UPDATED AGAIN: The Surgeon Who Told Me to Switch My Sexual Orientation
“Even if I do my best, you’ll never be able to please a man,” Doctor Dipshit told me. As if pleasing a man was my ultimate goal.
May 19, 2018: I’m four days post-op and couldn’t be happier! Dr. Jess Ting did a fabulous job! And my state Medicaid program paid for it, 100 percent!
May 4, 2018: I was just informed by the insurance coordinator for my surgeon in New York City that they finally came to a financial agreement with my state Medicaid program. My long, sad saga is finally over! Surgery is a GO!
What follows is what I wrote in October 2017 about another “doctor” who deserves to lose his license.
A four-month long fight with Connecticut’s state Medicaid health insurance organization, HUSKY, ended in September 2017 with a rare victory. The gatekeepers who repeatedly denied my requests to seek an out of state, out of network consultation with doctors in New York City suddenly and unexpectedly reversed their decision. They retroactively approved my surgical consult one day before a scheduled administrative hearing to fight HUSKY’s insistence that I go back to… Doctor Dipshit.
More about him in a moment.
I was handed the approval letter moments before my long-awaited hearing began, and it was immediately clear this dramatic reality-show spin was aimed at averting an embarrassing dressing-down and preventing me from putting my many complaints on the record.
Well, they obviously didn’t know who they’re messing with.
For those who don’t know, I’m Dawn Ennis. A doctor once said if he had to describe me in a single word, it would be “resilient.”
I was the first transgender journalist to come out in network TV news, and a year later, was fired for “performance issues.” From my coming out to my dismissal, I was mocked and my reputation ruined by tabloids and sensational shockjocks. I survived a very public mental health crisis that led to a temporarily detransition until I got well. Two years into my new career in online advocacy journalism, I lost my beloved to cancer, adjusted to life as a widow and a stay-at-home/work-from-home single mom, and this summer I waged yet another long battle for unemployment benefits, and won.
So, I’m no pushover.
This battle began in May 2016. I was eager to have corrective “bottom” surgery, which HUSKY covers 100 percent. My only reason for not wanting to go back to the one and only surgeon available to me, was what happened during my consultation.
I went in with very high hopes. I left in tears, feeling humiliated and dejected.
The man I called Doctor Dipshit, Dr. Stanton Honig, is a urological surgeon at Yale New Haven Hospital. He started our consult by asking me how long I’ve been wearing women’s clothes, which — given that I came out four years ago — made me feel as though he saw me as a man playing dressup.
I decided that I wasn’t going to get upset by this, but when he asked me to drop my “drawers” as if I were a man getting a prostate exam, I told him I felt uncomfortable about that and asked if he would instead examine me on the examination table, which is how we women are typically seen by a doctor who wants to look below the belt. He said, “sure, if it matters to you.” It does, and it did.
He examined me from the waist down and asked “Are you gay or straight?”
Stunned at this question I didn’t even think about why he was asking me this and replied immediately, “Straight. Why?”
“Because,” he said, dismissively. “Honestly, even if I do my best, you’ll never be able to please a man. You really should consider changing your sexual orientation.”
I was in shock at this point. Never mind the stunning admission that he might not do his “best” every single time. People don’t “change” their sexual orientation; they are who they are. And I’m not getting this surgery solely to please a man. It’s for me, not someone else. I thought his comment was outrageous, but with the stakes so high, I kept my mouth shut.
When he finished, I got dressed and asked Dr. Honig some questions: “How long have you been performing these surgeries?”
“A long time.”
How many of these operations have you done?
These are very complex procedures so I asked the next two questions because of my work as a journalist reporting on them.
“How many operations with complications have you had?”
Oh, c’mon! All surgeries carry the risk of complications, especially this kind. “None” seems farfetched. And so I asked one more question about how he became the one and only surgeon in the HUSKY plan to perform them.
“Who did you train under?”
“No one,” he told me. “I taught myself.”
I left his examining room and headed straight for my car where I burst into tears. I vowed to never again let this man put his hands on me, never mind perform what is the most important surgery of my life.
It took me a year to get over the trauma. In June, I finally felt ready to try this again, but not with that dipshit.
My health care coordinator approved a consult with doctors in Manhattan where I had begun my medical transition in 2010. I trust them. Problem was, even though I received verbal authorization to see their surgeon out of network, the powers that be soon ruled that my consult was “not medically necessary.”
After months of back and forth between HUSKY and the doctors, convincing my own doctors, my state senator and our two U.S. senators to assist me in appealing the denial, I finally won the right to see the surgeon in New York City.
The reason I went through with the hearing was for the next person in my position, who wants to see a doctor who won’t humiliate or disgust them, but HUSKY says no. And I was afraid that I might be that person, again.
You can just imagine how I felt, just a few days after the hearing, when the surgeon’s appointment secretary called me to set up my consult in NYC.
