Nfld. & Labrador

Transgender man fights for free breast removal

A St. John's man is pushing the Newfoundland and Labrador government to pay for the removal of his breasts.

Eastern Health looking into handling procedure in province

Chris Higdon, a transgender man, is trying to convince the provincial government to pay for his mastectomy. (CBC)

A St. John's man wants the Newfoundland and Labrador government to pay for his double mastectomy.

Chris Higdon, a transgender man originally from New Harbour, Trinity Bay, wants the procedure done in his home province.

But MCP will only cover so-called sex reassignment surgery after a dual referral process.

The patient must be assessed by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Gender Identity Clinic in Toronto. And that can only happen with a referral from a doctor or nurse practitioner in this province.

Higdon has already been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, which he bluntly defines as extreme hatred of one's body.

"I'm a man living in a woman's body," Higdon said.

But it didn't happen overnight. Born as a girl, Higdon says his earliest memory of not feeling right came at the age of six, when he still went by "Crystal."

Hard to fit in

"I was the little girl that never was. I recall telling people I was a boy. I had a playhouse, Dad's shed that he cleaned out ... . We were playing house, and I remember saying, 'I'm the boy, right?' I was always working on things like my bike. Give me a tool, give me a fishing rod, and I was set."

Higdon says he tried to fit in, but it was not easy.

"I blended as much as I could. The more you blend, the less that you have to deal with. The less picked on you'll be."

But as puberty set in, he became more distraught.

"I just became a shell of myself. Living in a body that wasn't mine."

Resisted opening up

So Higdon decided to come out of the closet, but it didn't last for long.

"When I first came out I was ridiculed, assaulted every day. So I went right back in."

He says he has no regrets about that, given the alternative.

"I just had to get through childhood in one piece. Unfortunately many don't make it ... they don't come out. They don't make it through life. They take their own. So it was either that, or take my own life."

Today, Higdon, 29, calls himself a family man. He has a job at a call centre, a female partner, a step-daughter, and he considers himself a straight male.

Even though he still has full female genitalia.

He says he's only asking for removal of his breasts so he can live comfortably as a man.

But that's also left him in a bind — literally. Higdon has large breasts, and flattening them requires layers of very tight binding garments. They make it difficult to breathe, and have caused breast lumps, blisters and rashes that can get infected.

Fundraising effort

Meanwhile, he's launched a fund-raising drive on Facebook — not just to raise money, but to also raise awareness of the challenges that transgender people face.

On Friday, the province said it has asked the head of mental health and addictions at Eastern Health to determine if there is enough local expertise to diagnose, assess and treat transgender patients locally. It's not clear how long that will take.

Also Friday, the provincial government announced it will improve language in the Human Rights Act which bans discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.


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