Failed by the system, trans people resort to crowdfunding their transitions
People on the internet are helping transgender people to fund their transitions via crowdfunding sites.
Trans people on Twitter have been using the #TransCrowdFund hashtag to connect donors with often-desperate trans people who are seeking financial support.
Thousands of trans-related crowdfunders have been set up on sites like GoFundMe, with emotional pleas from people across the world who are out of other options for accessing the treatment they need.
Some are seeking to raise thousands to cover the cost of gender confirmation surgery, while others are asking for a small amount of money to cover the cost of hormones or binders.
Transgender people crowdfunding for “life-changing” healthcare treatments
Lily, a 31-year-old trans woman from the UK, is crowdfunding to cover the cost of top surgery.
She told PinkNews: “Being out in the world, around cis people, can be very distressing, and being a woman-perceived person with an undersized chest makes me feel very anxious and judged and wrong. It has contributed to very public anxiety attacks, screaming tears and self harm, and suicidal ideation. I don’t want that to happen anymore.”
Lily added: “It can be difficult to reach out to lots and lots of people and ask individually. It would be rude! But a crowdfunder lets me explain my needs and reasoning one the campaign page, and then people can make their minds up themselves.”
Some trans people spoke about their unstable financial situations, often caused by still-widespread employment discrimination, which has prevented them getting treatments for years.
Mia, a UK-based trans woman also raising money for gender confirmation surgery, explained: “It’s super hard to get by as a trans person. I acutely remember I had recently started hormone replacement therapy and was out of work at the time, and it seemed like no would hire me.
“So the idea that I would not only need to earn enough to get by, but save tens of thousands of pounds to get gender confirming surgeries seemed insurmountable.
“After three years trying to raise the funds it still feels a little like that if I’m honest. I just stay hopeful that one day it will happen.”
Joe, a Massachusetts trans man who has raised $7,330 towards top surgery, said: “I was very apprehensive about crowdfunding… it requires such a public reveal of ones personal life… and the very nature of being trans online makes this pretty daunting.
“My situation feels kind of endless though, I couldn’t conceive of any other option.”
Many of those crowdfunding speak about the life-changing impact the treatments would have.
Kienan, an Oklahoma non-binary trans man seeking funds for surgery, added: “Reaching my goal would mean I could go outside and be physically more active and healthy.
“I would be able to be more social and not have to constantly weigh rib pain against running errands, I’d be happier in general, I’d be much less limited in terms of hours I can work in a week, the list goes on!”
Miles of Colorado, also looking for funding for surgery, added: “It would absolutely change my life for the better. I have pain and popping in my sternum from having to bind so much, and the claustrophobia of being constricted can sometimes set off panic attacks.
“Getting this surgery would free me from binding, from feeling a constriction that reminds me of my dysphoria and pain.”
Trans people in the UK give up on ‘broken’ NHS gender identity system
In the UK, transition-related care is meant to be available free at the point of use on the National Health Service, but that is far from reality for trans people.
Experts have long warned about the exponential growth in backlogs for NHS gender identity services, which have left over-burdened and under-resourced Gender Identity Clinics (GICs) with waiting lists of several years for initial appointments.
The lucky few who manage to secure onward referrals for gender confirmation surgery can face a further years-long wait—while access to top surgery is even more patchy, and reliant on an effective postcode lottery.
Many trans people have given up on ever receiving NHS treatment—instead seeking a quicker path via privately-funded surgery.
“They allow trans people like me to suffer for years without medical help.”
Mia explained: “[NHS services] clearly don’t receive enough funding but that goes without saying. In all honesty many of my frustrations come from a lack of access and choice of treatment.
“Funding for surgeries is extremely limited, mostly covering genital reassignment and bottom surgery, while gender confirming surgeries such as breast augmentation and facial feminisation are seen as a purely cosmetic procedures and aren’t an option.
“The latter options [are] much more important for me to be able to function as a part of society, before I deal with anything else. It’s different for each person, but I think we should have the choice of treatment tailored to best suit our needs.”
