This World Mental Health Day, spare a thought for the trans children whose lives have become unbearable
One hundred and sixty days ago, one Friday afternoon in May, I went to my doctor.
“I’m transgender,” I told him, “and I want to be referred to a gender clinic.”
His response was perfect: apologising for not knowing much about trans healthcare, he pulled up the referral form on his computer and asked if I would stay so that we could fill it in together.
When prompted by the form, I explained that I identify as non-binary, and he said he’d come across the term before but didn’t know much about what it meant. He ran through the form twice, checking every response with me, and then sent it off to the gender clinic in London.
The whole process took less than 10 minutes. I walked out of the GP surgery ecstatic; immediately called my sister to tell her, happy and shaky and relieved, what I’d done.
And then the wait began.
As a reporter at PinkNews, I write about trans healthcare pretty often.
Sometimes it’s about the length of time trans people have to wait for an appointment at a gender clinic in different parts of the UK. In Devon, it currently takes three years between going to your GP for the first time, like I did, and going for your first appointment with a gender specialist.
Sometimes I write about how few gender clinics there are. There are just eight, in the whole of England and Wales, for who knows how many trans people – half a million? A million? We don’t know, because no one counts us.
I’ve written about trans people’s joy at getting their gender legally recognised; about the gender recognition act in the UK that the government has promised to reform, again and again, but keeps delaying; about non-binary gender markers on driving licenses; and people crowdfunding for their top surgery or buying hormone treatment on the internet because the wait for the gender clinic is just too long to bear.
Mostly, the separation between myself as a journalist covering these issues and myself as someone directly affected by them is a boundary that, while fluid and permeable, I manage to maintain to some degree.
But it’s when trans children are pulled into the mainstream media’s transphobic narrative that I think about the number of days it has been since I went to my doctor and asked to be referred to a gender clinic.
I’m 29, and I can tell you without a single drop of doubt that I would be happier today had I been able to explore my gender identity, with the support of qualified professionals, as a teenager – when the rest of society, cisgender society, explores theirs.
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That opportunity is lost for me now, but it is not too late for trans kids. But instead of supporting them – instead of campaigning for more gender clinics (there is only one gender clinic for under 18’s in the entire country) and better support for them – the UK media uses faux concern for trans kids to tell trans people like me, who’ve been where they are, that we are the “powerful trans lobby” seeking to do them harm. It paints the few organisations that exist to support these children and their parents as “child mutilators”, and says offering them counselling and peer support is “child abuse”.
Most of the time, when I write about these stories – stories that come out predominantly in two or three UK papers, written by a handful of journalists, none of whom are trans – I can remain, if not dispassionate, then at least calm. Writing from a trans-inclusive, LGBT+ perspective on trans issues – the gift given to me by PinkNews – is useful, I tell myself. Every time a transphobic journalist writes a column attacking trans people in a major newspaper, I can write a piece discrediting it, if I choose.
Sometimes, though, when the onslaught of outright transphobia in the UK – not directed at me, necessarily, but directed at whichever trans person or organisation is the villain in the right-wing press that week – feels particularly intense, I catch myself thinking about how many days it’s been since I was referred to the gender clinic.
I catch myself with my toes too close to the edge of the Tube platform with a train approaching, and I think about the awful statistics about how many trans people try to kill themselves, and I take a step back.
And I keep taking antidepressants, and going to therapy, and I keep waiting.
If I wasn’t a journalist, I might not know that it will be at least another 19 months until I go to the gender clinic for the first time, but I do. And every time I see a “gender-critical feminist” talk about the “powerful” trans lobby, I think about this. If we’re so powerful, how come it takes years, literally, to get to a doctor? How come the press can openly call us predators and child molesters and freaks? How come trans children can’t always get the help that they need in time?
Were there a powerful trans lobby, the first thing I would want it to do would be to put Piers Morgan on a planet very far away. And then, I’d like for trans children to be unreservedly loved and affirmed. And I’d like everyone waiting for an appointment at a gender clinic to get one, so that no trans person reaches the point where life becomes unbearable. We’ve waited long enough.