Testifying at the public hearing.

Testifying at the public hearing.

The panel listened to the painful stories.

The panel listened to the painful stories.

(Dec 5) New York City- The eyes of the world were on a proposed change to how transgender New Yorkers could change the gender designation on their birth certificates. Those eyes will now turn away as the hopes for a positive verdict are dashed, as are the chances that the reverberations of such a decision would spread out and make transgender people's lives a little bit easier, a little bit safer.


"How can you send a person with a penis to a women's prison?", an anonymous health department official decried. The Board of Health's press release was more circuimspect in it's language.

After reviewing that plan and input received during the public comments period, the Health Department concluded that the proposal would have broader societal ramifications than anticipated. Besides being a key element of identity, gender has important implications for many societal institutions that need to segregate people by sex. These include hospitals, schools and jails, as well as some workplaces.

At the recent public forum, transgender activists and allies gathered to impress upon the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene the urgent need for official recognition of the stark realities many transgender people face. Gender confirming surgery (GCS) is either unwanted or unattainable for a large percentage of the population, be it for personal, financial or medical reasons. For transgender men, the surgical technique is regrettably suboptimal Yet the physical configuration of one's genitals is considered the ultimate determinant of one's gender by the law and society at large. This exposes many transgender people to constant and sometimes extreme dangers.


My experience is in many ways typical of the path many people are forced to take when they begin to assert their existence to the world. I was fired from my job in mental health shortly after I began to 'transition'. In short order I was homeless, and lived on the streets and in abandoned and toxic buildings for two years. I felt it was too risky to go to a shelter and avail myself to the social services that almost all other people have ready access to because I would have been placed with men. There was a hopeful moment when a residential placement assured me that I would be housed in a safe environment, and then reversed itself at the last minute because "it might make some clients uncomfortable." Avoiding their supposed discomfort was more important than helping me get off the street.


I'm a medic, a person who gives free medical care during protests and demonstrations. I was arrested while I was helping set up the healthcare infrastructure for a large protest and separated from the my two fellow arrestees. While they were released overnight, I was charged with possession (of my meds) and sent to a large, all-male prison. All male, except for me. I was placed into a 200 person dormitory. For the next few days, my life was a dangerous, living hell. Crashing off my meds, undergoing hormonal menopause, I was shuffled to the psych ward, the health ward, another 200 person dormitory and was eventually locked in a maximum security cell. I won't say what happened to me during that time. it wasn't fun, and my life was in danger every second I was there. This was not in New York City, although I doubt I would have been any safer here.


I can't afford GCS. Even though I am now off the street I'm almost certainly locked into the lowest rungs of poverty. I can't leave the country to have the surgery done in less expensive Thailand because I can't get a passport. Although all my documentation states that I'm female, my birth certificate does not. And in this new age of increased vigilance about identity documents I take a risk every time someone runs a background check on me.


My experience is in many ways typical, and in many ways not. I've survived, so far. The now dead changes to the health codes are a further barrier to transgender people being able to have safe, productive lives. Moreover, this increases the risk that many people, including myself, will not have lives at all.