UK government promises new gender identity clinics – but they already exist
Amid the disappointment of the UK government’s decision to walk away from any reform of the Gender Recognition Act, the one bright spot seemed to be a promise to establish three new Gender Identity Clinics.
Trans people face huge waiting lists for healthcare and support from health professionals – the demand is far greater than the services available and the resources allocated.
There are currently only seven Gender Identity Clinics in England and Wales, so the announcement that three more would be established would be a big step forward.
Unfortunately, it’s not true. The announcement was referring to pilot schemes that are already in operation in London, Manchester, and Liverpool. Additional resources have not been allocated.
It’s estimated that there are currently over 10,000 Trans people on waiting lists for their first appointment at a Gender Identity Clinic. On top of that, what hasn’t been quantified is the number of Trans people who have not yet been added to a waiting list but will need the services of a Gender Identity Clinic.
Why are Gender Identity Clinics such a big deal?
NHS England data indicates that Trans people can expect to wait up to two-and-a-half years for an initial appointment at a Gender Identity Clinic. After their first appointment, they then have to wait for further appointments before treatment can begin.
In 2015, LJ Ferris-Stewart booked a doctor’s appointment to talk about their gender identity and dysphoria.
“I knew that I was seeking interventions. I didn’t know whether that would be surgery, hormones or something else…” explains LJ.
After speaking to their GP, they were referred to a gender identity clinic in Leeds. A few weeks later they received a letter informing them that the waiting list was around four years long. They were told they would get an appointment through closer to the time.
“I was so dismayed…” says LJ. “I couldn’t believe that after waiting so long to finally come out and seek support, I had at least four years to wait for an appointment. Thankfully, I had some people I could speak to who enlightened me and told me that I was able to request a referral to any gender identity clinic.”
LJ went back to their GP, who moved them to the waiting list for a different clinic. They got an appointment through relatively quickly. But three years on, they’re still waiting to be prescribed the testosterone they need.
“The wait is having huge implications…” confirms LJ. “I’m constantly misgendered. I’ve been followed into toilets and asked to leave on a number of occasions. I’ve been refused entry to changing rooms. I have been refused entry to my own banking. It becomes more and more difficult to stay positive when every day is a fight to be seen.”
For Sophie Rebecca, a dancer from Leeds, her wait for NHS treatment lasted over a decade.
In 2006, Sophie visited her GP to discuss her “intense body dysphoria.” She was becoming increasingly distressed by how ‘male’ her body was becoming. She was desperate to get an appointment at a Gender Identity Clinic.
“I was referred by my GP to an adult psychologist…” explains Sophie. “They were the only people who could refer you to the gender identity clinic itself. The advice I got from the psychologist was that the only thing they could help with was surgery. If I took that option at that point, I’d be neither male nor female. I’d likely lose my friends, family and job. After that I tried to get on with my life, suppressing my feelings.”
It wasn’t until 2014 that Sophie tried again to get an appointment at a gender identity clinic. After seeing videos about hormone therapy she knew this treatment could help her. She booked an appointment with her GP and had more success. She was referred to her local NHS clinic straight away. But Sophie’s joy was short-lived. She discovered she would be waiting around three years for her first appointment.
“By this time I was distraught at how masculine my face and body were becoming…” says Sophie. “I was in my 30s and I knew I couldn’t wait that long. Luckily I was in the position to be able to afford private treatment. I’m now much happier, more relaxed and doing great at work. I now have certainty. Though this isn’t an easy path I know I’m on the right one.”
“Trans people have often been struggling with being their authentic self for years, even decades, before they actually contact the GICs…” explains Fox Fisher. “Most people have tried very hard to live in denial about who they really are. Often this is their final attempt in trying to be happy. If they don’t get the access they need soon enough, it might be too late for them. For many trans people, it is literally a matter of life or death.”