TV & Radio
H E A L T H S T O R Y
(Photo) CHANGE OF LIFE: For Vicki Harvey, having gender reassignment surgery is 'an imperative'.
RICHARD WOODD/Taranaki Daily News
Government to fund sex change operation
20 August 2005
By RICHARD WOODD - stuff.co.nz
Vicki Harvey, Opunake's most visible transsexual, has an appointment with destiny.
In November, she goes to see a plastic surgeon in Christchurch, from where she will take the final step towards completing her transition to womanhood.
At some point after that, perhaps in about 12 months, she hopes to have the final surgery.
And the Government will be paying the $30,000 bill.
The operation done, Vicki will then be able to legally change the gender on her birth certificate to female. "I am entering the latter years of what has been a troubled life. I have no wealth, no income, and I have a gambling habit. Having the surgery will allow me to at least fulfil myself as a woman before I die."
Vicki is 73 years old. She could pass for your grandmother. She used to be a professional soldier and spent 20 years serving in the NZ Army. She drove Centurion tanks. She went to a battalion reunion this year, dressed in a skirt and blouse.
Though she is puzzled by the necessity for it, she will first be assessed for suitability for "gender reassignment surgery" by the psycho-surgical team in November. If the team gives the green light, she will have the operation some time next year.
The surgeon is Peter Walker, the only plastic surgeon in New Zealand who is doing trans-gender work, and the only surgeon in the world doing it by laparascopy (through an inserted tube). Vicki has never met him.
She will have to pay the pre-op consultation costs of about $1200 plus air fares, and post-operative support costs. The Ministry of Health will pay for the operation. Vicki thinks she will be the third state-funded patient.
She was part of the political lobbying campaign that resulted in the Minister of Health agreeing last year to fund a small number of operations. She kept writing letters to the prime minister, health minister and many MPs.
"I e-mailed the Prime Minister. At that time they'd just increased the number of infertility treatments that were available for funding. I pointed out to her that the trauma we go through as transsexuals because our body does not fit our mind, was no less than that for couples who can't produce children. Apparently, the message got through."
Is she scared about having the surgery? "I'm apprehensive. I could not say I am scared, because I want it, desperately. Deciding to go all the way and have the operation is not a choice for me, it's an imperative. You cannot be happy unless you are yourself, so I have to live as I do and it's not easy or difficult, it just is."
Vicki says there are many misconceptions about gender issues. "There are people who think that transsexuals are basically gay and that they want the surgery in order to get men.
"But who would put themselves through the mental and physical pain in order to satisfy a lust?"
Another is that a transsexual is a woman trapped in a man's body. "I'm not trapped, I am a woman."
How long she known this? "Not as long as I would like to have."
She says there have been two disastrous marriages, unsatisfactory de facto relationships and numerous suicide attempts. "After my last liaison I began to indulge the feminine side of myself, which I thought was just a facet of my character, but it was much more. One day in Auckland in 1998, while buying cosmetics at a pharmacy, I reacted to what somebody said and finally declared: `I'm not a man, I'm a woman.' That was the first conscious recognition and declaration of who I am. And shortly after that I began to live as a woman."
Vicki has lived in Opunake for three years, boarding with a supportive friend.
"I've been extremely happy here.
"I dress as anybody does in Opunake ? how I please and for the weather and comfort. What I wear has nothing to do with who I am. I can dress up, I can dress down. And no, I am not the only transsexual in Opunake."
New Zealand: 73-year-old to have transgender surgery