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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.
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.”
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