WPATH 2016 poster: “A time of anticipation”

Here’s the poster I presented at this year’s WPATH Symposium:

Anticipation poster.png

You can also download a PDF version here.

The magnet is a metaphor for anticipation, which is both a product of and shapes feelings, emotions and experiences of time. This process is mediated by both trans community discourses and medical systems.

It’s very important to note that the majority of research participants had good things to say about the health professionals who helped with their transition. However, there is also a high prevelance of transphobia and cisgenderism within medical systems and clinical pathways. Anxiety and mistrust of practitioners within the trans patient population is endemic, and this is compounded by long waiting times.

My wider research looks critically at how discourses of trans health are differently understood within and between community/support spaces, activist groups and the professional sphere; however, the purpose of this particular poster was communicate some of the difficult experiences that current patients have with waiting. It sparked some productive conversations and I hope that further work will follow from this.

Sources:

Transitional Demands (Jess Bradley and Francis Myerscough)

Experiences of people from , and working with, transgender communities within the NHS – summary of findings, 2013/14 (NHS England)

Current Waiting Times & Patient Population for Gender Identity Services in the UK (UK Trans Info)

 

Some tips on opposing Kenneth Zucker’s new article on trans children

This morning it came to my attention that notorious child psychologist Kenneth Zucker has co-written a chapter on trans issues for the new (6th) edition of Rutter’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The chapter, entitled “Gender dysphoria and paraphilic sexual disorders” effectively draws upon flawed and outdated research to promote reparative therapy for trans children. You can read most of it via Google Books here.

Cover of Rutter's Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Abusing children – for science!

This is a big deal because Zucker draws upon harmful theories (including Ray Blanchard’s deeply reductive typology of transsexualism) to promote the idea that issues faced by gender variant children are due to a problem with the child, rather than societal gender norms. He therefore promotes a form of treatment that (to quote his new article) encourages parents to “set limits with regard to cross-gender behaviour, and encourage same-sex peer relations and gender-typical activities” in an attempt to cure them of difference. This is the kind of treatment that leads children to internalise the idea that non-normative gendered expression is shameful or wrong.

Rutter’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, meanwhile, is a widely-used textbook and can be found in university libraries and on reading lists in many countries.

I’m not sure what the best way is to stop this article from influencing practice. However, some ideas could include:

  • Write to professional organisations and ask them to explicitly oppose reparative therapy for trans youth
  • Write to University libraries and courses, asking them to consider sticking with the 5th edition of Rutter’s
  • Write to University departments and ask them to teach critical texts alongside the 6th edition of Rutter’s, and/or avoid putting the new edition on reading lists
  • Borrow the book from a local library if it becomes available, and write critical comments in the margins
  • Write to the book’s editors and/or publisher and question why Zucker has been given a platform for his outdated ideas
  • Comment on this post and/or join this new Facebook page to discuss possible ways forward.

The new edition isn’t yet widely available in libraries, so now is a good time to act.

If you’re writing letters or raising awareness of this as an issue, here is some useful information on opposing the article:

  • Zucker’s approach to treatment can seriously harm children
  • Zucker’s Gender Identity Service at the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health was recently suspended pending investigation in the wake of a large number of complaints – his approach to treatment is now also arguably illegal in the province of Ontario
  • Zucker’s new article represents poor academic practice. He cites himself 17 times, relies upon papers at least 20 years out-of-date to make many of his arguments, and also draws strong inferences from statistically insignificant quantitative findings
  • Zucker’s considerable academic position is based in part upon a small “invisible college” of academics who regularly peer-review and cite one another, thereby gaining many publications with a high profile whilst avoiding external criticism
  • There is a considerable evidence-based case to be made against Blanchard’s work. See for instance “The Case Against Autogynephilia“, a peer reviewed article by Julia Serano.

Thanks and respect to Peter Le C for raising awareness of this issue, and to oatc for suggested edits.

Putting the “T” into Stonewall? An important opportunity

LGB rights charity Stonewall has a difficult history of engagement with trans issues. For 25 years the charity has been a powerful voice in the struggle for LGB equality, but ‘trans’ is not included in its remit within England and Wales. Stonewall has been criticised on one hand for this omission at a time when a majority of ‘LGB’ organisations have become ‘LGBT’, and accused on the other of undue interference in trans matters.

After years of misunderstandings and disagreement, Stonewall announced in June that it would be addressing these problems:

“At Stonewall we’re determined to do more to support trans communities (including those who identify as LGB) to help eradicate prejudice and achieve equality. There are lots of different views about the role Stonewall should play in achieving that. We’re holding roundtable meetings and having lots of conversations. Throughout this process we will be guided by trans people.”

