“My gender-affirmation surgery was cancelled due to Covid”: A student describes what it’s like to live in medical limbo
I identify as trans non-binary, and my pronouns are they/them. I’m not trying to go to the opposite side of the gender spectrum—I don’t want to be a man, I don’t want to be associated with that. I like to play around with how society is going to perceive me when I walk out the door. If I’m wearing an intensely masculine outfit, then I’ll wear a lot of makeup just to toy around. I’m all about acknowledging fluidity and the spectrum of identity. How we understand ourselves can change from month to month, year to year, decade to decade. Choose one gender and that’s what you’re going to be the rest of your life? I didn’t sign up for that.
For the past four or five years, I’ve tried to cover up my body, adjust how I walk, and ignore the body dysmorphia that lingers every day of my life, specifically around my chest. When I’m getting dressed, it’s hard for me to see the curves under a T-shirt because in my mind I should have a flat chest. In 2018, I started seriously considering gender-affirming surgery. It was getting to a point where the body dysmorphia was starting to distort my image of myself, my confidence and my ability to leave the house. My anxiety was sky-high. That’s when I started to realize this body was no longer a home for me.
In 2019, I decided I wanted a double mastectomy. I was inspired by people in the trans community who are confident, love themselves and dress in an affirming way, and I was exhausted not knowing what that felt like. The surgery is covered by OHIP, and I crowd-funded money for my living expenses during recovery, which usually takes four to six weeks—I raised $4,000.
I started the process in April of last year; it took a few months to hear back from OHIP, and then there was some back and forth with GRS Montreal, the clinic where I would have the operation. In October, my birthday month, I finally received my surgery date: March 20, almost a year from when I first decided to do it. My consultation phone call with Dr. Lee was amazing: he took the time to talk to me about where my pec lines would be when the scars healed, nipple placement, my options in terms of spacing and positioning. He made me feel comfortable and safe. This would be my first major surgery, and I had no concerns leading up to it.
When COVID-19 pandemic hit, I started getting phone calls from the clinic, asking if I’d been in contact with anyone who has travelled. In the week leading up to the my surgery date, everything was still scheduled to go ahead as planned: I was still prepping for the procedure, buying snacks, reaching out to people for supplies. A dear friend who had offered to drive me to Montreal dropped out because she was concerned about her family’s safety, which is fair. I was scrambling to find somebody else. No matter what, I was determined to get to Montreal.
Then, on March 18, two days before the surgery, I got a call from the administrative nurse. I picked up the phone and her tone was completely different. I just knew. My heart dropped. I was like, “All right, Karen, just give me news. I know you’re calling to cancel the surgery.” She was devastated for me. I couldn’t feel anything—I was absolutely numb. I’ve been on testosterone since December, and one of the side effects is that you lose your ability to cry easily. I can feel the emotions come up, but they don’t go anywhere. But If I could cry, I would have sobbed. I wanted this to be the first summer where I could wear a T-shirt and not feel ashamed of my body. That’s not going to happen anymore.
Right now, there is no rescheduled surgery date. At first I figured it would only be a couple of months, but I was chatting with a friend who was going to have surgery a few weeks after me, and they said, “At this point, I’m gearing up for the surgery to happen next year.” I was like, damn. I wasn’t ready to sit with this potential reality. I’m mourning a lot.
There are a few things helping me stay afloat. I’m lucky to live in a house of fellow queers, so I’m able to share space and not be alone. There are also online virtual dance parties, like Club Quarantine, where I can dance and focus on being in my body in a way I can celebrate. I’ve also been working out more. Leading up to the surgery, whenever it happens, I can still build strength and work on the parts of my body that I want to masculinize.
Being on testosterone is grounding me right now. Getting my T-shot is the one thing I look forward to every two weeks. It helps me realize I have something to celebrate even if I don’t have surgery. I’m just taking time to think about where I’m at now and how far I’ve come.
—As told to Isabel B. Slone