I heard about this article in a tweet from Titania (below), and while the issue she mentions is concerning to some, it’s not sufficiently serious to be immune from mockery. At any rate, you can read the article on VICE by clicking on the link in Titania’s tweet or on the screenshot of the VICE headline below that.
The coronavirus is transphobic. https://t.co/E4WhigM8hP
— Titania McGrath (@TitaniaMcGrath) March 20, 2020
On the news last night, I watched a report on how people with serious medical conditions were having their treatment delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. One woman with inoperable cancer was scheduled for treatment with an experimental drug, but it was delayed for several months. She was distraught (she had a young child) because she hoped the drug might help her, but now she’s forced to abandon her last hope.. Another woman with breast cancer (or so I recall) had her X-ray treatment delayed by a considerable period, and was upset because she didn’t want the disease to progress without treatment.
These are heartbreaking matters of ethics, as are the decisions by doctors in Italy about which serious Covid-19 cases to treat and which to allow to die with palliative care. All this puts into perspective VICE’s kvetchy piece about how “life-saving” trans surgeries are being put off because of the virus. (I tried without success to find any article in VICE about the general delay of medical treatment to people who are seriously ill.)
Let’s have some perspective here. While people awaiting transsexual surgery will naturally be distressed when that surgery is postponed, those surgeries are “life-saving” only in the sense that if some patients doesn’t get them in a timely manner, they may commit suicide. But although statistics show that the suicide rate is higher for transgender people than cisgender people, it’s just as high for non-binary people; and I can’t find hard data on whether delays in transsexual surgery increase the suicide rate—or even if the surgery itself reduces the suicide rate. Here’s some stats from Human Rights Campaign:
More than half of transgender male teens who participated in the survey reported attempting suicide in their lifetime, while 29.9 percent of transgender female teens said they attempted suicide. Among non-binary youth, 41.8 percent of respondents stated that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives.
So when we say that the delay in trans surgeries is life-threatening, we have to assume that surgery itself reduces the risk of suicide, and that the delays in surgery (which the article notes could be a few weeks or months) also increase that risk. As far as the first point goes, the article says “research has suggested that gender-affirming surgery. . . has a notable and long-term impact on mental health.” It adds that “. . . but far too often, trans people already wait far longer than is safe or healthy for this care. Further delays can be dangerous and even life-threatening.”
TVO, in the first link, adds this:
“Trans people are at the highest risk of suicide and self-harm between the period that they’ve mentally decided to transition and when they complete their medical transition,” said N. Nicole Nussbaum, former president of Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health and staff lawyer at Legal Aid Ontario.
But in the absence of actual data on relative risks and their connection with temporal delay, we can’t assess this claim. (Nonbinary people differ in not having elective surgery—or not having it as frequently—and the risk to them can be mitigated only by therapy.)
But you’ll have noticed an important difference between this risk and the risk of people with advanced cancer: the latter group will certainly die without treatment, and will almost surely have a much higher risk of mortality due to delays. More important, seriously ill patients with Covid-19 have a huge risk of death, which is why they are taking precedence over “elective” surgery like gender reassignment procedures.
The VICE article gives the impression—despite admitting that hospitals are doing their best to insure “continuity of treatment” of patients scheduled for or having already had gender-reassignment surgery, and the explanation by concerned doctors that the delay is necessary to allow hospitals to care for seriously ill Covid-19 patients and protect transgender patients from infection—that this delay is causing discrimination and unnecessary harm to those scheduled for gender-reassignment surgery. There’s a serious undercurrent in the piece of accused bigotry against transsexuals, which isn’t at all justified by the article. Here’s some of what I take to be implications of mistreatment of the transsexual patients:
But in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, trans communities on Reddit and Twitter are being flooded with reports of postponed and canceled surgeries in the U.S., U.K., Spain, Thailand, and elsewhere, leading to enormous stress and disappointment on top of a global health crisis.
. . . Riley Cooper, a 23-year-old trans man in St. Louis, had his top surgerypostponed, with no reschedule date. He says COVID-19 was the reason behind this cancellation, but it isn’t the first time. “This is the third time it’s been postponed. It’s getting more and more heartbreaking to keep getting so close to something that will make me feel better and feel like I’m in the right body for once,” he said. “Every time I feel like I’ve gotten close, something has to come along to take it away.”
. . .Violet Jones, a 29-year-old trans woman and assistant professor in New York, has a procedure scheduled for May that hasn’t been cancelled yet, but she feels it’s imminent. NYC is a national leader in transgender care, but Mayor Bill de Blasio has issued an executive order delaying all non-emergency surgery for the next few weeks.
Jones said she’s doing everything possible to prevent illness, which would force postponing her procedure. “A change to the date would pretty radically alter my plans and overall security around the procedure. The surgery was scheduled to allow recovery during [my school’s] summer months without a gap in pay.” She said that rescheduling may result in lost pay, as her recovery from surgery would conflict with the school year.
Let me be clear. I sympathize with these people, and don’t feel that their distress is unwarranted, or should be dismissed. But, like all of us, and especially those who, as in Italy, can’t get respirators, or who are on the brink of death in intensive care, or those cancer patients whose treatment is delayed—the delay of gender-reassignment surgery is a much smaller problem.
And it’s not as ethically pressing, or as medically serious, as how to triage seriously ill Covid-19 patients or how to delay the treatment of cancer patients. Why, then, did VICE choose to focus on the woes of the relatively few gender-reassignment patients and neglect on their site those whose deaths are surely more probable when delays happen? Why? Because VICE, like many other liberal media, is becoming so woke that it’s losing perspective. In their view, I suspect, the delays for transgender patients are somehow more wrong than the delays for cancer patients.
Maybe Titania’s post wasn’t that mean-spirited after all. In the end, mockery may be one way to dispel such distorted perspective.