I have been invited to a closed meeting that will take place as part of this process at the end of August.

I really welcome the proposal from Stonewall. In this post I’m going to explore why this dialogue is important, outline some of the proposed approaches to working with Stonewall (or not), and outline my priorities in discussing this issue with both Stonewall and other trans activists.

I also encourage readers to leave their own thoughts and feedback in the comments.


The current situation for trans people in England and Wales

I don’t feel it is an exaggeration to describe the current social and political climate as an emergency. Whilst it is true that trans people in the UK currently benefit from unprecedented civil rights, and there is talk of a “transgender tipping point” in terms of public discourse in the English-speaking world, many trans people still face very serious challenges in everyday life.

For instance, trans people are still likely to face discrimination, harassment and abuse in accessing medical services, as demonstrated in horrific detail by #transdocfail. Trans people are particularly likely to suffer from mental health problems, and this is often made worse by members of the medical profession.

For many years now there has been an exponential rise in the number of trans people accessing transition-related services; with cuts and freezes to healthcare spending from 2010, this has meant that many individuals now have to wait years for an initial appointment at at gender clinic. This problem has been compounded for trans women seeking genital surgery by the additional backlogs accompanying the recent resignation of surgeon James Bellringer.

Meanwhile, the impact of the Coalition government’s austerity agenda is being felt particularly keenly by less privileged trans people. With many continuing to face aforementioned mental health problem and discrimination from employers, benefit cuts and the increasing precariousness of employment and public demonisation of the unemployed are hitting hard amongst my contacts (some discussion of this in a wider LGBT context can be found here). Cuts to public services are also felt strongly by groups such as the disproportionate number of trans people who face domestic abuse.

Then there’s what we don’t know. For instance, research in the United States shows that young trans people are particularly likely to be homeless, and that trans women are considerably more liable to contract HIV than the general population. Both anecdotal evidence and extrapolation from international statistics and small local studies pointing to similar problems existing in the UK, but this is not enough evidence to properly address these serious issues.


Activism

I believe that trans people need a campaigning organisation that is up to the task of tackling the above problems. A campaigning organisation with the funding, resources and knowledge to lobby government, conduct research and push for social change.

Currently we rely on the energies of unpaid activists and ad-hoc organisations that are lucky to attract any kind of funding. The importance and achievements of organisations such as Press For Change and Trans Media Watch should not be underestimated, but this is not enough. Whilst Stonewall attracts millions of pounds in funding and wields an impressive range of resources, trans groups staffed largely by enthusiastic volunteers are lucky to land a few hundred pounds in donations, or a temporary project grant. You can probably count the number of trans activists employed to push for change in this country on your fingers.

Under such circumstances, stress and burnout are common amongst trans activists, even expected. Personality clashes are capable of sinking an organisation. The individuals most able to work long hours for free are typically the most privileged, meaning that there is poor representation in terms of race, disability and class.

We have to do better. We need to do better.


Solution 1: a new trans organisation

There will be those who wish to pursue the creation of a new trans organisation entirely separate from Stonewall. From this perspective, a dialogue with Stonewall offers the opportunity to discuss instances where the charity might have overstepped the mark in speaking out in relation to trans issues without this being within their remit. Beyond that, there will probably be a desire to ‘go it alone’.

For some, this will be because of Stonewall’s non-democratic structure (it is not intended to be a membership organisation), corporate links, and past disappointments such as the organisation’s initial refusal to campaign for same-sex marriage.

For others, this will be because of the view that the ‘T’ should remain independent of ‘LGB’. This position can be based upon the argument that the interests and needs of trans people differ to those of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, and/or a recognition that the trans liberation project is significantly less advanced than the LGB equivalent. From this also comes the idea that cis gay activists might not be able to properly campaign on trans issues.

There have been numerous attempts to create such an organisation over the last decade (one of which I was involved in, through Gender Spectrum UK) but none have been successful. I propose that one of the most serious barriers here is that of funding: there is so much work to be done and so many problems that individual activists are likely to face in their personal lives, that it has been extremely difficult for unpaid activists to put in the work necessary to launch such a body.

 

Solution 2: adding the ‘T’ to Stonewall

It has long been suggested that Stonewall should follow other LGBT organisations in becoming trans-inclusive. The arguments frequently centre upon an appeal to history, and the similarities of LGBT experiences.

