Thursday, July 26, 2007

Fox Reality to debut UK's 'There's Something About Miriam' October 31

By Christopher Rocchio, 07/25/2007

One of the U.K.'s most controversial reality dating series is finally going to air in America.

There's Something About Miriam, a reality dating series that set-up six unsuspecting men on dates with a transsexual and first premiered on Britain's Sky One in February 2004, is scheduled to premiere Wednesday, October 31 on Fox Reality, the Hartford Courant television critic Roger Catlin reported Monday.

Although Fox Reality had previously announced Miriam's acquisition back in May, the all-reality digital cable network hadn't disclosed when it planned to debut the series. "I look forward to unleashing that on the American public," Fox Reality president David Lyle had teased to Daily Variety at the time.

There's Something About Miriam filmed in Ibiza in 2003. At the start of the show, the men were presented with a lineup of beautiful women and asked to pick the one that they found most attractive. All of them selected a South American beauty named Miriam, and in typical reality dating show fashion, competed to win her affections.

However unbeknownst to the men, Miriam wasn't a woman. Instead -- similar to Jaye Davidson's role in 1994's The Crying Game film -- she was a preoperative transsexual. . . .

The Sex Reassignment Surgery Tax Case That Seems To Never End

July 17th, 2007 by Autumn Sandeen

Rhiannon G. O’Donnabhain V. Commissioner Of Internal Revenue case is back in the news. The Associated Press is reporting:

[A] 57-year-old suburban Boston man underwent a sex-change operation. Then she wrote off the $25,000 in medical expenses on her taxes.

But the IRS disallowed the deduction - ruling the procedure was cosmetic, not a medical necessity - in a potentially precedent-setting dispute now before the U.S. Tax Court.

Rhiannon O’Donnabhain is suing the IRS in a case advocates for the transgendered are hoping will force the tax agency to treat sex-change operations the same as appendectomies, heart bypasses and other deductible medical procedures. The case is set to go to trial July 24.

“The IRS ruling is pure bias, since scientists agree that gender transition services are medically necessary and not cosmetic,” said Joel Ginsberg, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association.

In 1996, O’Donnabhain began seeing a psychotherapist who eventually diagnosed her with gender-identity disorder. Five years later, her therapist recommended sex-change surgery, finding it was a medically necessary. A psychologist who examined O’Donnabhain concurred.

O’Donnabhain claimed the expenses on her 2001 tax return. The IRS denied the deduction in 2003.

Kenneth Vacovec, a tax attorney from Newton, said O’Donnabhain could have a strong case because of the psychological component of gender identity disorder.

“If you were going to a psychiatrist and you had a bipolar condition, and you were taking medication and getting treatment and it made you function better in society, how is that different from having a sex-change operation that allows you to function better and be more comfortable in society?” Vacovec said.

Back in December of 2004, GLAD issued a press release indicating Rhiannon O’Donnabhain won a significant ruling on sex reassignment surgery. IRS Appeals Officer/Commissioner Mark Everson determined that Ms. O’Donnabhain’s surgery was medically necessary and an integral part of a professionally prescribed course of treatment for her diagnosed condition, and she could deduct for the surgery as a necessary operation.

The traditional values folk went ballistic.

(More on the history of this lawsuit after the flip)

The Traditional Values Coalition wrote of that IRS Appeals Officer’s decision:

The homo/trans movement is currently guided by a belief that concepts such as male and female are simply cultural inventions that can be altered at will by the individual. In 1993, a transgender legal group issued the “International Gender Bill of Rights,” that declares: “It is fundamental that individuals have the right to define, and to redefine as their lives unfold, their own gender identity, without regard to chromosome sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role.” This is a sure recipe for sexual confusion and life-long despair.

By giving tax deductions for unneeded “sex change” operations, the IRS is aiding in the homo-trans effort to undermine the biological realities of male and female. The simple fact is that no one can change sexes. A male who has his sex organs removed and takes hormones for breast enhancement is still genetically a male—not a woman. This is an unchangeable reality. A man can no more become a woman than he can become a Dodge Minivan. A person who thinks otherwise is delusional—and needs professional care.

An individual who suffers from Gender Dysphoria has a serious mental problem—and this cannot be fixed by hormone injections and the mutilation of a person’s body. He needs long-term, intensive therapy, not mutilation.

The IRS is collaborating with madness by giving tax deductions for unneeded “sex change” operations. The IRS policy should be reversed immediately.

American Daily, Townhall, and the Free Republic weighed in too.

The conservative Christian outcry apparently stirred some members of congress to get involved. The Washington Times published in a February 2005 article:

No fewer than two dozen congressmen are giving Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Mark Everson until the close of business Feb. 28 to explain why the IRS granted a tax deduction for a sex change operation.

