The last province: A step in the right direction

Two Fredericton students are finally able to get gender-confirming surgery after a long wait and much uncertainty

Gender-confirming surgeries are finally accessible in New Brunswick, four months after coverage has been approved.

New Brunswick was the last province to cover these surgeries, and after a long wait and much uncertainty, Fredericton students Olivier Hébert and Reid Lodge are finally able to get the surgeries that will make them more comfortable in their own bodies.

Hébert, a St. Thomas University student and co-chair of the Queer and Allied People Society, said this surgery isn’t really distinct from other surgeries people need because it will “have a longstanding benefit to my ability to live a good life. Just like anyone else going into surgery.”

Lodge is an English Master’s student at the University of New Brunswick. He has been an active member of the gender minorities community since the approval of this coverage. He said he was “waiting for either $12 thousand dollars to fall in my lap or for the government to put coverage in place.”

Hébert thought it would take about nine to 10 months before anything came of it. Now, both Hébert and Lodge are working with their doctors to have top surgery, a chest masculinization surgery, through New Brunswick Medicare.

“It’s a big step in the right direction,” said Hébert.

Lodge has been raising money for top surgery since March of 2015. He raised about half the money he’d need. Now that the surgery is covered, he will donate this to the Imprint Youth Association. This association, run by Lodge and St. Thomas professor Erin Fredericks, is trying to promote education on gender minority groups and reflect the needs of LGTBQ youth in Fredericton.

The cost of gender-confirming surgery depends on which surgery one is getting and the surgeon. The province covers the surgical cost of eight gender-confirming surgeries. The money that Lodge and Hébert would’ve had to raise for top surgery, before the coverage, ranged from $10,000 to $12,000.

These figures do not include recovery time, travel expenses or local accommodations after surgery. With this coverage, only the surgical cost and hospital stay for one night is covered. The coverage is too new to know whether the expertise exists for surgeries to occur within the province.

Bailey McLaughlin, a St. Thomas student, explained how valuable this surgery coverage is for everyone outside of the transgender community as well.

“I know I couldn’t afford that kind of care if it was me,” said McLaughlin. “So it is nice to know that I – or even people that I love, or children in the future if I do decide to have them – have these kind of options.”

“[This coverage is] an acknowledgement that New Brunswick actually recognizes that these people are here and need help,” Lodge said.

Although it is a big step, Hébert said there are other issues to be solved.

The withstanding issue in gender-confirming surgery in New Brunswick is that there are more surgeries covered for transgender men (female to male) than for transgender women (male to female).

“I think we still have to push for the idea of covering everything. I don’t think that covering half of the procedures that a person might need is enough,” said Lodge.

The Government of New Brunswick website has a page outlining some of the details of gender-confirming surgery coverage in the province.

For all transgender people ‘bottom surgery’ is covered, or vaginoplasty for transwomen and vaginosectomy and related procedures for transmen.

For transmen, top surgery, also called mastectomy (where breasts are surgically removed), is covered. For all transgender people “travel, accommodation or medications prescribed outside of hospital, voice and communication training” are not covered.

For transmen, the only other aspect of surgery that is not covered is pectoral implants. For transwomen breast augmentation (implants), facial feminization surgery and hair removal is not covered.

For those seeking this coverage Lodge explains there are other barriers as well.

“It’s really hard for them to find resources to know what to do … there’s no step by step sort of process that you can just google that Government of New Brunswick page. That’s all of the information that exists,” said Lodge. “We need to get into the schools.”

He explains the value of gender minority education because students are not getting information about different kinds of identities at an early enough age. This leads to tension between those who are a gender minority and those who are not.

However, Lodge and Hébert know there will always be people who do not agree with this surgery.

To these people Hébert says, “the fact that two people are getting married doesn’t affect you in any meaningful way and neither does me getting my boobs chopped off.”

Lodge explains there are many procedures that are covered that he does not really agree with. However, those people have the right to health care whether he likes their choices or not.

“It’s no different for this one. Some people are against lung transplants for people who have been smoking for forty years and I don’t see that as a different issue than trans-surgeries.”

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