When Donnie Collins, a transgender student at Emerson College, found out that his medical insurance wouldn’t pay for female-to-male “Top Surgery” to further his transition and help him become more comfortable in his own skin, members of his fraternity, the Alpha Chapter of Phi Alpha Tau, stepped up to the plate and started a fundraiser.
“I feel completely overwhelmed…there is no way to thank them for any of this,” said Collins.
The twenty-year-old screenwriting major, who was born a female, said he couldn’t believe how much support he has received from both the Emerson community and his new fraternity brothers.
Because it’s illegal for the organization to raise money for Collins, and his school-sponsored insurance wouldn’t cover the cost of what they call “cosmetic procedures,” members of the frat rallied around him independently, and started an online fundraiser last month on Indiegogo.com.
They have since surpassed their fundraising goals, and hope to raise additional money in the next 41 days to help with the entire cost of the surgery, which is $8,100.
“[The money raised] goes up every ten minutes, which is awesome,” said Chuck Bergen-Aragon, one of the frat members who spearheaded the fundraising efforts to help Collins.
Bergen-Aragon said this is a “prime example of supporting brothers, and that’s what frats are about.”
Just weeks ago, Collins, a sophomore, was pledging to become a member of Phi Alpha Tau, one of the oldest organizations in the country that focuses on communicative arts, when he found out he wouldn’t be able to afford the surgery.
“I felt really horrible finding out it was denied,” Collins told BostInno. “It was a tough blow. With all the pledge stuff going on, I was in a happy place and that brought me down really fast. People were so supportive and considerate of what I was feeling, though, and they raised money to fund my surgery.”
Now, as an active member of Phi Alpha Tau, everything is coming together for him, and the procedure will happen in May.
Top Surgery is a double mastectomy to remove the breast tissue in the chest, and flattens it.
By getting the surgery, Collins will no longer have to wear “binding,” or layers of clothes, to hold in his chest and try and hide it.
“I wear restricting girdles that compress my chest to make it flat so people would never know I have a chest,” said Collins. “It’s the biggest thing left about my body that makes me uncomfortable.”
Collins said wearing bindings for too long is dangerous and puts the body at risk, while wearing layers can be difficult.
“I am so excited to just wear one shirt and not five layers,” he said.
Although Collins first came out and identified as transgender when he was 17-years-old, he only began his physical transition through hormone treatments roughly 14 months ago.
He also legally changed his name to Donnie roughly three years ago; something he said was one of the “weirdest experiences,” having to pick a new moniker.
“I was born in a female body, but it just wasn’t me. I lived through a process of figuring out how I could live the life I wanted to,” he told BostInno. “I dressed male, chose a new name, and asked to be called by male pronouns. It was amazing but a really hard experience.”
Collins said transitioning is something that never really finishes and is a constant process of learning and self-evaluation and self-improvement.
And while the surgery is not the final step, and Collins identified as a male way before he decided to pursue the procedure, it is one of his bigger steps to becoming comfortable in his own skin.
“I’m finally experiencing this wonderful relief,” he said. “It’s a very big step in my transition, and a meaningful step to becoming more at home in my body.”
Members of the fraternity said the fundraising has been about helping their friend afford the life-changing surgery, but more about raising awareness and a message of acceptance.
“It was a lot more about telling the story,” said Bergen-Aragon. “We are changing one of our brothers’ lives.”