Transgender – Protecting Human Rights

A woman plays pool.

Transgender or gender non-conforming people are one of the most at-risk and disadvantaged groups in society.  Alarmingly, most Transgender people have experienced discrimination, harassment and even violence because their gender identity or gender expression is different from their birth-assigned sex.

Danica Rain, woman, mother, yoga enthusiast, transgender rights advocate.
Danica Rain – woman, mother, yoga enthusiast and Transgender rights advocate. 

Danica Rain is by far the emotional heart of our documentary Balls.  She was so courageous to share her life journey with us; everything from the separation from her wife and daughter, to living homeless, to being drug addicted and to all the mental and physical abuse she has had to endure while transitioning gender.  

Woman with daughter in park sit on a yoga mat.
Danica sits with her daughter in a park. 

There was many a time during our interview with her that the “fourth wall” of the “subjective” camera was broken.  We cried with Danica as she revealed and relived her most violent and heart wrenching memories. Though Danica has suffered a lot of pain and heartache, her story ends on a very positive note.  Like a fairytale princess, she is in a committed relationship with a devoted man that has swept her off her feet.  Not only has she reconnected with her daughter but she has also fully transitioned.    


At the time of filming, Danica was researching and preparing to have her confirmation surgery realized.  Though we were not able to document it, that dream finally came true late last year in Bangkok, Thailand.  


Danica is warm and beautiful person who not only transitioned her gender but also evolved her sexuality.  Once a heterosexual man, she is now a straight identified woman.  The transgender experience, in all its fluidity, continues to show us that love, life, sex and sexuality are not rigid and inflexible truths.  There is hope for humanity yet.  Thank you Danica.

A nurse performs a testicular test on a man on the street. 


As much as the Balls documentary was a testicular “tell-all”, everything from testicular cancer to testicular art and everything in between, this doc was also an exploration of masculinity and it’s ever-changing face.  The new masculinity for this new millennium is a softer beast that has a vulnerable side and is not afraid to show it.  Whether you have two, one or no testicles at all, “having balls is just being sure about yourself and also being kind and generous to the people in your path and the people in your life”. (Carey Gray)

Explore more stories of Gender Confirmation with Farra N. Hyte and Angel from our series Drag Heals.  

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Sperm Banking

banking sperm

Peter Bovolaneas chose to look into sperm banking on the advice of his doctors.  As a two-time testicular cancer survivor who knew he wanted a family from a young age, he was thankful the option of sperm banking was available and offered to him before his treatment.  

Peter Bovolaneas sperm banking

Peter has also been a spokesperson for Testicular Cancer Canada and is currently a mentor and spokesperson for Young Adults Cancer Canada.  Peter feels compelled to share his survivor story publicly in order to help bring awareness to the disease and to encourage early detection. He is determined to show young people that even though cancer may “suck”, you should always live your life to its fullest, no matter what your medical history or prognosis might look like. Peter’s enthusiasm and zest for life is unparalleled.  

Watch Peter’s story in our documentary series Balls.
 
Testicular cancer is a very treatable disease if caught early.  And it doesn’t mean that someone who wants to be a father can’t have that option if they are able to bank sperm prior to treatment.

Egg storage for IVF
Egg storage for IVF

Early diagnoses is particularly challenging when it comes to this particular cancer because it mostly effects male teenagers and young men, who are typically very guarded when it comes to talking about health and their private parts.  To help trigger this conversation, as we have done in our documentary Balls, Testicular Cancer Canada uses comedy to address the disease and to create a healthy dialogue for men.  Young men tend to respond to humor.
 
Check out these hilarious and attention “grabbing” (pun intended) public service announcements from Testicular Cancer Canada:

I can’t stress enough how important it is to target young men and to get them to check their testicles for irregularities on a regular basis, like most women do for breast exams.  Men need to take ownership of their testicular health.  Just check ‘em, cause nobody else will; not a cop, nor a mechanic and certainly not your mom.  The PSAs above really drive the point home.  They make you giggle, but they also make you think.
 
It should be noted that chemotherapy, radiation therapy and subsequent cancer surgeries can effect sperm production and sperm health. That said, if you have any inkling that you might want to have children, you should consider sperm banking ASAP.