“[A]s members of the United States House of Representatives, we view this as an outrage and believe it sets a precedent that both the IRS and the American taxpayer at large will not be comfortable with,” the congressmen wrote to the IRS chief.

The IRS Commissioner’s late 2004 decision was officially reversed in October of 2005, and the reversal was published in January of 2006.

Berkeley tax law attorney Donald H. Read, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote the following of that IRS reversal:

Under the Internal Revenue Code, medical expenses are deductible if incurred for the “diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease, or for the purpose of affecting any structure or function of the body.” Under the Treasury Department’s own regulations, they must be incurred “primarily for the prevention or alleviation of a physical or mental defect or illness.” However, the code prohibits deducting the costs of cosmetic surgery, which it defines as “any procedure which is directed at improving the patient’s appearance and does not meaningfully promote the proper function of the body or prevent or treat illness or disease.”

Despite reviewing the patient’s long and comprehensive psychological and medical process of addressing his gender identity disorder and deciding on surgery, the IRS concluded that there “is nothing to substantiate that these expenses were incurred to promote the proper function of the taxpayer’s body and only incidentally affect the taxpayer’s appearance.”

The IRS treated gender reassignment surgery as similar to voluntary cosmetic surgery, the purpose of which is to affect appearance rather than to change the function of part of the body. Left unexplained is how removal of the testicles and penis and their replacement with a vagina is more appearance — than function — related.

Almost gratuitously, the IRS went on to question whether this surgery really is a treatment for an illness or disease. For this proposition it cites an article, not from the New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet, or any similarly respected medical publication, but rather from a magazine called First Things.

First Things is published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, which describes itself as “an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.”

The First Things article was written by John Hopkins’ Psychiatrist-in-Chief Paul McHugh. Per Lynn Conway:

Paul McHugh is an influential conservative Catholic ideologue who for some odd reason has been on a lifelong rampage to “stop sex changes.” This transphobic psychiatrist (then advisor to the Vatican on sexual matters) convinced the Vatican in 2000 to declare that transsexualism “doesn’t exist” and is a mental pathology instead. McHugh is now positioned to similarly influence the Executive Branch, as a member of the President’s Council for Bioethics.

RightWeb describes the First Things publisher this way:

The Institute on Religion and Public Life (IRPL), publisher of the journal First Things, describes itself as an “interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public policy for the ordering of society.” Both the institute and its journal function, in large part, as the institutional vehicles for the conservative religious philosophy of founder Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and neocon—or “theocon”—stalwart.

First Things, a monthly publication, generally promotes the tenets of the Christian Right, often staking out positions to the right of the George W. Bush administration. First Things editor Joseph Bottum wrote in early 2007: “Social conservatism is in little better shape now than it was when Bush was first elected. In many ways, it is in worse shape” (First Things, March 2007).

Again, the First Things article by Paul McHugh is what the IRS used to make its decision on whether or not sex reassignment surgery should be tax deductible, not what most experts on Gender Identity Disorder (GID) believe. Which, by the way, is:

Sex Reassignment is Effective and Medically Indicated in Severe GID. In persons diagnosed with transsexualism or profound GID, sex reassignment surgery, along with hormone therapy and real-life experience, is a treatment that has proven to be effective. Such a therapeutic regimen, when prescribed or recommended by qualified practitioners, is medically indicated and medically necessary. Sex reassignment is not “experimental,” “investigational,” “elective,” “cosmetic,” or optional in any meaningful sense. It constitutes very effective and appropriate treatment for transsexualism or profound GID. . . .

Experts at tax trial explain gender identity disorder

Bay Windows
Thursday Jul 26, 2007

Rhiannon O’Donnabhain speaks to a reporter in her lawyer’s office Boston, Thursday, July 12, 2007.
Rhiannon O’Donnabhain speaks to a reporter in her lawyer’s office Boston, Thursday, July 12, 2007. (Source:AP/Josh Reynolds)

Attorneys for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) spent the second day of a trial in which a transwoman is suing the federal agency for the right to deduct her medical expenses related to treatment for Gender Identity Disorder (GID) trying to make the case that sex-reassignment surgery is a cosmetic procedure rather than a medical necessity. IRS senior attorney John Mikalchus grilled Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders’ (GLAD) expert witness, psychiatrist Dr. George Brown, for more than four hours about the medical necessity of sex-reassignment surgery and other treatments for GID, asking him on multiple occasions to concede that the procedures are cosmetic. Brown, a psychology professor at East Tennessee State University and a board member of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), which issues the internationally recognized standards of care for GID treatment, refused to do so, but Mikalchus tried to hammer home that point himself. Mikalchus also suggested that surgery, hormones and other treatments for GID do not cure patients’ cross-gender identification but merely reinforce it, and he said that the treatments for GID are an anomaly in the mental health profession.

"You wouldn’t recommend liposuction for someone who’s anorexic, would you?" Mikalchus asked Brown.

