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P.E.I. Transgender Network looking to start peer support for people undergoing transition


The P.E.I. Transgender Network is looking for funding to start a peer support and counselling program where mentors and mentees will be paired up based on common transition goals and interests to foster friendships and ensure transgender people can thrive during their transition process.
The P.E.I. Transgender Network is looking for funding to start a peer support and counselling program where mentors and mentees will be paired up based on common transition goals and interests to foster friendships and ensure transgender people can thrive during their transition process. Photo by Ezra Santana.

Peer support and counselling for trans and gender-diverse people undergoing transition will help bridge the gaps in the healthcare system, said P.E.I. Transgender Network (PEITN) executive director Lucky Fusca.

The non-profit group just finished its application for a grant that would make it possible for it to hire a peer support co-ordinator, who would work with Fusca to go through mentor and mentee applications and find the best matches.

For example, a mentor who had top surgery and chose to entirely remove their nipples may be paired with a mentee who is considering the same procedure, they said.

“I think one important thing to factor in as well would be, you know, ‘What are your general interests? What kinds of things are you into?’ We really want to pair a mentor with a mentee in a way that is going to foster a, in perfect world, lifelong relationship and friendship."

Health P.E.I. updated its surgical policy earlier this year to include more procedures.

“The previous surgical policy was one that was misogynistic. It really didn’t center or provide the current needs for trans women as well as folks who don’t identify as trans women but are interested in pursuing what would be kind of categorized as feminizing procedures."

The recent change was prompted by a third-party review in 2022, when Gender Affirming Care P.E.I. (GACPEI) threatened to take legal action against the province.

“It was our opinion that this policy, as well as the new draft proposed by the province's Gender Affirming Care Steering Committee, violated trans-women's charter rights, as well as the Canada Health Act,” said Jocelyn Adams, GACPEI’s executive director.

The review favoured GACPEI’s opinion and they consulted with Health P.E.I. to draft the new policy that came into effect in July 2023 and that is one of the most inclusive and expansive in the country, according to both GACPEI and PEITN.

“It feels really really cool to be in a province and to have been part of a process where we went from very much lacking and missing the mark to being a leader as far as our policy goes," said Fusca.

However, the system is still full of gaps, and not just when it comes to gender-affirming care.

“When we’re talking about healthcare, we are also recognizing that that’s within the context of like trans healthcare as being something that is already so underserviced in a system that is severely overburdened, so we’re already starting at a point of really wild disadvantage," said Fusca.

There are currently no places where people can go to receive post-operative care other than the gender-affirming care clinic and the University of P.E.I.’s clinic.

“And even that, the waitlists within both of those clinics are usually between three to six months, so even there we’re still looking at some barriers. We’ve seen a lot of progress, but three to six-month wait times are also something that is mindful of the impacts that would have on individuals trying to access lifesaving supports.”

Another issue is the lack of surgical procedures offered in the province.

“Having to travel to Montreal like… that is completely inaccessible to so many people. It means you’re taking time off work. And not just you. That somebody you would need to have as part of the process and requirements as a support person to come with you, that person would also be needing to take off work if that applied to them.”

Travel and other post-surgery costs are also a challenge, said Fusca.

“There’s quite a long list of things that really add up to thousands of dollars. So, even though the surgical policy does cover a lot more than what we saw in the past, there are still so many expenses that aren’t covered, which is what we’re working on as far as developing and looking into funding sources to, not just bridge the financial gaps, but to also bridge the gaps in supports as well.”

Adams said P.E.I. also needs to improve its mental health support, as well as practitioner education and access to family doctors.

Medical professionals need to be able to consider trans people’s biology when dealing with things like cancer screenings or gynecological care, she said.

“Practitioners need to consider the biology of transsexual people when navigating these areas of healthcare, like the treatment of heart disease or diabetes, end-of-life planning, long-term care or dementia, these are all areas in which current health frameworks use a non-universal cisgender and cissexual, and usually heterosexual, lens.”

‘Trans health’ is not just referring to gender-affirming care, but also to all other areas of healthcare that affect transgender people over time, said Adams.

“These systemic changes will happen slowly, but they will happen as a result of better health policies, policies that encourage community engagement, and better education for practitioners in all areas of medicine, not just gender-affirming care.”

P.E.I. has a contract with Our Landing Place, a collective of queer-identifying counsellors who offer therapy specifically catered to queer people on the Island.

However, there’s still a great need for services provided by queer people for queer people, said Bruce Davison, a social worker at the Gender Affirming Care Clinic.

“Within the clinic, there’s a number of us that can provide short-term mental health services within the clinic,” he said.

The clinic also takes on the role of referring people to other relevant services.

“I am certainly gonna agree with our friends in the community that if they say more is needed then more is needed,” he said.

Davison said Health P.E.I. had a one-source contract with Québec to provide gender-affirming care surgeries in Montreal. They are now looking to expand the options to make it easier for transgender people to receive services closer by.

“I think we’re recognizing that gender-affirming care is healthcare. Period. It’s necessary healthcare and that means it has to be accessible and it has to be available."

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My name is Ezra (they/them) and I’m an aspiring storyteller who is half-way through a Journalism and Communications program at Holland College, P.E.I. 

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