Written by Pandora Hughes
Many of the public conversations about transgender people in the UK are conducted at the level of the theoretical or the abstract. Keeping the real lived experiences of trans people at arms length makes it easier for bigots to nurture their pet prejudices. It also leads to a disconnect between the reality of trans lives and the way that we are talked about in the public square.
Every lived experience is, of course, different, and anecdotal evidence can only take us so far when it comes to policy. Yet even a passing awareness of the reality of what it means to be trans in the UK can illustrate how irrelevant and out of touch the anti-trans arguments are.
So here's my story.
I'm Dora. I'm 47 years old and I'm a transgender woman.
A little under five years ago, I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. This diagnosis came after two long sessions of analysis with a psychiatrist. I had been referred to the psychiatrist by my GP. The psychiatrist in turn referred me to a Gender Identity Clinic (GIC).
In the UK, these clinics provide assessment, support and treatment for those suffering from gender dysphoria. They are staffed by dedicated, hard working health professionals; psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric nurses. They are chronically underfunded and overworked; the wait for my first appointment was two years. Five years on waiting times are over three years and rising.
After my first appointment, there were two more. Each was lengthy and led by a different psychiatrist or psychologist. After a year of assessment, we agreed on the best course of action. In my case, it was to commence HRT, and subsequently, to change my name; to ‘live as a woman’ as the clumsy phrase goes; to use women’s pronouns, women’s facilities; to declare myself a woman on all official documents, and ultimately, to have surgery to align my body with my ‘gender identity.’
"They don’t have a ‘one size fits all’ approach. For others, full transition is not a solution. For me, it is."
This will not be the case for everyone. One of the most absurd slurs against the GICs is that they are ‘rushing’ people onto hormones. The size of the waiting list alone would suggest that isn’t the case, but beyond that, all of the medical professionals who assessed me were clear that the aim was to find a solution that worked for me, that enabled me to live with my gender dysphoria. They don’t have a ‘one size fits all’ approach. For others, full transition is not a solution. For me, it is.
At every stage, caution was the theme. My oestrogen dose was started low and increased gradually, before a testosterone blocker was introduced. I came out, one at a time, to everyone I knew, changed my name by deed poll and, step by step, constructed a new life. The treatment worked and is working. My linked anxiety and depression have faded. I am calmer, happier. I feel life is worth living. I feel optimistic. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.
My experience, by the way, is fairly typical. Transition, after a period of counselling and assessment, has been shown time and again to be the best treatment for gender dysphoria. Is it perfect? No. Is it better than the only alternatives: denial or conversion therapy? Unquestionably.
A tiny minority of those who transition ultimately de-transition. This can be for a variety of reasons, but whatever the reason, those who de-transition should be fully supported. The good news is that, in the UK at least, they are. The same staff who helped me with my transition would continue to help me if I had found that transition wasn’t right for me.
So that is my reality. I am living my life. I am happy. I am supported and loved by my family and friends, for which I am extremely grateful.
You should note here, that I didn’t become a transgender woman because of a meme, a debate or because I signed up to an ideology. None of those things, therefore, are going to stop me being a trans woman.
My reaction to those who approach me online, with such arguments as ‘A man can’t be a woman’, 'I identify as an attack helicopter’, or ‘What about this other trans woman who did a bad thing?’ is to shrug. None of these things have the slightest impact on my gender dysphoria or my treatment.
Let’s say they win a ‘debate’ with me over whether I am a man or a woman and convincingly demonstrate that gender isn’t real. Well congratulations to them but when I wake up tomorrow morning, I will still have gender dysphoria. Call it something else if you like, but I will still have it, and the best treatment for me, according to the experts, will still be transition.
All that these ‘debates’ and arguments about ‘gender ideology’ (incidentally, a popular phrase among far right groups who think a woman’s place is in the home) achieve is making my life slightly more difficult. All people are doing when they bang on about "no male bodies in women’s spaces" is making it that little bit more likely that trans women, butch lesbians, non-binary women and indeed anyone who doesn’t conform to a gender stereotype, will feel more reluctant to use those spaces, more likely to stay home and will find being themselves in public harder. Is that a worthy aim?
"That goes for billionaire authors, former sitcom writers, millionaire comedians and Times journalists, as much as it does for the rest of the general public."
So called 'gender critics' may have doubts or questions about aspects of the assessment or treatment process. I ask they address those questions to experts. Seek reassurance from those who work in this field of expertise. Listen, learn and ask more questions. But at the same time, have the humility to admit that, unless you have qualifications or experience in this field, anything that may be blurted out on social media will likely not be adding to the conversation. That goes for billionaire authors, former sitcom writers, millionaire comedians and Times journalists, as much as it does for the rest of the general public.
So the lengthy 'poor me' newspaper columns, conspiracy theories, mockery and cruelty won't achieve anything constructive but will often be distressing or hurtful to those suffering from gender dysphoria. It is also likely to be extremely insulting to the NHS staff working in this area. And above all, it won’t make the slightest difference to the fact that I, and thousands of others like me, will still have gender dysphoria.
When it comes to trans men and women, it would appear the gloves are off. I can’t stop people being cruel, abusive, malicious or unkind. But I just want people to understand that none of it, not a single argument, article or opinion piece will make even an iota of difference to the fact that I have gender dysphoria, that the treatment in my case is transition and that I am a trans woman.