In response, Brown countered that sex-reassignment surgery does cure cross-gender identification. "They experience themselves as female. The body is aligned female. The symptoms no longer exist," said Brown.

Rhiannon O’Donnabhain, a transwoman from the South Shore, filed suit against the IRS after the agency told her she could not claim a deduction on her federal income tax for the medical costs associated with her treatment for GID, including her 2001 sex-reassignment surgery. O’Donnabhain’s legal team, consisting of GLAD attorneys Karen Loewy, Ben Klein and Jennifer Levi, argued that GID is a disorder recognized by the medical community and that it is included in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), one of the standard handbooks used by mental health practitioners. They brought in witnesses to testify that the treatment she sought, including her surgery, were well within the norms of treatment for GID and that the surgery was medically necessary. The case, O’Donnabhain v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, is being argued in U.S. Tax Court in Boston before Judge Joseph H. Gale The trial began July 24.

The first day of the trial, O’Donnabhain took the stand and gave several hours of testimony, at times bursting into tears as she recounted her struggles with GID and her profound sense of being a woman trapped in the body of a man. As a child growing up in a devout Irish Catholic family in Rockland she had difficulty understanding and relating to her male peers, and she had a profound sense of discomfort in her own body. Starting at age 10 she began secretly trying on women’s clothes, but she never discussed her struggles with gender with any of her family or friends. By age 26 she was married, and during their 22-year marriage, she and her wife had three children. But her strong feelings of being trapped in the wrong body, and her decision to keep quiet about those feelings, were a strain on the marriage, and she said she had great difficulty being physically intimate with her wife. . . .

Interview with GLAD Attorney on IRS Trans Medical Deduction Denial Case

Monday, July 23, 2007

GLAD Attorney Jennifer LeviGLAD goes to trial in U.S. Tax Court tomorrow (July 24) on behalf of Rhiannon O'Donnabhain, who is challenging the IRS' decision to deny her a tax deduction for her sex reassignment surgery. (More background on this story here).

Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Levi (left), a member of the GLAD team representing Rhiannon, talked with us about the importance of the case.

What is this case about?

Jennifer Levi (JL): In this case, the IRS denied a tax deduction for a transsexual woman who deducted medical expenses relating to her transition.

Why did the IRS deny her deduction?

JL: The position that the IRS has taken is that the surgeries that Rhiannon had were “cosmetic.” And what that means is that they’re insignificant--they’re just about trying to look better. And these weren’t about “looking better.” They were about transition. They were about being able to, not just transform the way she looked, but the way she felt, and the way that she was able to present her gender in the world. To trivialize this kind of surgical procedure, and to compare it to something like a nose job, is demeaning. And really centrally misses the basic point of transgender identity.

So you think that the IRS’s decision shows an underlying bias against trans people?

JL: Absolutely. We think it shows bias at worst, and a gross misunderstanding at best.

Why should Rhiannon have been able to deduct the surgery as a medical expense?

JL: The Internal Revenue Code allows deductions for expenses relating to medical care. The entire reason Rhiannon sought psychotherapy--and eventually hormones and surgery for the feelings that she had about being female--was medical. She was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (GID), as recognized in the DSM IV, in the World Health Organization’s ICD-10, and in every major textbook and medical dictionary that addresses issues relating to mental health.

There’s just no real question that for some people whose gender identity doesn’t match their sex, that experience causes very serious anxiety, distress, sadness, and depression. And people should have access to medical care.

There’s an established course of treatment Rhiannon followed that clearly meets the statutory definition for medical care. All we have to show in this case is that the procedures she underwent were medical in nature. To suggest that they’re not is really to call into question the legitimacy of that experience of dysphoria.

Why is this case important?

JL: It’s important because it addresses pervasive misunderstandings, pervasive bias, pervasive prejudice that transgender people face. There is a lot of misinformation that underlies the discrimination that transgender people face in many areas of their lives.

What we’ve found in the context of this case is that most people really do see through what the IRS has said. People understand that if you wake up every day and you look in the mirror and the person that you see is not the person you feel like you are, that’s an uncomfortable experience at best, and disorienting and disabling at worst. Fair-minded people understand that individuals should be able to take steps to change that experience and integrate their lives more fully in order to be who they are--in order to wake up every day and see the person in the mirror that they feel themselves to be. And that when somebody does that, they shouldn’t be fired from their jobs, they shouldn’t be beaten up on the streets, they shouldn’t be denied equal treatment that other Americans receive under something as basic as the tax code.

Rhiannon’s experience is one piece of the experience of transgender people. Not everybody has the same interest in transitioning medically. Not everyone can afford to, and not everyone would want to. But this is an important case for the entire community. And that’s because what’s really at the heart of this case is a central misunderstanding about the importance of being able to express one’s gender identity. Everybody should be able to do that.