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Brooklyn Hairdresser Raises Money for Her Own Gender Surgery

By Janet Upadhye | December 4, 2012 3:11pm

BROOKLYN — For $35, Bryn Kelly will cut your hair into an Elvis-inspired pomp or a Don Draper taper haircut. For a little less she will give you the punk-inspired cut that she calls "The Haircut That Will Piss Off Your Parents."

The 32-year-old Brooklyn hairdresser has set herself a goal of raising $7,000 as quickly as possible, in a bid to put a down payment on a long-awaited sex reassignment surgery. In the first three days of her fundraiser, Kelly raised $4,000 dollars. In a week, her website has received 122 donations totaling $5,275 dollars from supporters all over the world.

According to Kelly, gender-confirming surgery is not generally covered by U.S. insurance companies and her own health insurance “has an iron-clad exclusion against coverage for transgender-related surgeries.”

In the fall of last year, the Cuomo administration considered a program that would cover surgery and therapy for transgender New Yorkers. But according to Noah Lewis at Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, that proposal was quickly shot down. And “most employers have exclusions in their health care insurance policies for transgender-related care,” he said.

So some trans people have begun taking matters into their own hands and using online fundraising to pay for medical costs that insurance won't cover. Red Durkin, the managing editor of PrettyQueer.com, is also fundraising for gender-related surgery. She is offering custom artwork or a tour of the Prospect Park Zoo where she works as a docent for donation gifts. Durkin has raised $2,845 toward her goal.

Kelly said that the outpouring of donations she's received so far shows her that there is abundant support for her decision.

“It’s restored my faith in humanity,” Kelly said, “I don’t know how to express my gratitude without sounding cliché. It’s just heartwarming.”

Family, friends, people she hasn’t talked to in ten years, and strangers have all donated to her campaign in which she offers not only haircuts but a long list of treatments including styling, makeup, facial treatments, brow shaping, professional headshots, custom website design and tarot card readings.

But Kelly says that the majority of contributions have come from people that don’t expect anything in return.

Graphic novelist Cristy C. Road donated to the campaign because, “It’s important to support people in their experience with health care that should be free.”

But the campaign is not the end of the road for Kelly. Her campaign goal of $7,000 will only cover a portion of the surgery. And then there is the year-long waiting list for her doctor of choice. But she continues because she “she simply can’t not.”

And she is getting closer to a goal that just a short time ago was still very hard to talk about. “The first step was saying it out loud,” she said. “It was hard to say what I wanted, and how much it hurt not having it.”