Editors' Note: Guest blogger Sera Wohldmann is a 23-year old recently post-operative transgender lesbian, a working musician by day, and a security guard by night. She currently lives in Hollywood, CA with her unemployed trans fiancée just trying to scrape by.
It comes as a surprise to very few friends of mine that, financially, things are very difficult lately. I am at least a week, typically 2.5 weeks, behind on any one given bill. I work a low income 32-hour a week job, and my fiancée, Elizabeth, is still unemployed. Many of my efforts to supplement my income and stay above water have fallen short in one way or another. This attempt was no different.
Back in my birth town of St. Peters, Missouri, there was a girl. A friend of mine, once upon a time, we'll just call her A. She was a hemophiliac, and as a result, it was no secret to me that she required various blood products when she had what would be to us only minor injuries. But I had heard that it was difficult to donate if you were in any way queer, so I had not given it any consideration.
A short week before my January 4, 2011 vaginoplasty trip to Bangkok, I was riding the LA Metro bus on my way to work. I saw an advertisement for Cangene Plasma Center. They were seeking new donors, and the programs were compensated. Elizabeth and I talked over the idea, but decided at the time that, as I was so close to my surgery, I shouldn't do anything that may compromise recovery. Not that I think it would have, but we wanted to be careful. All the same, I filed it away for future consideration.
Fast forward, then, to March 2nd, 2011.
I had called the day before to schedule an appointment to donate. The questions they asked me over the phone did not disqualify me, so they asked me to come in. It was a very clean facility, and I was greeted by the front desk technician. He had me fill in the necessary preliminary paperwork to get the process started.
One of the things they covered was HIV/AIDS material. Included in it was the FDA's warning: "No male that has ever had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977, is ever allowed to donate blood or blood products, including plasma." I heeded that warning, however homophobic and archaic it may be, but as I was not a male, I hoped it would not be an issue.
I filled out a computer based "risk history" questionnaire. The only question I even answered in the positive related to various medications, and as I had taken Finasteride (Proscar) at the beginning of my hormone therapy, I answered yes. However, it also said that I had to be off the medicine for a month. I had not taken Finasteride in 11 months or so, so I was fine. I returned to my seat.
I was called for an entry interview by the on-site doctor shortly after taking a preliminary blood platelet count draw. This is the part where it all about went to the Hells. He asked if I had been hospitalized for anything, including cosmetic surgery, in the past year. As I was in an examination room, I figured I would get a full physical, and it was possible they would notice that I had a cosmetically altered vagina. I told the truth.
"Yes, I had cosmetic surgery just 2 months ago," I replied.
"What procedure did you have?"
I blushed, hesitating a bit. "Male to Female realignment surgery."
The doctor began writing on a post-it note. He underlined MALE twice, very strongly. I was already quite uncomfortable. "Did you have the whole procedure, or just breasts?"
"I didn't have breast surgery, just vaginoplasty," I replied.
He seemed confused at this, but continued. "While you were...previously a male, had you ever had sex with a man?"
I knew where he was going with this. I could easily argue that, as my partners had been transwomen, that no, I had not, but I didn't volunteer that information. I had also been a virgin for a bit longer than average, to top it off. So I lied a little. "No, I did not."
That shocked him. "You never once, before your surgery, had sex with a man?"
"No, doctor, I did not," I said, shifting uncomfortably in my seat. "You seem surprised? It's not too impossible to believe. That is my fiancée in the waiting room, after all."
"Now I'm confused, you say that's your 'fiancée,' right? That would be a guy?"
"No, my fiancée is a woman."
"A biological woman?"
Side rant: I hate that fucking word! Last I checked, I was just as biologically sound as anyone else. "Yes," I said anyways. Also a bit of a lie, but fuck they didn't need to know that. Besides, I should argue that he meant, "cisgender," anyways. What should it matter? I was clean, perfectly healthy, and I'm here to do you a fucking favor!
I was dismissed back to the waiting room for a short while. Elizabeth could tell something had happened, and asked if it was okay. "I'll tell you later." I knew I couldn't say anything where it was within staff earshot. I wanted to finish this process first and avoid unnecessary controversy. I wouldn't get the chance. I was called back into the exam room 5 minutes later.
"Unfortunately, Ms. Wohldmann, we have a bit of a problem. You see, our system tested you on the 'female' questionnaire," the doctor began.
"As I am female, this would be correct," I pointed out.
"Yes and also no. Because you had a history as a male, some of those questions are not accurate. They don't cover everything."
"Sounds like a problem with the system, not my health."
"Well, we can't go back and test you on the male system, as well, because we're not designed for that."
"Again, that sounds like a problem with your system."
"The questions are all from the FDA guidelines, and we can't change them."
"I'm not asking you to change the questions, just to realize that it's a bit absurd to think that, with all of the mutations you, as a doctor, should be aware of, that there are more than 2 classifiable sexes, correct? What if I had been intersex? What would you do, then?"
"Believe me, miss, I actually have dealt with that," he replied. Funny, though, that he didn't say what he did. He probably turned hir away for no reason, like I felt was about to happen to me.
"Also, you're not the first person to go through this process, but it's a little different for you. I don't know if it's just LA, or what, but we've had this happen before. You're just the first one to have gone through the full surgery. And that changes things."
"Well, consider also, that one of the bigger transgender clubs in the area is right here in Van Nuys," I pointed out.
"I didn't know that, but that would probably explain it. Anyways, for most people like this, we can just register them as males, as they legally are, and there is no problem. The problem is, that you had several years as a male, and now you're female, legally. We have no way to categorize this."
"So, what you're saying, is that you have a perfectly healthy donor sitting right in front of you, and because of your archaic system, you're going to turn away a willing donor?"
"I'm sorry, but that's all I can do."
I explained at this point that I was aware there were constraints on some things related to blood and plasma donations, but that there was absolutely no evidence that this was going to be an issue. No one talks about it. So, of course I'm going to try.
I'm running out of options for supplementing my income, why wouldn't I try? I didn't tell him that part. Instead, I related the story of A to him. My heart may not have been in the most selfless of places, but he didn't need to know that. Most of the people in that room only did it for the money, anyways, I would be no different.
He showed me out to the waiting room again. As I approached Elizabeth, still reading the magazine, I mouthed, "Let's go." We walked out the front door. But not before I gave a parting gift of a single-fingered salute.