30 January 2010

No Deduction, Just My Life

"Can you deduct that?"

If you live in the USA and you've been reading this blog, you know what that question refers to. "That" is the cost of my surgery and the question refers to my tax return.

Someone asked me that question and that led me to do some research. I suspected the answer was "no," but I figured it would be worth checking out.

Alas, my suspicions have been confirmed. Even though someone challenged the IRS on this question a couple of years ago, their rule--or, more precisely, the way they interpret and implement their rule--hasn't changed.

Actually, one transgender woman argued that the cost of her treatments was deductible under the IRS guidelines. Rhiannon O'Donnahbain, from what I understand, is still appealing the verdict that said she couldn't. The IRS claims that sex reassignment surgery (SRS) is a cosmetic procedure, and that such procedures are deductible only if it is necessary "to improve a disfigurement related to a congenital abnormality, disfiguring disease or accidental injury." (I found this in J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax, 2009-2010. Who knew that transitioning would lead me to reading stuff like that late at night, when I should be getting my beauty sleep!)

Anyway...Considering what a small percentage of the population we are, those of us diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder have a "congenital abnormality," in the strictest sense of the word. That our bodies don't reflect our gender identities sounds something like a disfigurement, if you ask me. If you are among the great majority of people who never has to think about whether you are an "F" or an "M," and simply cannot imagine being anything but whichever one you were identified by, try to think of what it would be like if your genitals--indeed, your body--did not match your identity. I'm not talking about wanting to be better-looking or stronger or whatever; I am talking about what, for most people, is the most basic component of their identities--which, of course, is exactly the reason why most of you, and most of them, never have to think about it.

To put SRS, and the prerequisite treatments, in the same category as liposuction, Botox treatments or breast implants (which, by the way, the IRS allowed an exotic dancer to deduct) is ludicrous. But that is what the court's decision in Ms. O'Donnabhain's case does. She says that the treatments and surgery saved her life; I would say the same for my own treatments, surgery and life. Just about any other trans person would say the same thing. In fact, of the trans people who don't transiton, nearly one in three commit suicide. That statistic includes two friends of mine. It might've included me, too. As it happened, I abused alcohol and other substances in my youth and went through a series of relationships that didn't work because, in essence, I was trying to relate as someone I wasn't. Plenty of other trans people have similar stories. If the treatments and surgery put an end to those problems, how could they not fit into the IRS, or any other, guidelines?

Today I am still astounded at how decades of depression and self-loathing ended literally overnight when I started my transition and how my mental health has improved from there as a result of my surgery. Of course, that's way better and more important than any deduction the IRS will or won't allow: as far as I know, such a deduction, while good to have and a signal of fair and equal treatment under the law, is not itself a reason or purpose for living.

So, for now, I can only say something like c'est la vie to not having a deduction. I don't have the time or resources to challenge that; I hope that someone else will and that future trans people will have that deduction and other things that would make us equal, under the law, to everyone else. For now, I am happy to have had the operation, and will try start the support group for transgenders 45 or older that I have discussed with Tom at SAGE, and to help Dwayne with the shelter he wants to open for homeless lesbians and trans women. Those are the sorts of things you do when you're a "lover, not a fighter," but have been forced to be an advocate and activist.

So...no deduction. At least I have what I can't deduct, and the life it is giving me.

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