It’s this equanimity that has allowed me to learn to appreciate life, even when dealing with bureaucracy. I find I can work gently and sporadically without worrying about achieving goals. But my tale of bureaucratic dealings has grown beyond being an illustration of this principle, and has itself become a huge task, that of describing some aspects of my gender transition during the last two and a half years. So, at the risk of being boring, I’ll continue to beaver away at this task, in the hope that some of my readers will find year two and the beginning of year three of my bureaucratic progress interesting in themselves.
In the previous post of this series I ended with the beginning of 2013, in a new home, sick in bed with an infection and a bad cold, which lasted for several weeks. Having finally had the orchiectomy operation, I had achieved a milestone in the medical part of my transition, though I did schedule an appointment with my endocrinologist in order to readjust my hormone levels, having lost my “little testosterone factories” as a friend put it. In the fall of 2012 I had, in addition to making enquiries about the Adam’s apple surgery, tried to get accepted for genital and facial surgery with the Brassard Clinic in Montreal, and asked my psychiatrist to apply for me to be assessed by the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto so I could get genital surgery partly subsidized by Sask Health. I was turned down by the Brassard Clinic because I hadn’t been taking HRT for long enough, and early in February I asked my psychiatrist to check with CAMH, and found out they hadn’t received my application, so during the spring of 2013 I made several reminders until my application was finally acknowledged. In August they finally sent me a letter saying I had been placed on a waiting list, 9 months after I had first applied. The approximate time I would have to wait was 14 months. I did send them a letter asking if my wait could be dated from when I had first applied, a year and a half before, but never received a response.
I had heard that with the right doctor’s letters, some government agencies would allow one to change the gender on official identification after having had the orchiectomy. So I began to investigate that process. I asked my doctors to prepare letters. After several inquiries I was told that in order to change the gender marker on my driver’s license, my health card, my passport and with Service Canada, I would need to have my birth certificate changed in addition to the doctors’ letters. However, I was born in South Africa, and this proved to be difficult. I did write to the South African Embassy, but my request was never acknowledged. So, returning to the previous government agencies, I was told that if I couldn’t get my birth certificate updated, they would accept an updated citizenship card.
In early January 2013 I applied for a new citizenship card, using the information I had been given by Agent Wilder the previous summer. I had some questions as the application form was not for a new citizenship card, but for a new landed immigrant card. That was the one he had told me to use, as it was the only one that had a section for change of gender. There was no information on the website, and I tried phoning the one national information number during several weeks while I got photos, prepared the various letters and photocopies and got everything notarized. As previously, my call was usually cut off, the few times I got on the automated waiting cue, I wasn’t able to wait the hours it seemed to require. So I finally altered the application, wrote a covering letter, included Mr. Wilder’s fax with the instructions he had given me, and mailed it all off.
In the meantime, my driver’s licence was coming due, so I tried approaching license issuing offices, phoning information numbers, and sending e-mails, explaining that I had the doctor’s letters, but couldn’t get my birth certificate and that there were difficulties with Immigration Canada. Simultaneously I did the same with Sask Health. Finally a clerk at the driver’s licence issuing office proved helpful, and made phone calls to various departments, who asked for more information and copies of my doctor’s letters, and she faxed it all for me. A supervisor at head office took an interest, and after she made some unsuccessful inquiries with Citizenship Canada, decided to issue me my driver’s licence with the correct gender, on the condition that I send a copy to her when I finally did receive my new citizenship card. Within a week my new driver’s license arrived, an event which gave me huge satisfaction.
In the meantime, not just satisfied with my own personal gains, I became involved with an initiative of Mikayla Schultz of TransSask Services in Regina. She had created a petition to ask the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission to include gender expression and gender identity as prohibited grounds under the Sask. Human Rights Code. When I had first been wondering about my seemingly inexplicable need to express myself as female, in 2010, I had seen mention in the news about an initiative to include gender expression and identity as grounds in the federal Canadian Human Rights Code; private member’s Bill 389 put forward by NDP Bill Siksay. The bill was finally passed by parliament, but before it could go through the Senate, the legislature was prorogued by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and all bills died. I remember thinking that surely in Canada we are protected against discrimination even if it isn’t specifically mentioned. The feeling of growing public acceptance helped give me courage when I made the decision to begin presenting full time as female at work early in 2011. Later that year, when I went to seek help from the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission because of harassment and bullying at work, and later firing from my ‘permanent’ job, they told me I had to file under one of the specified ‘grounds’ in the Code, such as discrimination based on Sex, or Sexual Orientation, or Illness, or Race etc. My harassment was clearly based on gender expression. I hadn’t at the time changed my sex, nor revealed any new information to my fellow employees about my sexual orientation, so I had no evidence to support a complaint under the existing categories. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission told me that therefore I could not submit a complaint.
