Transgender N.S. woman speaks out after being denied breast implant surgery
A Halifax woman is speaking out about Nova Scotia’s sex reassignment program, saying it doesn’t cover what she considers an essential surgery for transgender women.
At 53 years old, Serina Slaunwhite is starting her journey a little later in life, but she says it was one she always knew she would have to take.
“I wasn’t happy. I just wasn’t happy,” she says.
“I can remember times when mom would be out doing something in the kitchen or whatever, and we lived in a large apartment, but I’d be way in the back in the master bedroom, playing around with her shoes. And I even did that when I was married – secretly.”
Slaunwhite started hormone therapy almost three years ago. She says her friends and family – including her 21-year-old son – have all embraced the transition, but she’s hit a roadblock.
The Nova Scotia government has been paying the bill for gender-affirming surgery for a little more than three years, but Slaunwhite says some services aren’t covered, including breast implants for men who are transitioning to become women.
Slaunwhite says she approached a plastic surgeon about breast implants earlier this year, but she was stunned to learn she would have to pay for them herself.
“They will fund breast-removal surgery for trans men, who obviously want to have that done so they can look and feel more male,” she says.
Nova Scotia’s Health Department tells CTV News that men who are transitioning to become women typically develop small breasts through hormonal therapy, and that breast implants are not covered for any individuals who have small breasts, but would prefer larger ones.
Government says breast implants are covered for severe congenital or developmental asymmetries, and also in breast cancer reconstruction.
Nova Scotia’s Rainbow Action Project says there are clearly holes in the system, and all surgeries and procedures should be covered, even if they are considered secondary or cosmetic.
“Right now, what we have is more of a gatekeeper model,” says Emily Davidson, chair of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project Board.
“Right now the mastectomy is covered – that’s the removal of the breast tissue – but not what’s called contouring, which is reshaping the tissue to have more of a masculine pec.”
Slaunwhite has appealed the decision to deny coverage for breast implants and hopes others in the same situation will speak out.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Bruce Frisko.