Anxiety

 

“I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”

I feel it omnipresently. It lurks in social media feeds and in the words that so easily pour from my peers’ lips. I feel it through my dissection of thoughts, worrying about the reality of one notion or another, qualifying between pathos and mere intrusive aberration. I feel like Prufrock measuring life with teaspoons. I feel anaesthetized like Eliot’s sunset.  I am mediated through multiple medical interventions, and divided across multiple psychiatric diagnoses—and defining the boundary of at least one more. I am a measured creature, insecure, and pharmacologically realized and stitched together: unnatural. I feel post modern, in one moment nothing has any meaning, but then by a single and sudden turn, traditional, as if everything is imbued by immutable realties and signifiers. I feel ennui, crushed by my lack of motivation and direction. I am a contradiction of great passions juxtaposed with barely giving a fuck. I am a sexual and gender paradox. I am monstrous, without agency, or enfranchisement. My future is bleak, by past is relative, distant, haunted, and fragmentary—just like my mind.

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Travelling Inhuman: Yorkshire Sojourn

Anticipation

It’s been some months since I last flew. Honestly, the lack of income aside—which doesn’t stop Jenny—the main reason for my lack of airborne adventure is customs. A friend recently reminded me not to be afraid, after all, she said, “You’re not doing anything wrong.” Which is true, but it’s still an uneasy situation in the best of circumstances. As a person who is fully out, travelling with the wrong documents is about degrees of misery. The worst case scenario, depending on where I am going, is being detained, harassed, or denied entry. But even excluding those dismal possibilities, getting through the whole airport infrastructure depends on me being misgendered. And in a way, if I do go through with ease, it undermines my sense of identity and passability. I usually pass. So if I don’t when dressing as a drag man, then is my passing a clever artifice, careful application of makeup and dresses? This is not where I want my sense of confidence in my identity to reside.

Reality number 1

I got mam’ed the whole way through the airport. I failed facial recognition based on my passport. The Dutch customs officer was okay when I showed him my residence card. I made a joke about Canada not letting me update my passport because I still had three years before renewal. Luckily, the Lexapro is cutting more than the edge of my libido and making me sweat, it’s also making such instances more manageable. Still, I had to do the same negotiation of my identity once I landed in Leeds, just in a much less technologically advanced context: weather jokes at the old stamp desk. A few months ago, or even weeks, I wouldn’t have been able to do this, I would have wanted to throw up. Failing at my attempt to be misgendered seemed more ideal than the situations I outlined above, but the events as they unfolded did little to assuage my sense of existential doom. In any event, the evening only became more surrealistic once we acquired our car and set out into the dark wintertime night of 4 pm, the Yorkshire landscape dotted with silly named villages.

I’ve noticed on these last two visits how dark it gets at night in the English countryside. There are few lights. This gives the effect of total disorientation as we wound our way into the moorland. Eventually, we could see the light surface of fields of snow to the shoulder of the road. After an hour of this dark wintery drive, we arrived at a thatched cottage in the hamlet of Harome. The old building was charming and warm inside. A mixture of colonial-era big game taxidermic specimens hung from the exposed wooden beams. These were accentuated by rich wood antiques and folksy bric-a-brac. By far the most out of place element was me. I felt suddenly very gay and trans in this very English country milieu. It’s a strange sensation meeting strangers who already know you’re trans. It makes me feel uneasy. That feeling extended to the other denizens of the lodge, mostly older couples lounging in front of the fire. I imagined them starring at me through my cloud of paranoia. I began to sweat.

Reality number 2

The next day was easier. People were very sweet to me and the wedding was nice: simple and small. The bride’s mother, who obviously knew I was trans, went to great lengths to affirm my identity by telling me what a beautiful woman I am. This only increased with intensity the more she drank, it was welcome. Maybe she sensed my unease. The village of Harome was also a nice reprieve. There was only a cluster of buildings, and by far the main attraction was the 13th-century pub, the Star Inn. But also around the countryside was wild and archaic in a way that only northern England can seem to invoke. Peasants lined the hedgerows and hares darted in and out of fields. We saw an owl and I had a vague feeling of deja vu, but I was likely remembering watching the Wind in the Willows, or some such thing. We did York on the way out, the buildings were charming and old. I ate a sandwich made out of a giant roll of Yorkshire pudding.

But I never felt fully free of the dread of the airport. Upon exiting Leeds there was no customs desk. I managed to get through unmolested as the security guard was only absentmindedly scanning the passports. Again, I was processed as female through the body scanner, and again, an anomalous heat signature appeared in my groin. Again, the female security guard had to pat me down. However, the passport incident was delayed this time until my arrival in Amsterdam. The young female customs officer exclaiming, “This is not your passport!?” I showed her my residence card and again we joked about the Canadain government.

