So we hung out in the gas station, rather than in the comfort of the hospital, waiting to hear if I had ovarian cancer or not, the cancer my mom had died of only months before.
Eventually my doctor called back. The results were fine! I didn't have cancer or anything visibly wrong with my ovaries. I did have to come back in to find out what was going on, but got the go-ahead to go visit my family and check in when I got back.
I still am able to find humor in this, as appalling as it was. My partner and I still laugh about the absurdity of it all, the faces of the technicians we talked with, the surreal quality of her walking out to find the place empty. This story is far from the only one I could share with you. I could tell you about the time when the hospital registrar insisted that I go back upstairs and tell her friends that "it was a good one, but they didn't get her!" She never did believe I was a real patient. Or the jokes that the woman pushing my wheel chair made as she had to return me to the exam room in ER that was for women only. She was so embarrassed that they had put me in there! And don't even get me started on the comedy routine that my insurance card, marked with an F, sets up each time I have to use it. They roll their eyes at each other and whisper, "How stupid is he to try and use some woman's insurance?!"
My experiences have certainly shown me that the medical community needs education about transgender people and their health issues. Until I can have the surgeries I need, I will continue to be seen in the gynecologist's office on a regular schedule. Unfortunately I cannot afford the surgeries out-of-pocket, and so am stuck for now, unless, of course, I win my court case. It is happening right now in Hennepin County: Saber DeMare vs. State of Minnesota. (** see below for update, March 16, 2007)
On July 13th, 2005, the Minnesota Legislature passed the omnibus health and human service bill (HF 139), containing the following amendment to Minn. Stat. 256B.0625, Subd. 3a: Sex reassignment surgery (SRS) is not covered. This section is effective August 1, 2005.
On this date in 2005 the MN legislature voted, without medical consult, to eliminate state paid coverage* of all Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS).
I had my request for authorization of the surgery in before the legislation went into effect. I had met with my surgeon. I would have already had the surgery, but I had been reluctantly waiting the year that was required for SRS (though every FTM I know cannot tolerate breasts after only a few months on testosterone). I am now seventeen months into my court case, and have been on T (testosterone) for about twenty-six months. I am requesting that Medical Assistance pay for the very medically necessary surgeries I need. In the meantime I feel a particularly unique discomfort, feeling every bit the man I have always been, relieved to finally have the T my being has craved to feel "right", and even more horrified with my breasts and genitals than ever before. But the court case will have to be another story, one that will hopefully have a great ending.
As long as I have some female organs left in my body I will have to go in for gynecological exams looking like a male. Having these and other exams for my health are clearly important so that if I were to get breast cancer, ovarian or uterine cancer it would be detected early. I really don't want to become afraid of going to the doctor and thereby jeopardize my health.
So heads up everyone! I am out there in the community and I might just run into you.
If I do hopefully I will be treated with the respect that I deserve, and we can find other things to laugh about!
** As of January 25, 2007, my court case against the Minnesota Departmemt of Human Services was dismissed. After meeting with my lawyers, I've been advised that there isn't a way to appeal this case any more with a satisfactory outcome, and so ends my courtcase for getting SRS paid for through Minnesota Medical Assistance.