I helped collect many signatures on the petition over the spring and summer of 2013. I helped to organize a demonstration in Saskatoon to protest the refusal of service to a young transwoman, Rohit Singh, by a local bridal shop, Jenny’s Bridal. Many signatures were collected on the petition, and much public awareness resulted from the media coverage of the protest. Rohit wanted to submit a complaint to the provincial Human Rights Commission, and I helped her with that process through the Summer, finding out in the process that thought the law had not changed, a new bureaucratic interpretation had come into effect and her complaint was accepted under the grounds of sex. She decided not to take the claim to the courts, because of the expense and time involved, and was pressured by the Commission into a mediated settlement. I accompanied her through the process and the media interviews, and she accepted an apology from the Bridal Shop and a financial contribution to the Avenue Community Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (ACC) and Aids Saskatoon as settlement. It unfortunately didn’t set any legal precedent, being merely a mediated agreement. This made our arguments for the inclusion of the grounds of gender expression and gender identity much more difficult. Because the law still had not changed, only an interpretation which could be subject to the whims of appointed officials and the persuasion of expensive lawyers, we continued our campaign.
By this point, it seemed that I had pretty well done everything I could, and now all I could do was wait, for Citizenship so I could proceed with changing the rest of my documentation, and for CAMH before I could proceed with the medical part of my transition. However, the thought of a 14 month waiting list for CAMH, followed by one or two trips to Toronto for assessment, followed by application to Sask Health for coverage, followed by the Brassard Clinic waiting list for surgery seemed a bit too much. I had enjoyed the process as much as I could, and managed not to be obsessed with achieving goals, but I have to admit I had begun to think I would like to be done with papers and doctors before I turned 60. It would have been nice to have had some years with a mostly female body when I was young, but I don’t regret it. Having had my two children is far more important to me. But I would like a few years with a mostly female body before I enter a nursing home!
I had decided to spend some of my retirement savings in 2014, perhaps to go travelling. My son had gone away to college, studying to be an actor in Toronto, 3000 km from me, and I missed him terribly. I decided to visit him in the new year and perhaps continue on to revisit my old friends and haunts in Barcelona. As I planned my trip, I began to find out that not all my friends and relatives were ready to welcome me into their homes as they would have in the past. Finally, after some anguish and much soul searching, I decided I wasn’t ready for a short, expensive trip with an uncertain reception. It would make more sense for me to return open to possible new opportunities, and to take the time to sort out the name and gender change paperwork for my Spanish citizenship. For this I would need to have sexual reassignment surgery, the orchiectomy wouldn’t be good enough for the Spanish authorities. Considering the minimum two year wait for surgery subsidized by Sask Health, with them covering less than a third of the surgery costs, plus the extra expense of trips to Toronto to visit CAMH, I decided to see if I could get a date for surgery to coincide with my already planned trip to Toronto, not far from the clinic in Montreal, and to try and cover the expense myself. So the second year in a row, I applied to the Brassard Clinic, and asked my psychiatrist to send a letter. They asked for more letters, but their requirements were confusing and contradictory, I think because of language issues as the staff at the clinic were French speakers. I sent a letter from my doctor and endocrinologist, and hoped that I had sent them all they asked for. In the meantime, I reserved a one way plane ticket to Toronto for the beginning of the spring break at my son’s school, February 20. I reserved a room in a gay run bed and breakfast. I inquired about accommodations in Montreal for March. And I waited.
On January 3 I received an e-mail from the Brassard Clinic, saying they could give me a surgery date on March 12, but that they hadn’t received a letter from from a second psychiatrist. Oops. I replied, saying the letter was on its way, and phoned looking for appointments from a few psychiatrists and counsellors recommended by my psychiatrist. On January 8 I received a confirmation letter from the Brassard Clinic, with all the additional medical and legal documents I had to sign, and a timeline of requirements; medical tests, advance payments, and final payments. On January 10 I saw a psychiatric counsellor who was so fascinated by my story that we went a half-hour over the scheduled time, and she decided she didn’t need a second visit, drafted a letter right then, and gave me a discount on her fee.
I contacted my pension plan, who had assured me the previous fall that all I had to do was fill out a form, and I could have the money within days. They sent me the form, which I filled out and faxed. A few days later, they sent me a letter saying they needed legal documents filled out by my ex-spouse. I phoned, and complained that we had signed the documents and sent the required forms when we had made our legal separation, a year and a half before. They insisted, and I asked to speak to a supervisor. The supervisor began asking for even more legal documents, and I became angry, explaining all the circumstances, and expressing my outrage. He decided I only needed the two documents signed by my ex. My ex, however, was in Spain. I could ask her to sign the documents, notarize them, and fax them to the pension plan office, with the originals to follow. In the meantime the first payment deadline was due. I paid with my VISA card. After a few problems with PDF documents that wouldn’t print, my ex was finally able to do what was required. Within a week the money was deposited in my account. I reserved a bus ticket from Toronto to Montreal, made arrangements to rent a room from a young queer man in Montreal from March 1 to March 10, and reserved an airplane ticket home on March 20.