Lily added: “It’s nothing less than cruelty that those who we trust to care for our health refuse to assist, place unnecessary hoops to jump through, or flat out refuse to help, just because our health needs are related to our gender.
“It is cruel and violent. They allow trans people like me to suffer for years without medical help, and too many of us don’t make it.”
US healthcare lapses force Trans people to pay out-of-pocket
In the US, crowdfunding for healthcare-related costs is often a horrifying daily reality for many people, beyond just trans healthcare.
But trans people also face systemic employment discrimination that leaves them without decent insurance coverage, insurance companies who frequently refuse to cover their healthcare needs, discriminatory state laws, and a federal government hoping to strip the few existing protections for trans healthcare.
Joe explained: “I did meet my base goal, briefly, then I lost the health insurance I’m currently appealing for, meaning I have had to try raising and saving more.
“In my home state, there are strict rules about qualifying for trans care, very reductive rules based on outdated understandings of identity. Access to care has historically depended on permission from cis, het people who see themselves as the default.”
“Even people who everyone agrees ‘deserve’ medical treatment can’t get treatment, so where does that leave people like me?”
Kienan added: “The healthcare system is messed up in so many ways even beyond trans issues that I honestly am not even sure where to start.
“Even people who everyone agrees deserve medical treatment—people with cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, so many things that even conservatives would say are real issues—even they can’t get treatment, so where does that leave people like me?”
Miles added: “Medical treatment for trans people is absolutely life-saving and forcing them to pay out-of-pocket and not supplying coverage is cruel, especially when a lot of healthcare is barely even affordable WITH insurance.”
HBomberGuy Twitch stream boosted support for #TransCrowdFund
Many transgender crowdfunders have seen a surge in support after a high-profile Twitch charity stream that saw $330,000 raised for trans charity Mermaids.
On the stream by YouTuber HBomberGuy, multiple guests encouraged viewers to seek out crowdfunders through the #TransCrowdFund hashtag, leading to a surge in engagement.
Miles said: “I’ve been seeing so many people rallying and supporting trans people vocally or financially. What the stream gave us definitely doesn’t feel like a temporary high; it showed the world that there IS support for us, and that we aren’t alone.”
However, support for crowdfunders has often not been equal across the trans community.
Some highlighted that influential trans people with large Twitter followings had received an influx in donations, while others—particularly trans people of colour, disabled trans people, and those without a significant contact network—felt left out.
Kienan, who is Korean-American, said: “To be completely honest, I haven’t really seen an increase in support for trans crowdfunding efforts, at least among people I know.
“I wish I could tell a happier story, and i’m super happy for the Mermaids stream and all the kids it’s benefiting. But like, I saw a person who only wants 45 bucks for a binder and as of yesterday they hadn’t gotten anything.”
Kienan added: “Unfortunately, some people tend to skew towards supporting the posts of people they find attractive… white pretty twinks if you’re transmasc; hyperfeminine, perfect makeup, ‘f**kable’ if you’re transfemme.”
Lily added: “I think if I had been invited to talk on the stream I would have done much better [personally], but of course the stream was very popular and lots of people, famous people, wanted to be on it.
“I am hoping that, off the success of the Mermaids stream, a fund is organised where people can put money in to help everyone is trans that needs it. Like #TransCrowdFund, but more centrally organized and distributed.”
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For those that do get funding, though, the experience can been life-affirming in a world that seems full of transphobia.
Joe said: “I can’t stress enough that every little bit—literally little, the smallest amount—helps.
“It reminds me that things are worth it, and to stay grounded. That maybe I don’t have to perform in a particular way to be worth something. It’s extraordinary. When I’ve been able to pay it forward, I make it a priority to do so.”
Miles added: “It’s easy to get lost in the swarm of vocal hatred, but when the kind and hopeful people cut through the swarm it reminds me that there is still so much love and care for our fellow people.
“It makes me not want to give up on myself or others.”