Donnie Collins, a member of Emerson College’s Phi Alpha Tau fraternity, had a problem -- he needed surgery but it wouldn’t be covered by his insurance. His fraternity brothers, looking to back him up like frat brothers are supposed to do, responded by launching a fundraising campaign via crowdfunding site Indiegogo to generate the cash needed to help their brother out.
The unexpected bit? Donnie Collins is transgender, and the surgery in question is top surgery.*
Collins is a sophomore at Emerson, who just pledged the frat in question earlier this year. He came out as trans in his teens, while living at a Connecticut girls’ boarding school. Unsuprisingly, his journey has not been an entirely easy one.
...Barred from using his mother’s insurance to cover any physical transitions, [Collins] has singlehandedly covered the bulk of his hormone therapy since December 2011.
Collins now has a college health insurance policy through Emerson, a policy, like so many others, that is trans-exclusionary... So Collins has been raising money for the procedure for months, but it seemed that one door after another would close in his face. His petition for a trans-inclusive policy was recently denied by the college's insurance plan, and his personal Chipin fund will cease when the crowd-funding site shuts down next month.
I'll confess I primarily think of college fraternities as refuges for bad dudely behavior; usually, when such an organization makes the news, it’s a result of binge drinking, sexual assault, or some slightly less heinous but nevertheless stereotypically hypermasculine shenanigans. That said, it shouldn’t be that shocking that there’s more to these guys than my negative knee-jerk assumptions might lead me to believe.
Even Collins wasn’t that surprised that his new fraternity brothers wanted to help, telling the OUT interviewer (who is, himself, a junior at Emerson and a member of the same frat): “I was just like, ‘Oh that’s such a Tau thing to do,’ and I didn’t even think it was that weird.”
The Indiegogo campaign page features a YouTube video of three of Collins’ brothers explaining the intention behind the campaign, and guys, I kinda want to hug them all and smooch their teeny little bro faces. Stuff like this really gives me hope that our kids may well grow up with a much more broad and accepting view of gender diversity than we currently see today.
Possibly the most heartwarming bit is the way these dudes assert that they don’t simply want to raise money -- they want to start a discussion, and “tell a story,” as middle-bro says: “Have conversations with your family and friends, sit down and talk about issues like this, and then give them an opportunity to donate if they can.”
No, no, I’m fine, I’ve just got something in my eye.
The lack of insurance coverage for trans-related surgeries is both a roadblock to greater public acceptance of trans individuals, as well as a contributing force. The issue of whether these surgeries are necessary or cosmetic continues to be controversial amongst cisgender folks, and it’s largely cisgender folks making the big decisions on these matters, with little if any input from the individuals whose lives they are affecting.
Plus, so long as insurance companies continue to refuse to cover these procedures, that gives ammunition to those who find the idea of gender noncomformity distasteful and superfluous, if not outright offensive -- the erroneous idea being that if this was REALLY IMPORTANT, then insurance would cover it. So it all becomes a sort of self-replenishing cycle of oppression.
Top surgeries, as well as other trans surgeries, should be covered by insurance. I’m not even going to debate that point. The only reason they’re not is because of social and cultural discomfort with and fear of trans people. According to a 2010 survey, a stunning 41 percent of trans folks have attempted suicide. While not all trans folks want surgery (and that is fine too, as surgery is not for everyone) for those who do, their inability to get it has a measurable and powerful impact on their quality of life.
Furthermore, according to the same survey, 19 percent of trans individuals have been refused medical care as a result of their gender identity. I have to believe that the effort to secure safe and sensitive medical care would only be bolstered by insurance coverage.
As depressing as these numbers are, campaigns like the one Donnie Collins’ brothers have mounted for him give me hope that the tide is shifting. The initial goal for the Indiegogo fundraiser was $4800, according to the bros in the attached video. Not only has it already been successful, it’s since blown past that goal to almost $16,000 as of this writing, and the dudes have decided to donate any surplus to the Jim Collins Foundation, an organization that provides financial assistance for transition-related surgeries.
But I’m saving the best for last. Donnie Collins himself talks about his overwhelmed reaction to the campaign’s success in a YouTube video of his own, and as he thanks everyone for their help, he also emphatically reaches out to other struggling trans folks to contact him for support if they need it, a way of paying forward all the incredible love he’s been feeling.
No, no, I’m fine, I’ve just got something in my eye.
* AKA a bilateral mastectomy, which removes the breasts.
Want to help? You can still donate to this fundraiser on Indiegogo. Yaaay.