I wasn’t discouraged to learn the next available appointment would not be until February; the waiting list is hundreds of names long. I’ve waited so long already, I can handle it.
But my joy, and my patience, lasted only a moment. The woman on the phone asked me the name of my insurance provider. “HUSKY,” I told her.
“Oh. I’m sorry,” she said, as my heart sunk. “I will need to get this authorized. We’ll get back to you.”
“But… but…” It was of no use. I was back to square one.
I’m still waiting for that call back. I’m also waiting on an investigation by the state medical board after getting nowhere with HUSKY and Yale New Haven Hospital. My complaints are about Honig, and so far: nothing.
I talked about this drama among other topics in the latest episode of my talk show, below.
UPDATE (April 27, 2018): Just to catch you up, I did get to see Jess Ting, MD, the Mount Sinai surgeon who pioneered a technique involving the peritoneum that was featured on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. The appointment I had hoped for in February was scheduled for April, but fortunately a cancellation opened an opportunity for me to see him in early March.
And at that consultation, I received a surgery date of May 15, 2018, which is fantastic, since the recovery time is 12 weeks, and I need to be back on my feet before my oldest son goes to college in September. He took a gap year, in part, to pick up the slack while I’m recovering, and help me get better. So all finally worked out! Yay!
As always happens in every story of mine, joy soon turned to jawdropping disappointment.
While Mount Sinai and I have battled HUSKY to get them to authorize my consultation, and my surgery, there’s been another battle that I find I am unable to influence. HUSKY forced both my surgeon, his team and his hospital to join the Connecticut Medical Assistance Program, aka CMAP. And joining took months of negotiations, tons of bureaucratic red tape and untold dollars.
So, all should be well, but… it’s not. As I write this, my surgery is 18 days away and HUSKY aka CHNCT aka DSS is not budging on what they will pay Dr. Ting and Mount Sinai for my surgery. And nobody at HUSKY will tell me what the price-tag is, or how far apart they are, or even who I can talk to about this. All I get is “ask your provider.”
Fortunately, Sen. Chris Murphy’s office isn’t giving up the fight, and they were able to get this statement via the congressional liaison with DSS:
“Mt Sinai is enrolled with Medicaid but is refusing to accept our rates. Because we are a state plan we cannot have a different fee schedule for different providers, but the same services. Unfortunately this means the issue is still present.”
“Present” meaning “unresolved.” So, it’s about money.
On Tuesday, May 1st, I will visit the physicians assistant to make sure I’ve met my weight threshold (I have) and go over pre-op plans. Their insurance dude reassures me that it will all work out, and to proceed accordingly; when last we spoke, he told me HUSKY agrees the surgery is medically necessary and that Dr. Ting and his team are authorized to perform it… but are arguing over the bill.
You want to know why? Because Dr. Honig lowballs them, providing surgery at a discount far below the cost of what actual WPATH-member surgeons in other states charge. That’s how he keeps his contract with the state.
I have no other options. I cannot go back to Dr. Honig. There is no other authorized surgeon in Connecticut or elsewhere. All I want is someone at HUSKY who makes the dollars and cents decisions to come to the common sense conclusion that I am entitled to this surgery at the cost Mount Sinai charges, and to consider that it is in their best interest to not fuck with me.
An estimated 1,800 transgender women and men in Connecticut who want a surgeon who won’t ask them to change their sexual orientation are watching and hoping they can follow in my footsteps. Is that why HUSKY is balking? Because they don’t want to pay the actual cost of gender confirmation surgery? That in itself would be discrimination against the transgender community, and I vow to fight this as far as I have to, for myself, for all of us.
EDIT: I won! Finally! Thanks to Mount Sinai, Dr. Jess Ting, the CT State Health Advocate, the office of Sen. Chris Murphy and all my friends who helped me put pressure on HUSKY to do what’s right! My surgery is scheduled for May 15, and I am in tears… of joy!
She reports for The Daily Beast, NBC News, The Advocate, NewNowNext, Into, the Los Angeles Blade, GO magazine and Outsports. In addition, she was the assistant editor at LGBTQ Nation from May 2016 until July 2017.
Ennis is a journalism veteran with 33 years’ experience, having worked as a manager at Politico, as well as several TV stations.
She got her start by winning a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to study journalism at New York’s School of Visual Arts, where she turned an internship at CNN into a part-time job in her sophomore year. After graduation, she worked at both 1010 WINS Radio and CNN simultaneously, then was hired full-time at CNN. From there, Ennis worked in local television newsrooms across the country as well as CBS, NBC’s Today Show, and ABC News.
She was America’s first transgender journalist in a TV network newsroom when she came out 4 years ago. Since then, she’s spoken as an advocate for transgender rights at national media, religious and civil rights conventions, as well as on TV and on NPR.
She is also a widow, who does the job of mom for three children who call her “Dad.”
Ennis and her family reside in West Hartford, Connecticut with their cat, Faith.