Ottawa

Pandemic caused care delays as trans Ottawans transitioned

During the pandemic, health procedures and treatments deemed “non-essential” were put on hold, which had a particular impact on those undergoing a gender identity transition. CBC Ottawa asked two trans women to share their experiences and struggles becoming themselves in the time of COVID-19.

CBC Ottawa asked 2 trans women to share their experiences of transitioning during the pandemic

'I wanted to exist in the world as who I was'

19 days ago
2:57
From accessing health care, to celebrating their new selves at a distance, Hannah Hodson and Sophie McCarrell say despite the challenges of transitioning during a pandemic, they felt they could not wait. 2:57

During the pandemic, health procedures and treatments deemed "non-essential" were put on hold, which had a particular impact on those undergoing a gender identity transition.

CBC Ottawa asked two trans women to share their experiences and struggles becoming themselves in the time of COVID-19.


Though Sophie McCarrell began her transition before the pandemic, she says the majority of her journey took place in the "new normal" of COVID-19. 

The isolation made this major change especially hard for the 35-year-old software engineer.

"It was very lonely," she said, not being able to meet others in the community or celebrate her new self.

"I would have loved to have participated in my first Pride parade," she said. "I wanted to exist in the world as who I was."

Transitioning during a pandemic was frustrating in part because Sophie McCarrell couldn't celebrate with others, or attend her first Pride parade. (Submitted by Sophie McCarrell)

That included a new, more feminine way of speaking — a common practice for trans women who work on modulating their voices to a higher tone.

"I didn't get to really practise my voice as much," she explained, during lockdown. "I get very frustrated at my voice and how low my resonance is." 

Accessing laser hair removal for her face presented another challenge — something she says greatly lessened her symptoms of dysphoria when she first started the process in 2019. 

"I got three treatments before COVID hit … it was amazing," she said, "Being able to wear foundation, to look in the mirror and not be frustrated and not be sad." 

Then COVID arrived, and facial laser hair removals were deemed too risky because it meant removing your mask. After they stopped, McCarrell's hair started to grow back.

For McCarrell, one of the biggest pandemic challenges was losing access to laser hair surgery, a treatment she argues should not have been deemed 'non-essential.' (Francis Ferland/CBC)

For McCarrell, it was a difficult time:

"Faces are so important. … For me personally, the rest of my body isn't a big deal, I can hide my chest and legs," she said. 

"When the laser stopped ... it was very harrowing."

McCarrell, who argues these treatments should not have been deemed "non-essential," says she felt a sense of euphoria when her treatment provider allowed her to restart in July 2021. 

"It was amazing because I was like, 'this is awesome, I don't need to shave, thank freakin heavens,' because I was so depressed every morning."

McCarrell says despite the uncertainty and obstacles of this time, there was no way her transition could wait. 

"I had 32 years of society convincing me that I should act a certain way ... and now finally, I found my way."

Hannah Hodson says she was frustrated at having to start again on facial hair removal after the delay in receiving laser hair treatment. For her, it felt like starting from square one. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

For Hannah Hodson, coming out as trans during a pandemic was a "very strange experience."

"I couldn't see anyone to do anything or make any changes in my life," she said.

"I couldn't buy clothes, I couldn't go shopping, I couldn't see friends. I couldn't really do anything," explained the 34-year-old legislative assistant, who says she felt stuck in limbo.

Like McCarrell, Hodson struggled in particular when facial laser hair treatments stopped.

"Every trans person has their own things that really cause dysphoria. For me, it's facial hair. Shadow is the worst thing for me."

It was especially frustrating and hurtful to see how the treatment was lumped in with other optional procedures at the time, and "essentially seen as a spa treatment." 

"For many trans people, specifically trans feminine people, that's an important part of transition," Hodson said.

The process is also a long one that can take up to two years to complete the eight to 12 sessions needed.

"Having to stop those things because of pandemic controls when, frankly, they are medical care, was extremely challenging," said Hodson, whose hair had mostly grown back by the time treatments restarted for her last month.

"I have to start from square one now," said Hodson. "You feel like it's wasted your money, wasted your time." 

Hodson says despite the challenges and setbacks of transitioning during a pandemic, she is proud of the journey she's on. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

That time matters because transitioning can be a long journey, even without a pandemic. 

"I was 32 [when I realized] and immediately I started to look into options that are available," she said.

"For me, it was like, 'you dummy. Like, how did you not figure this out sooner?'" 

Like McCarrell, Hodson didn't want to lose more time by waiting out the virus. 

"We didn't know how long the pandemic was going to go on ... I was like, I can't sit here for two years or whatever."

Now when Hodson looks back at these delays, she reminds herself things worth doing often take time. 

"It's called transition for a reason, right? It's a journey — a journey from who you presented as before to who you really are. I am very proud to be on that journey."

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