I contacted that government, again, this morning. The woman from the embassy was kind, even understanding, but again there is nothing to be done. I asked about the chances of at least updating my photograph. I ended up having to write and send a letter to the embassy with medical evidence attached to it. From there they can see what the passport issuing office in the Fatherland decides. Nothing is ever simple or not behind a gate.

I also took another step. Though it is entirely futile, as far as forwarding my own cause, I decided to end my many government correspondences with a letter to the PM. After all, I had contacted everyone else, and just last week he apologised to all LGBTQIA2S Canadians on behalf of the government. Surely, if I, a relatively privileged trans woman had met so many obstacles, then there is still much to be done. In any event, a resolution seems a long way off, and I am left feeling disenfranchised, something less than human. But at least I feel less anxious.

 

 

Follow Up

In response to the email I received from the Ontario Minister (post in the previous blog) I contacted the embassy here in the Netherlands. Not that I had any hope of success through this avenue, as clearly this is beyond what the consular services is meant to offer, but following the advice of the “honourable” minister, I contacted the Embassy of Canada in The Hague. The response was laughable.

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I’ve omitted my initial email, but suffice it to say, it did mention that I was exclusively a Canadian citizen. I’ve gotten good at distilling my narrative and needs into a single paragraph.

Oh well, I’ve now been been rejected by the highest levels of government, Federal. Not that my situation feel under their purview. The minister’s suggestion that I seek help from them was just a form of being brushed off.

Fuck.

Having OCD Means

You should never be in charge of your own medical care or you might write this at 5am:

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I think the 50k+ users on subreddit MTF are even getting sick of my questions. When you think about it though, it’s pretty fucked up that I have to worry about this stuff. I mean, I am grateful that I have a GP willing to accommodate me, because if I didn’t I would essentially be forced to stop transitioning while waiting for the gender clinic, but at the same time, it’s pretty crazy that I have to wait at all. We obviously need way more trans healthcare. I know that this is not a life threatening situation at the moment, but my long term health and mental well-being are significantly contingent on receiving adequate medical care. And if I was forced to put my transition on hold, then certainly it would become life threatening. I can only imagine what that would do to my mental health, not good. It’s been bad enough with my current situation. One thing is for sure, people with OCD shouldn’t have to worry about estradiol serum numbers, because its just fuel for their broken psychology machines they call brains. “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,” she mutters while gently rocking back and forth in the predawn chill.

Axes of Oppression: Or, Why it’s Not My Transition that Makes Me Sad

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I’m gonna position myself at the beginning here and state that I’ve had a pretty lucky go at this. I am going to bitch vociferously, but know that I am acknowledging how much more shitty it is for some. And there is, I think some genuine shit here to gripe about. But I want to acknowledge that I’ve gotten this far because I’ve benefitted from certain privileges and advantages—being mobile alone indicates this. But alas, today, mobility is more of a reality than luxury. Anyhow, now that that’s out of the way, we can begin.

I want to experientially discuss three axes of oppression I think my situation highlights: healthcare, civic bureaucracy, and global mobility, the latter is highly entangled with the former.
I’ll start with health care. One of my primary reasons for moving back to the West was health care. The selection of the Netherlands was in no small part due to their seemingly liberal treatment of trans people. I also appreciate that I am approaching the system backward and I will touch on this when I discuss mobility. However, it’s fascinatingly frustrating that health care here is thus far, worse than Korea. I actually advised someone recently that Korea was not a bad place to transition, at least as far as access to the basics. Here, as seems to be the case all over the political hemisphere, centralized health care systems are failing trans people as they sag under the weight of demand. There are two gender clinics in the Netherlands and they have waitlists of up to a year. This means for me, I will have gone through potentially 18 to 24 months of my transition without seeing a specialist. Sure, I’m getting access to care, but it’s like taking my Volvo to get serviced at a Chevrolet dealer.

Furthermore, insurance is a real problem. In the Netherlands apparently laser is covered, but I have received a pretty poor response from my insurer—an insurance that was presented as mandatory for my student visa. Still, AON’s (my current insurer) response was at least not outright offensive, like my last insurer’s was (GBG). AON is attempting to not pay because my policy omits “cosmetic procedures.” Where GBG stated that my HRT was “elective sexual transformation.” I sent a long-winded appeal to the latter from the angle of HRT being a standard treatment protocol for dysphoria, as listed in the DSM 5. GBG had pretty good coverage for mental health. I was rejected after two appeals, but they did contact me to say they were going to review my case to consider possible future amendments to their policies to make them more inclusive. Such is insurance.

The issue with this is the procedures, medications, and therapy trans people need are essential to their ability to thrive and live productive lives. A vicious circle is created by denying us service. for example, let’s say I couldn’t afford laser myself—which thankfully, for the moment I can. If I couldn’t then I would have little chance of passing, without passing, I cannot get a job, and without a job, I cannot pay for necessary health services such as laser. This is just a simple example of myriad binds the system places on trans people.

