Saturday, August 29, 2015

Since people are talking about #caitlynjenner 's visit  to the #abbey on social media today , allow me to share one from the vault. I'm pretty proud of my writing in this one.

"Fifty years ago, there would have been queer blood on this street, instead of queer love. Barney’s Beanery used to have a sign that said “Fagots: Stay Out”

"You can’t blame us for dancing. You can’t blame us for drinking and holding our bodies close. It’s harder to beat us and kill us, but it still happens. You raised us to hate ourselves, and only now are we barely human to you.

"I used to drink because I hated myself. I drank because I was never going to take Debbie to the Senior Prom: I wanted to be Debbie, in long white gloves and a backless dress, smoking on the patio with the other girls in shoes that were too tight.

"The THOOOOMP around us drives home the escape, the flight, the sensual overload we need to remember that we still may be strangers here; we drink, we tweak, we fuck, we snort, we rave. I used to try for that zone, that precious zone where the cocaine and tequila took me for a brief walk on a night with a cool breeze like this one, with a rain of jacaranda blossoms, in my dreams because in truth I was never going to be a girl; I was sentenced to life as a false front; I had the rage that only a prisoner feels, and if I’m honest with myself, I still do and always will."

From "Closing Time"  (c) 2014-15 Darya Teesewell

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Hollywood "Takes Care of Its Own," Unless You Are Trans, Part 2

Recently I blogged about some of the challenges that trans people who live out here in Hollywood, a.k.a. America's Liberal Dream Factory, face when it comes to health care.

Let me underline exactly what those challenges mean. First, let's look at the big, broad, macro level of Hollywood optics. I'll use two celebrity examples; let's make it clear that since I know nothing of their own health care needs or realities, the "examples" are purely hypothetical.

 Eddie Redmayne is a talented actor who will appear in the film The Danish Girl as Lili Elbe, one of the modern world's first transsexual women. Mr. Redmayne is, as far as I know, a cisgender (meaning non-trans) man. If the film was made under Hollywood-based Screen Actors Guild agreements, Mr. Redmayne would most likely qualify for the Motion Picture Health Plan. So we have a cisgender man playing a transsexual woman in a big-budget blockbuster movie who qualifies for his male-oriented health care because... well... he's human, and a man.

 Laverne Cox is an award-winning actress who has appeared on Orange is the New Black, and is an outspoken, eloquent advocate for rights of trans people. Let's say that she made a film, or worked on a T.V. series under the Hollywood SAG agreement and had enough hours to qualify for health care. She might qualify, but the plan would still be able to refuse her trans-specific health care, in spite of her humanity and legal status as a woman. 

 Not being an idiot, I don't think that's likely to happen, and really, Ms. Cox's health care is none of my damn business. But let's make a theoretical comparison to Mr. Redmayne; Laverne would be a trans woman playing a part (trans or not) in a movie or series with contracts that include coverage under the same plan, but whether she gets trans-specific health care is completely up to the administrators of the plan. If the administrators decide that her care was part of that two-word exception "gender change," they would be within their rights to refuse her. 

 Mr. Redmayne, playing a trans woman: no problem. Ms. Cox, a real trans woman: we'll get back to you.

 I could pick other examples. Felicity Huffman vs. Candis Cayne. Hilary Swank vs. Turner Scott Schofield. None of these may apply in real life, but they point to a truth; trans people can be refused trans-specific health care under the current Motion Picture Plan PPO unless they opt for an HMO, and even then they are subjected to bureaucratic gymnastics and extra scrutiny. In all of these cases, actors are selling tickets or advertising for Hollywood by portraying trans identities. Let me put this bluntly: if we are we "interesting" enough for you, Hollywood, to tell our stories and make money doing it, why are we considered unfit to demand the health care we need to sustain those identities you are exploiting? 

 I'll say that again. Hollywood is exploiting us while considering us unfit for trans-specific health coverage. 

 Here's another example. Let's say I am a young, recently transitioned female camera assistant. The plan can, and has, refused the hormones I have been prescribed because they are for "gender change;" those two magic words that are "exceptions" according to the MPIPHP

 If I am a middle-aged man who feels a little listless, my doctor can prescribe a testosterone cream for me. If I am a middle aged woman, my doctor can prescribe an estrogen patch or cream for me; the same patches, or cream our camera assistant is refused. A trans man working as a grip would be in a similar fix. 

 The issue seems to be this; all health plans are watching the culture for cues. It's easy to find people in our culture who think that trans people don't exist because we are mentally ill, had smothering mothers or are possessed by demons doing the bidding of Satan. Politicians and bloviating radio rage-peddlers find us an easy target for raising a campaign slush fund or selling worthless gold contracts to rubes; we stir strong emotions, and that sells. We're yet another group of humans that people who are angry and scared can focus on to anesthetize themselves against reality. It's hard to hate someone that you humanize, so some people work hard at dehumanizing us. 

 More subtly, there are physicians and hospital administrators who cynically may see us as a group without any political clout or unified voice, and who may be tempted to stall, complicate or discourage us from demanding the health care we so rightfully deserve. Even my friends who have trans-inclusive health coverage are frustrated by the lack of education among physicians and wildly uneven interactions with organizations like Kaiser Health. 