The Pride movement emerged out of alliances forged between sexual minorities and gender variant people; this happened in part because homophobic and transphobic attitudes tend to stem from the same bigotry. Trans people have always been present in the struggle for gay and bisexual rights. Pretty much all LGBT people can talk about ‘coming out’, usually to family as well as friends, peers and/or colleagues. LGBT people often have to tackle internalised shame at some point in their lives, an inevitable outcome of growing up in a homophobic/transphobic world.

Moreover, with a great deal of organisations turning to Stonewall for LGBT equality advice and training, it has been argued that it only makes sense to explicitly incorporate trans issues, lest trans people get left behind. For instance, Stonewall does a lot of work on homophobic bullying in schools – surely it would make sense to also address transphobic bullying, particularly as the two tend to have a similar root cause?


Solution 3: a hybrid organisation

An idea I’ve heard bounced around a little ahead of August’s meeting is a kind of compromise between the two above positions. A trans charity that is linked to Stonewall in terms of sharing resources, information and funding, but remains semi-autonomous with its own leadership and trustees.

This is currently my favoured option. I feel that trans people would benefit greatly from effectively sharing some of Stonewall’s power. We’d certainly benefit from working more consistently together, instead of occasionally against one another. But we have different needs, different priorities. We might want to run our own organisation in a different way, and make somewhat different political decisions.


My priorities
in the dialogue with Stonewall

1) Representation

I was actually a little bit uncomfortable to be invited to the meeting in August. Sure, I’ve been involved in plenty of both high-profile, national campaigns, as well bits of activism in my local area and place of work. Plus, a lot of people read this blog. But ultimately, I received an invitation because I have the right connections. So many didn’t get that chance. I also strongly suspect that the majority of people present at the meeting will be white and middle-class, and that there will not be many genderqueer people present (I’m less sure about disability, because there are a lot of disabled trans people).

I’m hoping that any future meetings will be more open. If it turns out that my suspicions are correct regarding the overrepresentation of privileged groups, I hope that we can take steps to ensure that any future meetings are more representative. It’s the only way we’re going to find a way to create consensus and work on the behalf of all trans people in the long term.

If you’re not going to be at the meeting, I strongly encourage you to respond to Stonewall’s survey so your voice is heard. Also, since I’ll be there in person, I’d really like to know what you think.

2) The creation of a new trans organisation

I’ve pretty much made the argument for this already. We need national representation that can genuinely address the many problems faced by trans people today. A democratically accountable body that reflects diversity of trans lives and experiences.

I hope this is something we can work towards by working with Stonewall. Yes, there will be political differences – certainly I have ideological objections to some of the approaches taken by Stonewall – but I feel the situation is too severe and the opportunity too important to reject an offer of help.

That isn’t to say that a new organisation should overrule the work of existing organisations. I would hope that any new body works alongside existing campaign groups such as Trans Media Watch, Gendered Intelligence and Action For Trans Health without seeking to duplicate their work.

3) Starting with the essentials

I believe that the initial basis for any new trans organisation – or trans campaigns within Stonewall – should be addressing the absolute, basic needs that are not currently being met for many trans people. Housing. Health. Employment. We should be looking out for the most vulnerable, as well as addressing universal needs. This is pretty much a moral duty.

 

What do you think? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!

 

Scottish protocol for Gender Services (largely) adopted in England

It appears that much of the widely-lauded NHS Scotland Gender Reassignment Protocol will be adopted in England from 1st June 2013.

This will be a temporary measure, taken as the result of “inconclusive feedback through the consultation exercise on specifications and policies” for the English Protocol. Last year, the draft English Protocol was criticised by many trans people for failing to live up to the progressive standard set by the Scottish Protocol. I wrote about this here.

This information comes from a letter written to stakeholders in the Gender Identity Services Clinical Reference Group.


What will this mean for English patients in the short term?

As the Scottish Transgender Alliance noted in July 2012, the Scottish Protocol “is not perfect but it is an important step forward for trans people in Scotland“. It incorporates a number of clauses that ensure relatively swift access to services (including hormone therapy and surgeries) for those already “in the system” and on the books of a Gender Identity Clinic (GIC).

Key features of the temporary Protocol for England would therefore include:

  • that psychotherapy/counselling, support and information should be made available to people seeking gender reassignment and their families where needed.
  • that two gender specialist assessments and 12-months experience living in accordance with desired gender role are needed for referral for NHS funded genital surgeries
  • only one gender specialist assessment is needed for referral for speech therapy, hormone treatment and FtM chest reconstruction surgery and that these can take place in an individualised patient-centred order either prior to starting the 12-month experience or concurrently to the 12-month experience.

(Bullet points from the Scottish Transgender Alliance. Emphasis mine.)

All of these provisions should (in theory!) entail a more rapid, efficient access to services for patients at many English GICs.


