From Mary to Mark

Did you know that the City of San Francisco has been offering benefits to transgender employees to assist them with their treatment since 2001? Because I didn’t, and I think that’s pretty neat.

This article in the Chronicle talks about the impact that offering these types of benefits has had on the corporate and insurance worlds. Apparently a number of corporations including IBM, Kodak, General Motors, and Hallmark are also offering to assist transgender employees with the transitioning process, as well as the University of California and the University of Michigan: 67 companies all in all offer benefits specifically for trans employees. That’s awesome, and it also paves the way to seeing benefits being offered on a wider scale, especially as the article suggests that it is actually highly cost effective. Initially, a surcharge was being added on to monthly insurance costs to cover for the anticipated expense of paying for sex changes, but the charge was later dropped, because so few claims were made on the insurance. This stands to reason: far more people get cancer than change genders, or break arms in workplace accidents.

The article shows that several major changes are going on in our society. The first is a more widespread acceptance of people who are trans, and of the idea that their issue is a medical and psychological condition which requires care. The fact that insurance companies are also starting to offer coverage suggests that being transgender is deemed to be a serious enough issue that it should be covered in a conventional insurance policy, and insurance companies are differentiating treatment for it from cosmetic and elective surgeries. It also shows a growing desire on the part of workplaces to support and retain their employees. None of these companies have been hit with a massive influx of transpeople trying to take advantage of their benefits, but I’ll bet they have a more loyal GLBTQ client and employee base.

Being transgender is expensive. You’re looking at treatment which will cost a minimum of $30,000, but will more likely stretch into the range of $50,000. Treatment includes visits to a psychologist, medications, and, yes, ultimately surgery to treat the physical parts of your body which are at odds with your gender. It also takes time…most transpeople follow the Benjamin Standards of Care, which can take years to follow all the way through. It’s a major commitment: not like getting liposuction or teeth whitening, and I am glad to see it taken seriously.

San Francisco seems like a natural choice for a place to provide benefits to transpeople: this is the City where City Hall flies the leather flag during Leather Pride week, the Castro MUNI station is decorated in rainbows, people earn a living wage, and measures are constantly being undertaken to make sure that no one is marginalized or overlooked. But it might come as a surprise to some to learn that many gay rights groups are not offering these types of benefits, although most identify as trans allies. Apparently the allegiance does not cross into the realm of health benfits, which is unfortunate: hopefully this will change in the near future.

I feel, for once, excited to be alive right now, because I see a time in which transgender individuals are being welcomed and treated with respect in more and more places. Although it may take another fifty years to recognize people who are genderqueer, this is a positive step in the right direction: the idea that gender is fluid at all is still new to a lot of people.