February 29, 2012

Being a Trans-woman in Quebec is far from easy

Special to Rebel Youth from Clarté newspaper

If there is still a condition that can bring discrimination and abject humiliation in Quebec and Canada today, it's being a transgendered woman. Across Quebec, hundreds if not thousands of transgendered / transsexual (trans) people continue to suffer very bad treatment, violence and attacks, and almost complete rejection from society, in an atmosphere of indifference. Can we consider it normal that, even today, trans rights remains largely unrecognized by law?

The Senate has just nipped in the bud Bill C-389, which would have given the trans community a minimum of dignity and rights. This reveals the open contempt felt by the public authorities towards this community which is greatly in need of defense of its rights. Clearly, the Harper Conservative government has no political will to help trans people and, even worse, actually attempts to actively harm the community.

Since the 70s, government assistance given to transgendered people has plummeted. While medical and sex change operations were once covered by the public health system, today people are left to out in the cold, with little or no help, and have to cope as best they can.

For example, while the Centre Hospitalier Université Laval (CHUL) in Quebec City formerly included a team of professionals to assist transsexual women, today, following government cutbacks in health, nothing is left of this team. With the retirement of Dr Jean-Pierre Bernatchez few years ago, it is no longer possible today to be followed by a physician within the public system. The only way remaining to get help is to pay exorbitant sums to be followed by a team of Semi-Private doctors  in Montreal -- and that may require $300 per month for  basic psychological care.

This monitoring often occurs over several years, raising the bill to several thousand dollars. Worse, the only surgeon performing sex-change surgery in Quebec is Dr. Pierre Brassard, practicing in a private clinic in Montreal and asking around $ 20 000 for the procedure. It goes without saying that for trans-women from working class and poor backgrounds, access to treatment is virtually impossible.

Moreover, the problems do not stop there. The contempt felt by the authorities against trans people is reflected in many other ways. Trans women are often humiliated and rejected by crisis centers, such as centers for suicide prevention and women's shelters. Professionals have no training to help transsexuals and they can harm more than they help.

What's more humiliating than being told that you are mentally disturbed and that the only way to become a good citizen is to abandon these crazy ideas -- and live a tidy life in your biological sex of birth? This is the kind of advice given to trans people from Québec public body.

It is the same story on at the Quebec Ministère de l'emploi et de la solidarité sociale (Ministry of Employment and Social Solidarity), who refuse to help through integration programs at work on the grounds that it would be simple for a trans woman to find a job -- they only have to present themselves at job interviews as a man.

On the federal side, Employment Insurance reserves the right to refuse to pay benefits to women recovering from their operation, claiming that this is a cosmetic surgery and therefore non-medical -- even if gender dysphoria has been diagnosed, which is still the classified mental disease mental in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the reference manual in psychiatry.

Moreover, while the lesbian and gay community has no longer been considered mentally disturbed since the 1970s because of there sexuality, the trans community continues today to be labeled as suffering from severe psychiatric disorders. Humiliation and alienation are the agenda for all trans people.

Trans women are faced with alarming rates of poverty, a situation of often chronic unemployment, problems of social integration that are often humiliating and victims of violence, including murder. Many suffer from acute depression, and are at high risk of suicide feeling that nobody seems to care the least bit.

This atrocious situation faced by the transgender community in Quebec can not be tolerated. It is time to demand the government give assistance to these women by providing medical care and the ability to be operated within the public health system. It is time to demand that health professionals are adequately trained to treat trans people with the dignity they deserve. Progressive movements must demand that the authorities stop this segregation that still continues across the board.

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