There are also horrific cases of physicians who have allowed their personal feelings to interfere with urgent health needs of their patients. That's inexcusable. 

 Most trans people working on films in Hollywood aren't movie stars. Most of us are working crew people struggling to get by in the modern workplace like everyone else. Those of us lucky enough to have labor unions to protect our health care have just one simple request; give us what we need from the health plan we pay into, when we need it, and listen to us when we tell you that you can do it better for us than you have in the past.

 It's time for Hollywood to truly take care of all of "Our Own."

Friday, August 14, 2015

Hollywood "Takes Care of its Own" Unless you are Trans


A young trans friend of mine in the Hollywood film industry, a union member, spoke to me recently about a conversation she had when she asked an individual representing the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan about health care for herself. She began with the most basic question; will they pay for hormones? 

The answer was a flat and simple no. Page 63 of the Active MPI health plan states that "gender change" is excluded from coverage. Some of us would argue that we aren't "changing" so much as "restoring" genders, but let that be, for now. 

On her own, my friend found that that there was another plan available to union members, an HMO, that did indeed cover all aspects of trans health care including Gender Reconfirming Surgery with an excellent provider in Arizona. Even then, she found she had problems with representatives of the provider depending on where the offices were located. The Hollywood/Los Angeles office was helpful and knowledgeable, while other offices seemed perplexed, as if she were requesting something no one had ever heard of before.

 If you are a trans person seeking health care, you are no stranger to this. In spite of a groundbreaking state law in California that prohibits insurers from excluding trans-related care from health plans, many insurers still push back against providing it, subtly, or not-so-subtly. The odds tend to be with those insurers, since trans people are somewhere below five percent of the entire population by some estimates, often too intimidated to ask for what we need, and most importantly, the broader culture is ignorant about us and are often hostile to the very idea that we exist. 

 It's perfectly legal for MPI health plan to exclude "gender change" since the plan is negotiated through collective bargaining and subject only to the federal rules of ERISA, and not that particular California state law. There are also multiple back door ways that The Plan will pay for the basic HRT needs of trans persons if one finds a creative doctor. One also has a feeling that The Plan is perfectly aware of this, but chooses not to act. So what's the problem?

 Here's the thing.

 The media-enhanced perception of those in the Heartland is that Hollywood is a bubbling hotbed of Liberalism and political correctness; in truth, the Industry is far from diverse in terms of the stories it tells or the people it employs. Recent surveys revealed this was true even in terms of the world's biggest "minority"; women. Film and TV crews are far more diverse than they were in 1970, but The Industry has a dauntingly long way to go in hiring more women, African-Americans, Latinos, Latinas and Asians. LGBT people are somewhat well-represented on shows by actors and in a few departments but there are other good-paying crew jobs where many of us keep our identities quiet lest we lose work due to prejudice; it's a business of networking and personal referrals. My young friend is remarkable and rare for being proudly and openly trans. 

To their credit, the Amazon show Transparent has made an effort to hire trans people in many positions, but they are currently the exception rather than the rule. Trans people are in the headlines and trans characters are showing up more often in scripts as major characters. What has now begun to happen to trans people, as it has to so many other groups historically, is that the broader culture now thinks we're interesting. Hollywood, America's Dream Factory, is now selling advertising and profiting while telling our stories. It's no small irony that they are doing this while denying our very existence with two words excepting us from our own health plan. 

 Unlike anyone else in the LGBT community, people like me who work in The Industry pay into the health plan, yet are not officially covered for our specific needs. The vague, trite argument that some have against us is that we "choose" to be the way we are. I disagree with that argument, but let's suppose it were true; I also pay for the coverage of people in my health plan who "choose" to be obese, use recreational drugs, smoke tobacco, drink to excess and participate in extreme sports, and they are not excluded. 

 Others argue that Gender Reconfirming Surgery is wildly expensive and that it will drive up costs. Basic Male-to-female surgery rarely costs in excess of $40,000, with all hospital expenses covered. Breast reduction surgery for Trans men is far less, although phalloplasties can be expensive, and little has been done to improve methods for it. In contrast, one trip to an ER based on a chest pain can easily cost over $100,000. 

 The number of people requesting these surgeries is likely to be extremely low, given the small numbers of our population and the fact that many trans people never get these surgeries for any number of reasons. Hormones, by the standards of other drugs The Plan provides, are relatively inexpensive and not likely to be a huge cost driver. 

 I am reminded of another issue that The Plan had in the past. The Plan used to adamantly refuse to pay for birth control; perhaps they considered this another "choice" issue back then. It was so bad that women with other reproductive issues could not even get innovative therapies containing hormones due to The Plan's hard line when it came to estrogen. Then, at some point, someone noticed that they were covering Viagra.

 Someone pointedly, and tellingly, asked if the sexual health and pleasure of men was more important than the reproductive health of women, and The Plan quickly and quietly began to pay for birth control. I don't think I'm being cynical if I wonder aloud if some of the original prohibition had something to do with the gender of the decision makers. 

 So, dear, crazy, grumpy, stingy, unpredictable Hollywood, my hometown and employer; please do the right thing and make sure that the trans people working on your shows about trans people (and all people) have their lives and identities honored with appropriate health care, as is their right as covered workers. 

 Maybe we can have another Viagra moment.