July 24, 2007 / 9:16 PM / 11 years ago

U.S. woman seeks tax deduction for sex change

BOSTON (Reuters) - A woman seeking a tax write-off for her sex-change operation told the opening session of a potentially precedent-setting trial on Tuesday that the procedure was not just cosmetic but had made her whole.

Rhiannon O’Donnabhain is challenging a decision by U.S. tax authorities not to allow the $25,000 cost of her 2001 sex-change and breast augmentation surgeries as a tax deduction. The Internal Revenue Service calls the procedures elective and cosmetic, and ineligible for a tax break.

If the U.S. Tax Court in Boston overturns the IRS’s decision, it could have big implications for transsexuals and other transgender people by setting a precedent for those who want to write off the high cost of sex-change operations.

“If I didn’t have the surgery, I would have been on drugs or an alcoholic, or I would kill myself. There was no other way,” O’Donnabhain, 63, told the court.

“I needed it to be complete ... females don’t have male genitals and I was a female. The only way for me to be the real person I was in my mind was to have the surgery,” she said.

In opening arguments for the IRS, Associate Area Counsel Maureen O’Brien said the gender-change surgery was not medically necessary.

“The surgery was the petitioner’s choice, so it was a personal expense,” O’Brien said. “The petitioner’s breast augmentation as a result of breast implants was clearly cosmetic, the petitioner already had breast development as a result of hormone therapy.”

Walter Meyer, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Branch and an expert in the field of gender identity disorder, told Reuters that in 2006 such disorders affected about one in 10,000 people.

Dressed in a black pantsuit and gold earrings, with collar-length curly brown hair, O’Donnabhain said she had struggled for decades as a man, uncomfortable with her gender.

Early in life, she said, she had hoped her feelings would change, but the feeling persisted through more than two decades of marriage to a woman and as she raised three children.

A lifelong Boston area resident, O’Donnabhain asked the court to withhold her birth name and address out of concern for her safety and that of her family. She was diagnosed with gender identity disorder in 1996, and legally changed her name in 2001, before the operation.

Karen Loewy, a staff attorney with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, argued that since O’Donnabhain was diagnosed with gender identity disorder by two medical professionals, the treatment was justified and deductible.

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