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Sunday 11 October 2015

Open letter to Jonathan Coleman

Posted in: Features
By Diane Sparkes - 20th May 2015

Read: Free surgery bid "nutty" - Health Minister

Diane Sparkes
Dear Mr Coleman,

I am sure you are OK being called Mr as I am certain you know who you are and have done so all your life. The purpose of this letter is to try to get you and your colleagues to understand that for some of us, what you think is normal is not the case for us.

As a doctor I was surprised to see your recent comment about publicly funded gender reassignment surgery as quote: a "nutty idea" something not high on your priorities, as Health Minister.

I believe your comment is offensive to every transsexual in this country.

Note: I use the term transsexual as it is for them whose survival is dependent on the surgery you so casually write off, rather than the transgender community as a whole, many who will never need or want surgery!

Should I expect your comments to be any different, well not really as most doctors have no training on the subject of gender dysphoria or most likely any interest either; as your gender has never been in question.

I used to be called Mr and it haunted me for half a century, for in my mind that was never who I was. From an early age I felt something was not right, you will most likely never understand but in my mind I should have been a girl from the beginning.

Of course it took a while; many years in fact, as unlike today I did not understand the problem as it seemed so outrageous. How can you be a girl if you have a body of a boy?

Back in the late 1940s saying that kind of thing in a world that knew nothing of the transsexual issue or transgender (a word that had not been invented at that time) was a ticket to the funny farm, and violence from practically everyone.

This was my life, I am still today unsure of why I chose to keep that secret to myself, except that then, children did not discuss anything with parents, they and even doctors could not have got their heads around such a controversial statement unlike today! However I did remain silent for over fifty years, considered suicide many times, think about that; my life a secret for longer than you have lived.

As you will be aware it took until the 1970s for the medical profession to come to terms with this phenomenon, at first insisting gender identity disorder (GID) as it was called, was a mental condition.

The transgender community consistently told them they were wrong over the next few decades. It took until May 2013 for the mental health profession to acknowledge we were right, and change the diagnosis to Gender Dysphoria, recognising it as one more variation of what it is to be human.

Maybe you had no idea this was going on in your world, but I suspect you would have seen how the media cruelly sensationalised, and hounded individuals for a story so they could sell papers, even the whiff of a so called ‘sex change’ story would set them off in their search for a scoop.

Maybe you even saw reports of transgender women being murdered and thought it only happened overseas, so you ignored it. Well it still goes on today seven already this year, 226 killed in 2014 and over 1,700 in the last six years, one in NZ; why because of male fear, discrimination and a violent society. These people killed for the only reason that they were different and wanted to be accepted, just to be themselves.

Do you realise when it comes to the transgender community we have no statistics in NZ because no identifiable records are taken, just as we do not record suicides of transgender people, even though we have the highest youth suicide rate in the world!

This country might be "God's own" but is has its head stuck firmly in the sand when we think these are not important or they do not happen here!

Maybe you might rethink your recent comment that you made "nutty idea" in a different context!

I am not surprised however, for you, like every other cisgender person in New Zealand, has never had to walk in our shoes.

I am first to recognise the transgender issue is complicated due to the many variants existing under the umbrella, but for the transsexual; an individual who knows beyond a shadow of a doubt their body does not represent the sex their mind knows it is, reassignment surgery is vital, it is not about wanting, it is necessary, vital for survival.

Gender reassignment surgery has been described by the American Medical Association as necessary, and as important as other forms of surgery already available to society.

Maybe you don’t get it, getting rid of something you should not have (the male bits) is as important as gaining something you do (the female bits); of course this applies equally in the opposite.

Unlike some surgery, for example cardiac, that is necessary to save life, reassignment surgery is equally necessary to save a life and is nowhere near as expensive. About $18,000 done overseas a similar cost as that for prostate cancer! And usually a guarantee of success every time unlike the latter!

Compare that to $30,000 to $50,000 for cardiac surgery for which no one would suggest the public health system should not pay for!

For the transsexual living in a body of the wrong sex, life is indescribable, add to that the discrimination and violence created by a society that refuses to understand their issues, and a Government that sees no value in our existence, life is definitely a challenge.

Those who do not understand what it is to be transsexual, think it is about a man wanting to be a woman, or the other way around. This is so far from the truth; think instead of it more as a man knowing his mind defines him as a woman and changing the body is the only possible solution. Attempts made over the years has clearly shown trying to change the mind is impossible, hopefully as a doctor you will know!

Think of the many ways various people have tried to make a gay person so called ‘normal’, they all failed for the one reason "they are born that way" and nothing can change it.

For the transgender individual they too are born that way and they cannot change who they are, any more than you can change who you are!

However you and your parliamentary colleagues can change the lives of every transsexual in this country. You may think changing the law to give us gender identity recognition in the Human Right Act and allowing publically funded reassignment surgery will somehow open the floodgates, and there will be thousands of us out there. This will not happen; the reality is we are few in numbers, so why the problem!

I relate here to a comment made by the psychiatrist who approved my surgery, which I paid for myself by the way, who said "Even if a million dollars were offered a man to have his male parts removed, there would be no takers".

And that about sums up the situation!

One more point to stress the importance of this situation.

I challenge you Mr Coleman and ask, could you ever be; or want to be a Ms Coleman, I seriously doubt it!

And if you ever wanted to, what would you expect from your peers?

Would it be support; or would you be happy to accept the comments recently made by other politicians on Tuesday's television news programs that it was "not important" for New Zealanders?

What is needed to solve this issue is support, for every MP to ask how they would feel if they found themselves in the position we are. It may not be them personally but having a child who turns out to be transgender, a very real possibility as it is more common than any of you think.

And you have two children, don’t think you will know, as I said I took over 50 years to tell anyone, no one knew definitely not my parents; there might even be some MPs in parliament waiting for the right time, did you see the Bruce Jenner interview on 20/20, his story is so like mine.

We are not playing at changing who we are, what we ask is deadly serious for our wellbeing, for the wellbeing of our youth and for our elderly, which is another story waiting to happen.

The real problem is everyone thinks it can't happen to them or their family I sincerely hope you never have to face this issue with yours!

Thank you,
Diane Sparkes

- Trans woman for seven years, 75 years young this year, writer, trans advocate, engineer and retired teacher, and for too long a National supporter!

Not sure any more, green looks good!

Diane Sparkes - 20th May 2015

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