A Winnipeg transgender man and his best friend are raising money to complete their transformations from female to male.

Liam Zarrillo, 23, and Ben Cathcart, 27, have set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for their chest reconstruction, also known as top surgery.

"The next step in the process of our physical transitions is to have chest reconstruction surgery, which is essentially a breast removal," Zarrilllo said.

The provincial government says gender reassignment surgery is considered an insured service by Manitoba Health when recommended by a recognized gender identity clinic.

Zarrillo said mastectomies are covered by Manitoba Health, but nipple reconstruction is not because it's considered to be cosmetic.

Zarrillo said they have chosen to have their plastic surgeries done in Florida by a well-known surgeon.

"For us, it just kind of comes down to who's the best, who's the most experienced, and who's going to give us the results that are going to carry us through the rest of our lives," he said.

Aligning gender identity, physical body

The University of Winnipeg theatre arts student said he only came out as a trans-male a year ago. He's been on hormone replacement therapy for the past four months.

As well, he currently wears a "chest binder" every day, similar to a sports bra. But he said it's uncomfortable.

"It essentially compresses and binds everything," Zarrillo said.

Liam Zarrillo showing his chest binder he has to wear every day

Zarrillo demonstrates the "chest binder" he currently wears. (CBC)

For me personally, it's not just about making, you know, a statement. It's about an alignment between my own gender identity and my physical body."

The surgery costs about $9,000. As of Thursday evening, the GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $1,800.

Zarrillo said he's overwhelmed by the donations and messages of support so far.

"It's been insane, just the overall response from people," he said.

"We've been, you know, getting messages and seeing incredible donations from people I went to high school with years ago and I wasn't really close with."


What is covered by Manitoba Health?

The following is an excerpt from Manitoba Health's response to CBC News regarding surgeries:

  • Some surgeries can be done in Manitoba (i.e. mastectomies — female to male) and we would also cover other insured services that are available in other provinces if they are not available in our province, as long as the individual follows the approval process in place for out-of-province coverage. More information on the out-of-province medical referral process is available on Manitoba Health's website.
  • The following surgical treatments for gender dysphoria are insured by Manitoba Health: orchidectomy, penectomy, vagioplasty, mastectomy, hysterectomy and oophorectomy. The following surgical procedures performed for gender dysphoria are not insured by Manitoba Health: thyroid cartilage reduction, breast augmentation, labioplasty, phalloplasty, with or without prosthesis, acrotal reconstruction, breast reconstruction-augmentation, chest contouring and any surgeries which would be deemed “cosmetic” in nature. 
  • In May 2010, funding was put in place to establish a Transgender Program at Klinic in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In creating this new program, the assessment process for patients diagnosed with gender identity disorder (GID) to access insured healthcare benefits was changed to allow a Manitoba PhD Psychologist to provide diagnostic services and patients are no longer required to obtain a diagnosis from a recognized gender identity clinic out-of-province (i.e CAMH — Centre for Addictions and Mental Health, Toronto, Ontario).