Similarly, though many diagnostic and clinical manuals do now accept that transitioning via HRT, leading to SRS, is not for everyone, the system is still designed to facilitate this normative medical process. The issue here is that not only is the process long, pathologizing, and potentially distressing, it enforces normative gender embodiments. Thus, replicating a long-standing medical history of pathology and enforcing “wrong bodied” narratives. The recent CAMH scandal reveals how major gender clinics can gatekeep clients based on the preferences of the clinicians. Additionally, I’ve found that these clinical environments are ill-suited to adapt to the needs of anyone approaching them in an atypical fashion, say moving clinics in medias res. Thus, these are normative, procedural, bureaucracies that seem disinclined to accommodate difference—which is ironic considering the nature of the subjects they serve.

Depending on where you live, changing your gender marker may be as easy as getting a letter from a clinician, or maybe you need to be sterilized. Surprisingly, until a precedent-setting case this past year in France, the latter was largely the norm in much of Western Europe. This situation is changing quickly. However, again, the globally mobile subject may find difficulty even in the most progressive bureaucratic systems. Registry systems are often managed by national or even subnational entities, thus transnational subjects may be barred from access to this essential service. I myself am caught in this situation. I cannot change my name in the Netherlands because I am not a citizen, and I cannot change my name in Ontario because I am not a resident. Each respective political entity has the opposite requirement for changing my name and gender marker. This brings me to mobility.

Though by no means is it necessary to become a wayward global expat, it’s a reality for more and more of us—especially in the West as good jobs have evaporated in our current climate of wealth concentration and erosion of the welfare state under austerity. Personally, I went abroad to teach, as there was never any hope of getting a position in Ontario, let alone where I would want to live—Toronto. However, as a trans person, especially one without access to identification matching my gender presentation, this is a fucking nightmare. I only had to be stopped at the Chinese border while on a work conference once to be permanently scared of airports—I got stopped twice. Passports are the de facto identification card for all expats. And I get questioned whenever I use mine. This immediately places me in danger, or at least, in a position of embarrassment.

There are seemingly many obstacles to surmount in order for a trans person to achieve the status of a normative cisgender person. And of course, there are so many issues I haven’t covered, these are just ones that have intersected with my experience. It is clear though, that the deck is stacked against trans people, as there are systemic obstacles to our progression at most levels of society. I have of course omitted discussing transphobia, transmisogyny, standard misogyny, and cis privilege from this discussion. All taken together, the situation seems insurmountable. For me, it has exaggerated my mental health issues, which initially improved significantly when starting HRT. Some of my issues revolve around dysphoria that may not be 100% addressable with HRT, given my age and morphology. But, that has also improved. I would suggest that these exterior pressures are what’s pushed me from a position of improving overall mental health to one that is less than functional. It’s not my transition that causes me stress, but the conditions surrounding it. And my ugly face… 😉 Come on, I look like Dolph Lundgren.

Transgeographia: Update

I got in touch with AON insurance regarding laser hair removal coverage. They sent me a policy quote stating that “cosmetic surgeries” are not covered—so insulting. I did some researching through Transvisie.nl (an advocacy group here) and they state it is covered my basic health coverage. I, therefore, asked AON to clarify. We’ll see. I am not hopeful. I am sick of health insurance that a) doesn’t cover our basic needs, and b) cites insulting clauses to invalidate our claims. I will admit that AON’s clause was less insulting than GBG’s line about “elective sexual transformation.” These companies are dehumanizing and cruel. I’ve spent well over 2500 dollars on my face and will easily spend a 1000 more. How am I suppose to afford this as a student? I guess it’s a good thing hair removal is elective.

No wonder trans people are so economically marginalized. Without healthcare, we can’t pass. Without passing, we can’t get jobs. Without jobs, we can’t afford to pay for healthcare.

So let’s recap. I moved to the West for trans healthcare. I am getting…nothing. I’ve been waitlisted for a year? Meanwhile, I am going through the main 24 month period of my transition without any expert input. Sure, I was monitored in Korea and even here, but not by specialists. Holland is supposed to have one of the most liberal systems of healthcare in the world for trans people. It cannot accommodate my situation as a trans person, in mid-transition, and transferring into its medical system—I get to start at the beginning like a pre-transitoner. Furthermore, I’ve yet to actually break into any communities. And on top of it all, I am still unable to change my identity markers, which is more the fault of Canada, and again, my unusual situation. I, therefore, don’t want to go to a wedding I am supposed to attend in the UK or travel for Christmas because of my passport.

I am depressed, anxious, and lurching between episodes of feeling suicidal. When I reflect upon where I was six months in this process in Korea, I felt a world of difference. I felt stable, fulfilled, engaged, and hopeful about the future. So much for the West and its homonationalist sentiments about LGBTQ rights. Do we really care about what happens to this group, or does it just look good to support them on paper?

I’m so angry.