Speaking Out About HIV in Transgender Communities
An Interview With Dee Borrego -- Part of the Series This Positive Life
April 1, 2011
Is there any activism at all going on around getting hormones covered by all of these different services? Especially, like, with ADAP, it would seem like it's a --
The issue with hormones in relation to insurance is a very complicated one. A lot of it has to do with the lack of understanding by the part of insurance companies for the medical needs of transgender people. In my opinion, that really is the crux of the entire problem.
As a transgender female, I was born legally male. So my insurance still lists me as legally male. So any male-related medical treatments or medications I might need can get covered. For example, if I had low testosterone and needed testosterone it would be covered. If I needed to have a prostate exam, it would be covered.
However, things that are typically female-associated, such as estrogen, breast exams, pelvic exams, are not covered. So because the insurance system is really set up for a two-party system, they cover one, and not the other. Well, once I've completed the forms and am legally female in insurance, I believe the insurance will then cover my estrogen. But at that same point, the insurance will no longer cover prostate exams that I might need as I get older, or any other male-body related health issues I may have to address at some point. For example, if I develop testicular cancer, that would not be covered by my insurance if I am legally female, though by that point, the estrogen would be.
So it's a very complicated, complicated picture that is really exacerbated by the fact that the insurance companies do not have accurate understanding of the medical needs of transgender people. Because I need to be able to have both. I need estrogen covered, because it is part of my diagnosis of gender identity disorder. It is a treatment for gender identity disorder. But I'm still going to need access to testicular exams, prostate exams, and other male-specific health needs, as well as mammograms, estrogen, etc., as time goes on.
It's a very, very difficult and complicated place, being a transgender person, in the medical community. And a lot of people I know who are transgender go outside of the system to access hormones illegally for that very reason. Because it's easier to obtain them in some places illegally than it is to obtain them through a doctor.
Dee, I'm really glad you spoke on that, by the way. Because that's something that I think a lot of people aren't aware of. It's a really unjustly perilous position to be in, definitely, with respect to the health system. So, thank you very much for speaking on that, definitely. We're close to wrapping up. How do you think, if it all, having HIV has changed you?
"I can find strength when I don't think I have it, and I can find support from people who I need, and who I love, when I need it. Especially going through my diagnosis, and going through that entire process, I really found that there were people in my life who rallied around me when I needed it."
Well, I think living with HIV has changed me in a lot of ways because, in many ways, it's made me more self reliant. It's made me realize that I'm the only one who's in control of my destiny. I'm in control of the choices I make. I'm in control of, if I get up in the morning and go running for 10 miles, or if I decide, no, I need to save my energy and stay home today.
I think being HIV positive has really given me the insight a lot into myself. I think it's given me a lot of insight into myself, and it's given me insight into how I tick. I think it's helped me to change and realize that, even though things aren't always the way I want them, I can live with them. I can make the best with the choices and the options I have. I can find strength when I don't think I have it, and I can find support from people who I need, and who I love, when I need it. Especially going through my diagnosis, and going through that entire process, I really found that there were people in my life who rallied around me when I needed it.
And that's a scary thing to think that you really need them that way. But I think it's also a good place to be, and to know that I have them there if I need them. And I think after my diagnosis, I learned that I don't have to have them. I can find that strength from myself. And I think finding that strength inside me was a process that I might not have ever found if I wasn't HIV positive.
You know, dealing with the physical ramifications of living with the virus, the social ramifications, I think it all contributes to making me a stronger person. At least, I'd like to think it does.
I personally think it definitely does, for what it's worth. Do you have any advice for folks who were just diagnosed, or recently diagnosed, with HIV? My advice for people who are newly diagnosed with HIV is to breathe. I think one of the biggest things for me when I first was diagnosed was, I stopped breathing. I stopped doing anything but thinking about the fact that I was HIV positive, and everything was different.
Yes, everything is different. It's not going to be the same like as it was before. But just because everything is different doesn't mean everything has to change. And it doesn't mean anything will really change, anyway. So I think people who are newly diagnosed need to remember to breathe and to ask for help when you need it.
"Everyone's going to need to deal with it in their own way. And I think the best advice that I could give to someone newly diagnosed is to be kind to yourself, and to accept yourself for who you are. Being HIV positive is not all that I am."
You know, it's OK. Some days you're not going to be able to do anything emotionally. Maybe you're just going to sit there and cry. Maybe you're going to need to go running around and scream. Maybe you're going to need to go spend some retail therapy. Maybe you're going to need to go to a group therapy.
Everyone's going to need to deal with it in their own way. And I think the best advice that I could give to someone newly diagnosed is to be kind to yourself, and to accept yourself for who you are. Being HIV positive is not all that I am. It's not who I am when I wake up. It's not who I am when I fall asleep. It's not the first thing I think of. It's not the last thing.
It's certainly hard in the beginning not to think about it, but that's part of the process. You think about it, and then you'll think about it enough. And just know that that day is coming.
Well, with that, we need to bring this interview to a close. But thank you so much for talking to me today, Dee. It was such a pleasure.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Olivia Ford is the community manager for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
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