Because Peter wants to have kids, he decided to bank his sperm before each orchiectomy (the surgical removal of one or both testicles).  Peter and Adolfo (his fiancé) will be getting married this fall and hope to be fathers in the very near future.  Their wedding is going to be a “Big Fat Greek/ Italian Wedding” with a huge guest list and a food menu what will go on for days!  Peter’s only sadness around the approaching wedding date is that his father recently passed away from cancer and will not be there.  Cancer sucks.

Adolfo and Peter sperm banking
For more information about testicular cancer, check out the Testicular Cancer Canada website, and remember to check ‘em, especially if you are young man between the ages of 15-35.

Learn how to do a self-check with Johnny Rapid in this video.

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Testosterone therapy after testicular cancer

Testosterone therapy

Testosterone therapy is a consideration for many men and their doctor’s after the removal of testicles due to cancer, torsion, injury or in an extreme STI situation.  Testosterone is the primary sex hormone found in men and is also an anabolic steroid. It is paramount in the development of testis, the prostate and sperm production.  As secondary sexual characteristics, testosterone helps promote growth of body hair as well as denser muscle and bone mass.  Sex-drive and mental health also go hand in hand with healthy testosterone production, but like Dr. Dean Elterman says in our Balls documentary, “There is a range of normal for everything, and too much of a good thing, is a bad thing”. More is not necessarily better.

Dr. Dean Elterman discusses testosterone
Dr. Dean Elterman explains testosterone’s function in the male body.

Body builders might use anabolic steroids to help increase their muscle mass, and it works. That said, prolonged and overuse of anabolic steroids can lead to a complete shut down of natural testosterone production in the body with the end result being testicular atrophy, thus forcing these men to rely on testosterone hormone therapy for the rest of their lives. The damage is irreversible.

Bodybuilding with steroid use.
Many bodybuilders use steroids in pursuit of their physical ideal.

Interestingly enough, testosterone is also produced in female ovaries, but to a lesser extent.  The average adult male will produce about 8 times more testosterone compared to the average female.

A bodybuilder administering a self-dosage of steroids.
A bodybuilder administering a self-dosage of steroids.

Some might even venture to say that testosterone therapy is the fountain of youth for aging men. After the age of 35, men lose about 1 percent of testosterone production every year.  This is a natural part of a male’s physiology.  As a result of declining testosterone, men might experience: reduced sexual desire, sleep disturbances (like insomnia), physical changes (like increased body fat, reduced muscle density and strength, hair loss, gynecomastia, lethargy and changes in mental health (like depression, low self-confidence, trouble concentrating and memory loss).  Though testosterone therapy can help reverse the effects of hypogonadism (an actual hormonal disease that effects testosterone production in the testicles or the pituitary gland), there is little evidence that testosterone therapy for older men, who are otherwise healthy, is of any benefit.  Quite frankly, until we can actually reverse the effects of aging, the degradation of the body and mind is a natural function of being alive.  Instead of chasing the fountain of youth, as a culture we need to accept and prepare for the process of death.  It will happen to all us.  This is a healthier and much needed approach.

Shawn discusses testosterone therapy with Dr. Dean Elterman.
Shawn discusses testosterone therapy with Dr. Dean Elterman.

Shawn, who has suffered through hypogonadism, cancer and erectile dysfunction, needed testosterone therapy on his path to healing and recovery.
 
Shawn is very courageous to share his long and involved testicular journey with us.  Like Peter, not only has Shawn had BOTH his testicles removed (replaced by 2 prosthetic testicles) because of cancer, but he has also had a penile implant.  Because Shawn is now unable to produce any testosterone, he is using testosterone gel.  Though testosterone shots are covered by OHIP (Ontario Health Plan in Canada), he found them painful and inconvenient.

Instead, he opted for the gel (at a cost of $150/month), which is easier to manage and as simple to apply as body cream.  Shawn jokingly calls himself the bionic man.  His openness and honestly to reveal his process is beautiful, especially that his story ends on such a positive note.
 
I don’t want to reveal too much about Shawn’s fascinating story.  Instead, sit back and watch the documentary episode about him.  It’s quite inspiring.

WATCH the unblurred, unbleeped, balls out version here:

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/balls

Amazon: http://a.co/2F4txPh

Border2Border Entertainment: http://bit.ly/2xoSpjW

~ Nico Stagias, Balls documentary director

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