Calgary

Alberta to study transgender surgery barriers before tackling years-long waitlists

The Alberta government says it wants to learn more about the barriers transgender people face as they wait for gender-affirming surgery after it came to light the waiting list can reach three years for some people.

'The first time my chest is revealed to me, I think I might cry,' says one Albertan waiting for 'top surgery'

Angela Reid with the Trans Equality Society of Alberta worries about the mental-health impact of wait times for gender affirming surgeries, which can reach three years for some people. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

The Alberta government says it wants to learn more about the barriers transgender people face as they wait for gender-affirming surgery after it came to light the waiting list can reach three years for some people.

There are about 400 people in southern Alberta alone who are currently waiting for some kind of gender-affirming surgery, which can include everything from the removal of breasts, vocal chord surgery, vaginoplasty and phalloplasty.

"We absolutely know that gender-affirming surgery can be a very important part of a person's transition process and so that's why we're taking this matter seriously and looking into ways that we can support Albertans to get the surgeries that they need," associate health minister Brandy Payne said.

Trans men looking for mastectomies — or so-called "top surgery" — face particularly long wait times for the procedure, which is seen as especially important for someone transitioning from female to male, said Dr. Joe Raiche, a psychiatrist who works with Calgary's transgender population at Foothills Medical Centre.

Angela Reid, with the Trans Equality Society of Alberta, worries about the mental-health impact of long waits.

"I think top surgery for guys costs anywhere between $8,000 and $10,000 right now," she said.

"The overnight cost of having someone on a suicide watch in a mental health facility would easily eclipse that in a very short period of time."

Province won't contract private surgeons

There are also calls for the province to contract private surgeons who perform mastectomies to try to reduce the backlog, but Payne wouldn't commit to that.

She said gender-affirming mastectomies will be considered as the department looks at wait times for all mastectomies.

Ben Laurin, 19, was told he could have to wait three years for a double mastectomy.

Ben Laurin has taken to crowdfunding to pay for his gender affirming surgery because the wait times in Alberta are simply too long. (Supplied)

He's been working two jobs and set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise enough money to have his surgery done at a private clinic in Toronto.

"Honestly I think the first time my chest is revealed to me, I think I might cry," said Laurin, who has his first consultation in Ontario at the end of April. 

"I can look in the mirror and be happy and feel like, 'Yes, this is who I feel I'm supposed to be and meant to be.'"

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