A petition with almost 150,000 signatures asking for gender-affirming surgery to be covered by Medicare was posted to the Government’s website last week.
The petition organiser said gender-affirming surgery – to allow someone to “have their outward appearance match how they truly feel on the inside” – could cost up to $30,000.
“I know of someone personally who is struggling to bring together the money to get this surgery as it is not covered by Medicare, even though this specific person is eligible for a breast reduction for medical purposes anyway,” they said.
These surgeries are essential for the mental health and well-being of select people in the LGBTQ+ community.
Transgender people are current forced to go to private practices, which have varying skill levels at performing gender affirming surgeries and often shockingly high costs.
Joe Ball CEO of Switchboard Victoria – a community based non-profit that provides support for LGBTIQA+ communities and their allies – says medical intervention can be an important part of the process.
“It’s a really important part of how transgender people have been telling us that for a long time that they want to affirm the gender,” they say.
“Medical transition – which is the nature of this petition – is one way. There is a number of ways of how you can affirm your gender, such as changing your pronouns, changing the way you dress and changing your name.
But I think all parts of it – whether it be medical transition or non-medical – is very important, because it means that people have a way of being acknowledged in the world for the way they see themselves.
While some people may think that gender-affirming surgery is purely an optional cosmetic surgery that has no medical benefit, that is false, Ball says.
“It’s important to understand that for many transgender people it is … an essential surgery. We have certainly seen throughout Covid of people who have had the surgeries delayed or put off because they have been seen as non-essential.
“But for people to affirm who they are it is very central for people who want to do the medical transition and actually some of the things that a might want to alter or change can be having significant adverse effects on their mental health.”
A report by the Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society Writing Themselves in 4 found 67 per cent of trans men experienced a very high level of psychological distress, while 64 per cent of trans women said they experienced a very high level of psychological distress.
Jenni Shoring, operations manager for A Gender Agenda, an organisation that supports intersex, transgender and gender diverse communities in and around Canberra, says gender affirming care is one way to help people be their authentic self.
“For people who are presumed male at birth or presumed female at birth, trying to be yourself – part of that comes from the mental wellbeing of being in a body that doesn’t match who you feel you are.”
“Mental stress from depression and anxiety is incredibly high in transgender people because you are not living life as your true self, you are living life in a body that does not necessarily match how you feel on the inside.
“However, while not all transgender people seek surgery, for those who do it is an extremely important piece of the process in transitioning, to finally be in a body that matches the rest of you.”
The online petition closed on October 27 with 148,182 signatures. This should have come much earlier.
Ball says they are encouraged by the petition’s success because it was a fully grassroots piece of activism that went viral.
“As a trans person myself it feels like a really big hug, because I think about it’s not just asking people whether they think they should tolerate us, it’s actually asking people, ‘do you think the society that we all share should support us in a real financial and direct way’. I like that,” they say.
“But what I really loved about this petition is that it came from a community member. I think that a lot of the petitions that go to Parliament they are often done by advocacy groups and as an advocate I have been thinking about when the right time to push for Medicare, but what I loved was that this totally grassroots response, which is what this was, just saying enough is enough.”
Shoring says being an ally can start with the simplest of things.
“Just recognising your name and your pronouns, you know. My name is Jenni and my pronouns are she/her. When I get called sir, from a mental health perspective and anxiety perspective – have I not worn enough make-up today? Do you not see how I’m dressed?
“Those things are simply our first step for recognising people for who they really are, you do not have to call everyone sir or madam. You can just say have a great day rather than have a great day, sir.”
The online petition will be debated in Parliament sometime in 2022.