B.C. Trans Advocacy Day seeks end to long waits for sex reassignment surgery

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      Transgender women in B.C. who have been approved for sex reassignment surgery wait up to two years to receive the procedure. For trans men, the wait is as long as 10 years, according to Morgane Oger.

      The transgender-rights activist is one of the organizers of B.C. Trans Advocacy Day, an upcoming event calling on the B.C. Ministry of Health to provide “safe, accessible, timely” surgeries for trans people in the province.

      “Having to wait 10 years for your first surgery, it feels like a long time when you’re an early adult,” Oger, chair of the Trans Alliance Society, told the Georgia Straight by phone.

      On Sunday (November 2), B.C. Trans Advocacy Day is expected to bring over 100 attendees to the Creekside Community Recreation Centre (1 Athletes Way) in Vancouver. Organizers have raised over $2,300 on Indiegogo to help cover the cost of the event, which is free to attend.

      Oger said that community members and stakeholders will spend the day discussing the state of trans health services, how they can bring about change, and ways to raise awareness in the province. Participants will make plans to take action at a future date, likely sometime next spring.

      Sex reassignment surgery is also known as gender affirmation surgery. It’s part of the gender transition process, recognized as medically necessary by the Ministry of Health, and covered by the Medical Services Plan.

      However, a video promoting B.C. Trans Advocacy Day claims that the province hasn’t actually sent anyone for masculinizing genital surgery since MSP decided to cover that procedure for trans men three years ago (and 95 people are on the waiting list).

      Oger asserted that part of the problem is the “terrible” underfunding for the surgical assessment team that must approve coverage of any sex reassignment surgeries for B.C. residents. Then there’s the fact that all these surgeries are done in Montreal.

      According to Oger, patients must pay thousands of dollars for their travel and one to two weeks of convalesce in a private hospital in Quebec. Back in B.C., those experiencing postsurgical complications are met with a “total lack of support”, she maintained.

      “You have to take a picture of your privates and email it to Montreal, and then they’ll tell you what to do,” Oger said. “That might include, ‘Oh, fly on back. There’s something wrong.’ It’s pretty dire.”

      Oger argued that the province should study whether it’s cost-effective to send patients to Montreal for surgery. She wants to see both feminizing and masculinizing surgeries done locally and in a timely manner.

      “If we say that 10 percent of the cases come back with major complications that are life-altering, maybe off-shoring this to Quebec is not financially so sound a decision,” Oger said.

      Another problem, according to Oger, is that the process leading up to approval for surgery is “really opaque”.

      “It’s a black hole of information,” she said. “You feel like a supplicant rather than a participant in your care.”

      Oger asserted that trans people have suffered from a “history of neglect and poor treatment” over past 30 years at the hands of the provincial health-care system, and it will take a lot of work to rebuild trust in the community.

      “We believe it’s not a good idea to make people wait a very long time, to go very far away to do a surgery, and then make them come back here in isolation with limited or no postoperative support,” Oger said.

      Ministry of Health staff did not make a representative available for an interview by deadline.