The Disorder Nobody Wants To Talk About

Imagine, for a moment, a disease that affects 1 in 10,000 people. That is a fairly common disorder; about the same number of people that are affected by glaucoma or deafness, and three times more frequent than brain cancer. Add to that image a mortality rate of 41%. That's a pretty serious disease, isn't it?

Let's add a bit to that picture. The treatment for this health problem is not terribly expensive, nor difficult. It requires some common, inexpensive drugs. It also requires some surgery, in the price range of $12,000. None of this treatment is particularly unmanageable or experimental, though as with any medical procedure, research would no doubt find room for improvement, and it does take a certain level of specialization.

What would you say if you found out that there is no insurance coverage for the treatment of this common, deadly disorder? And despite the fact that you may pay thousands of dollars per year for your insurance coverage, if you or a loved one had it, not a single dime will go toward the payment of life saving treatment.

That disorder exists. It's called Gender Identity Disorder, and though we don't know the cause of it, we do know how to help people with it. Through the use of hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, and surgery to help people's bodies reflect their self-identity, we can not only vastly improve someone's health and quality of life, we can also save their lives. Untreated gender identity disorder is associated with high suicide rates, and very high levels of substance abuse, as people try to self-medicate their pain.

All too often, GID (also known as gender dysphoria) is tossed off as a problem of morals, as if it were rectifiable by the application of religion, or as a manipulative version of homophobia. Even in the psychological community, there have been attempts made to reclassify gender dysphoria as an oddball variant of homosexuality.

In particular, there is the claim that male-to-female transsexuals are simply gay men who cannot admit their attraction for other men; or, alternatively, that this same group is  sexually aroused by the image of themselves as females, and thus turn to drugs and surgery to fulfill their autoeroticism. Not only do these half-baked theories fail to explain those seeking to transition from female to male, it also fails to take into account the full range of sexual expression, as transgender people may be gay, straight, bi or uninterested, just like everybody else.

The more likely explanation -- and the one that has objective research supporting it -- is that the vast majority of people who would prefer living as the opposite gender are simply responding to the way their brain is wired.

That's right. The preponderance of the evidence these days points to the idea that for some people, during fetal development, their brain growth follows one gender track while their bodies follow another. The mismatch may be noted as early as mid-childhood, though for others the problem does not become evident until puberty, as the genders further differentiate, and as one transsexual person said, "it was all wrong!"

Even so, many people will continue to live with this precarious disconnect between their bodies and their brains because they feel they have no alternative. Afraid of the discrimination and out-and-out violence that is directed toward transgender people, even within the medical community, they suffer quietly. And their suffering takes its toll, in very high rates of depression and its end result, suicide; in drug abuse and alcoholism, as they try to manage their anguish by becoming oblivious; in unemployment and poverty, as their depression and anxiety makes it difficult to hold a job, or even worse, being fired after their condition becomes known to their employer.

The argument that transgenderism is "just" a boy who likes girls' clothing or a tomboy gone too far is like calling a melanoma "just" a skin blemish. Gender identity disorder is serious, often deadly, and levies an awful toll on both the individual and society.

Which makes the denial of coverage for this disorder little short of heinous, particularly because the solutions we have at hand are relatively successful and not particularly experimental. Unfortunately, even for those people with health insurance, denial of coverage for surgical transition is the norm, via a “Transsexual Exclusion Clause” which excludes all medical procedures related to a person’s transgender status.

With the combination of hormones and surgery, medical doctors can create an internal and external state where one's body more closely parallels one's gender self-identity. No, it's not a perfect answer; few medical responses to chronic conditions are perfect. Nor is surgery the right answer for all transgender people. But for many, the surgical answer is literally life-saving. Enter the Jim Collins Foundation:

The mission of the Jim Collins Foundation is to provide financial assistance to transgender people for gender-confirming surgeries. The Jim Collins Foundation recognizes that not every transgender person needs or wants surgery to achieve a healthy transition. But for those who do, gender-confirming surgeries are an important step in their transition to being their true selves.

Last week, the Foundation awarded its first grant to Drew Lodi. “The Jim Collins Foundation for me is a miracle," Drew said. "They helped me to stay motivated to live each day purposefully…I improved my life, mind, body, relationships, and faith. To know that people are out there who do NOT have to be helping–but are–makes me motivated to do everything I can…”

The Foundation awards grants based on a combination of financial need and preparedness. And it aims to be more than just deep pockets for people in need. The Foundation strives to empower people to find creative means of financing surgery for themselves, at least partially. Drew, for example, began funding his surgery by collecting bottles and cans for their deposits.

Having firsthand seen the results of the life-saving surgeries which the Jim Collins Foundation funds, I cannot think of a more worthy, or necessary organization deserving of your support and donations.

I know that money is tight for everyone, as this country slowly claws its way out of the Great Recession. But to the extent that you can consider a charity at all, I hope you will consider making a donation to the Jim Collins Foundation.

Gender dysphoria is the disorder that nobody wants to talk about, but that affects millions of Americans just the same.  The cost of treating every person who needs the life-transforming surgery amounts to 5 cents per American citizen. Do you think you could spare a dime to save a life?

Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at or by calling 860-567-5727.