Sunday, August 4, 2013

The First Step is always the Hardest

Friday, August 2, 2013

Transexual firefighters: Courage and service are common bonds

On the wall at my engine house hangs a large framed photo featuring the silhouette of a firefighter against vivid flames. Underneath is a caption that reads: “Courage comes from a reserve of mind more powerful than outside circumstances.”  As emergency first responders we are often lauded for our courage following some bold public act, yet I believe that the hardest courage is sometimes being brave enough to be honest with yourself.

Coming out as a male to female transsexual on the fire department wasn't easy. Wow, that's an understatement if ever there was one. In fact, for the longest time, not only did I think it would be extremely difficult, I believed it impossible. Having been on female hormones for two years, my physical transformation was well under way. I had recently separated from my wife and our marriage dissolution was pending. I decided that it was time to make my announcement and begin living socially and professionally as a woman, but I was convinced that there was no reality for me where I could be true to myself and also keep my job as a Fire Captain.

Let me add some historical context to explain how I shifted to seeing my on-the-job transition not only as possible, but as something I MUST do...

In December of 2006, after decades of hiding and fighting something coded deep within me, I had reached a tipping point. I was finally ready to take action regarding my struggle with my gender identity and I began taking hormones. My doctor and I were using them as a diagnostic tool. The theory is that if a male bodied person has a female brain, then female hormones will help blend body and mind. Ideally, the hormones' effect on that brain will be complimentary and positive. If, however, the brain is male, then the hormones will clash and a negative effect would be experienced.

After just one month on hormones, I felt as though for the first time in my life the world was making sense. The clouds had parted and the sun was finally shining through. Have you ever been listening to a radio for a very long time that was slightly off station, and then when finally you tune it in clearly, the static goes away, the bass is richer, the highs are clear and the entire listening experience is suddenly more robust?  This is how I explained it to my doctor.  We both agreed that I should continue the hormone therapy.

Over the next 24 months my body slowly changed from male to female.  I underwent hours upon hours of painful and expensive facial hair removal. I spent 3 months in voice therapy so I could train my vocal chords to speak in a higher pitch.  Some of it came naturally, but I had to practice the subtle differences in things such as tone, resonance, and inflection that make a voice sound female rather than male. I grew my hair from a short buzz cut to just above my ears which was the most that I could get away with given our strict hair grooming standards in the fire service.  People were seeing the changes in me, yet were not realizing what was causing them.  I looked odd for a man.  I'm told now, that there were rumors and concern that I might have cancer. The irony is that while my body was finally becoming in sync with my mind and I was becoming whole for the first time in my life, my friends and colleagues worried that dark days lay ahead for me.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Transgender teen settles landmark health case

FORT COLLINS — An 18-year-old college student who grew up as a girl and now identifies as a young man has settled a landmark civil rights case against Kaiser Permanente of Colorado.
In the rare case, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission found in March that there was probable cause that Miki Alexander Manigault suffered discrimination and unequal access to health care specifically because he is transgender.
On the same day, after pressure from advocates at One Colorado, Colorado’s Division of Insurance issued abulletin and became the third state in the country to specifically bar health insurance companies from discriminating against people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. (California and Oregon preceded Colorado. The District of Columbia also bans discrimination against LGBT patients and Vermont has since followed suit.)
Faced with charges of unequal treatment, Kaiser Permanente quietly settled Manigault’s case before it was slated to go to a hearing in June. Amy Whited, a spokeswoman for Kaiser Permanente, declined to discuss Manigault’s case. As a result of a settlement with the Civil Rights Commission, however, Kaiser, one of Colorado’s largest health insurance companies, has agreed to work with the commission to convene discussions among insurers regarding health care for transgender people.
Manigault’s case has already prompted at least one other complaint to the Civil Rights Commission and may open the doors for equal health care for LGBT patients in Colorado and elsewhere in the U.S. Alex finally had the chest reconstruction surgery that doctors deemed medically necessary but Kaiser previously failed to cover, according to the formal complaint.