With the trans community facing exorbitantly high costs for gender confirmation procedures, a number of people are turning to crowdfunding, a global engaged community with a small amount of money to donate, in order to fund their gender affirmation treatment.
Among those seeking to raise funds is my good friend Dina Martinez. Dina is a comic, activist, political pundit and host of The D Word on DiGN2ItRadio.com. She is hoping to harness the power of the Internet to crowdfund her “remodel,” as she calls it. Now, as anyone who has ever tried to crowdfund for a project can tell you, it can be a thankless task. So what drew Dina to this fundraising method?
“Crowdfunding was a way for me to take control of raising the funds and building a community around the journey,” Dina says. “I look at crowdfunding as essentially the Social Networking of Funding, so I get to interact and educate and relate to those who are joining me for this process.”
A strong theme running through Dina’s work is attempting to educate and engage with people in order to fight the stigma and prejudice directed at the trans community, whether it’s through her work entertaining people with her comedy, or her written essays on her experiences and thoughts about her womanhood. Talking about her personal story is also another way in which she aims to educate.
Dina grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household in Texas, and had to struggle against religious views that did not accept people like her. “It took a long time for me to reconcile my spiritual beliefs with who I am,” she told me. “Once I became comfortable enough to acknowledge and affirm my womanhood, I was able to actually begin the journey.”
While that obviously involved mustering mental fortitude and employing a great deal of self discovery, Dina says that beginning hormone treatment was for her a significant milestone, but was also a decision “wrought with anxiety.”
Hormone therapy is used to stimulate the body into developing physical characteristics that align with the person’s gender identity. For those wanting to physically express their womanhood, this can mean softening prominent or characteristically male facial/body features (for instance the jawline and broader shoulders), reducing body hair and cultivating breast tissue, among other things. For those wanting to express their male identity, this can mean taking testosterone to improve musculature and grow facial and body hair. After first use, hormone therapy must be employed continually so as to maintain its effects. This can be a significant financial and emotional burden, but when Dina started taking hormone therapy, she says it was a turning point.
“Once the hormones took effect, everything started making sense. The way I thought and felt throughout my life finally made sense. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was who I was and I had never felt more relieved to be me than I did in that moment.”
Society often still defines gender confirmation in physical terms, focusing with extraordinary voyeurism on physical characteristics like a person’s genitals, something that Janet Mock, a woman both myself and Dina admire, has pointed out is never applied to cisgender people; so long as a person looks gender conforming they are never asked to prove their womanhood or manhood, and cisgender people are never asked questions about their genitals, something that has been termed “the gender inquisition.”
Nevertheless, Dina is crowdfunding to realize her goals of matching her physicality with her gender identity. She has, therefore, sometimes needed to talk about the physical aspects of her affirmation so that people can understand what the money they are donating is actually being spent on.
“I’m trying to raise $37,000 for the [gender confirmation surgery] and breast augmentation,” she says. “If I can raise more for some body shaping procedures then I will use it for that, and any surplus will be donated to another friend who is on the same quest.”
It’s hard to put an exact figure on such treatments, as different people require different things from their gender confirmation. However, the cost for male to female confirmation tends to range from $7,000 to $24,000 but, as in Dina’s case, can exceed $35,000. The cost for female to male reassignment can even exceed $50,000.
As you might imagine, this is a significant financial barrier, and one the average trans-identifying person will find difficult to meet, especially given the extraordinarily high rates of joblessness and overall poverty faced by this community, often down to prejudice and discrimination that is partly institutionalized by lawmakers who aggressively fail to meet the needs of this demographic in the most basic of ways: particularly in employment and housing protections, but even something as distasteful as refusing to acknowledge gender change recognition.
I wondered what kind of reception Dina’s crowdfunding campaign has received on the Internet, then, where anonymity can mean people feel licensed to be unforgiving and cruel. She tells me, however, that the experience has been a positive one.
“People have been amazing. The support that I’ve been receiving from those around me has been incredible. I feel super blessed and honored to have such supportive and lovely people in my life. Both those I know personally face to face and those I’ve met through comedy and the Internet have contributed so much more than just the support financially to this campaign.”
Certainly, Dina’s platform as a performer has helped her reach a wider donation pool than might be immediately available to other people. However, she believes that crowdfunding can be helpful, especially if someone wanting to raise funds is ready to dedicate themselves to growing a strong Internet presence.
“It’s not for everyone. But if you think it’s something you can commit to then absolutely. It takes a lot of PR, promotion and networking to create a successful campaign. It takes really getting in there and engaging those who are supporting you.” Despite all that work, Dina feels that a crowdfunding campaign is worthwhile and, if you have the commitment for it, can be rewarding. “I would absolutely say that it is a great way to raise funds for worthy causes, issues and personal goals. It sure beats putting a picture on a jar and collecting coins or selling candy bars. It really is the perfect way to raise awareness as well as funds.”
While Dina continues to raise funds, she is currently working on her breakout Internet/TV show “The Dina Martinez Show” while performing at various events and clubs, including at the Chicago Women’s Funny Festival and the Los Angeles Pride event. If you’d like to learn more about Dina Martinez’s work you can visit her website here. If you’d like to take a look at her GoFundMe page, you can do so here.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.