Exceptions

Unfortunately, several particularly progressive aspects of the Scottish Protocol will not be adopted in England. According to the letter sent out to stakeholders, these include:

  • Referral to Gender Identity Clinics (access)
  • Facial hair removal
  • Breast augmentation

Discussion on these areas” is being “deferred” because “it is recognised these need further discussion and also because England’s health service is structured differently and therefore a slightly different approach will be necessary

The first point (“referral to Gender Identity Clinics”) is somewhat ambiguous, but appears to mean that provisions made in Scotland for self-referral and referral by GP to GICs will not be implemented in England, at least in the short term. Most English GICs currently only accept referrals from mental health specialist such as psychiatrists, so this looks set to continue.

The letter further states that:

“[…] decisions relating to direct access, facial hair removal and breast augmentation being deferred by all NHS England Area Teams until after the June meeting when further work can be undertaken to reach the interim NHS England Policy and Specification for adoption. Where an individual has already had agreement for any of these procedures then these would go ahead, the deferment relates to decisions not yet made.”

This would appear to imply that no new referrals will be provided for facial hair removal and breast augmentation on the NHS in England, at least for the time being. In most parts of the country this is the norm, but in some areas this will effectively be a step backward.


What about young people?

A final significant aspect of the Scottish Protocol is that it provided for the provision of better services young trans people:

  • that young people aged 16 are entitled to be assessed and treated in the same manner as adults in terms of access to hormones and surgeries.
  • that children and young people under age 16 are entitled to child and adolescent specialist assessment and treatment as per the relevant section of the WPATH Standards of Care.

(Bullet points from the Scottish Transgender Alliance. Emphasis mine.)

It’s not clear whether or not this part of the Protocol will come into play in England, but I suspect that this counts as “access to Gender Identity Clinics”, meaning that nothing will change – in the short term at least.


Analysis

I would suggest that this development is, on the whole, a positive one for the majority of trans patients in England. It will hopefully ensure a number of improvements in access to treatment, particularly for individuals seeking hormone therapy and individuals on the transmasculine spectrum seeking chest surgery (including for individuals seeking chest surgery prior to hormone therapy, or chest surgery without any accompanying hormone therapy). It should encourage GICs to acknowledge trans diversity and provide treatment more adequately tailored to individual circumstance.

Moreover, the implementation of this Protocol means that some of the more regressive elements of the draft English Protocol (such as the requirement for GPs to undertake a “physical examination” ) will hopefully not see the light of day.

Of course, there will continue to be resistance from some of the more conservative GICs. However, the existence of the temporary protocol should empower patients who wish to make the case for better services from these bodies.

It is important to note once again that this is a temporary measure, and that the new English Protocol that is eventually implemented may not necessarily reflect the Scottish Protocol to such a great extent. A meeting will be held in June for members of the Clinical Reference Group to discuss what might happen next. We can only hope that the outcome will be a positive one for trans patients.

However, this move sets an important precedent. A set of relatively progressive new rules are being put in place, meaning that it should be harder for GICs to justify inadequate service provision. This is a new benchmark which health campaigners can use as a starting point for future campaigns.

Finally, the “inconclusive feedback” from “consultation” suggests that pressure from trans health advocates is actually having an effect, particularly as many GICs will no doubt have been pushing for a continuation of the status quo. Credit is due to all those individuals and organisations that responded to the consultation on the draft English protocol a year ago, and members of the Clinical Reference Group who are pushing for positive change.

Student medics push for trans on the curriculum

We seem to be quietly creeping towards a better situation for trans health.

There’s clearly a major problem. The Home Office’s informal e-surveys of trans experience indicated that the realm of “health” is a key concern for a great many of us, with almost half of respondents saying that they did not think their GP was doing a “good” or “excellent” job in addressing their health needs. Meanwhile the 2007 Engendered Penalties report (created by Press For Change for the Equalities Review) notes that 1 in 6 of respondents reported experiencing discrimination from medical professionals.

Issues of health access aren’t limited to those problems created by the referral and treatment process for medical transition. Many of us are still being treated inappropriately because we are trans, regardless of what treatment we’re seeking at any given time.

It’s heartening then to (finally!) see increasing willingness to do something on the part of medical professionals. Zoe O’ Connell describes the positive outcomes of a recent meeting between trans activists and the General Medical Council. And at the other end of the professional “scale”, last week saw the publication of an article in the Student Lancet calling for teaching on trans issues within the medical curriculum.

The Lancet article isn’t the intervention of one isolated student medic. Its author informs me that there is widespread anger (yes, anger!) about the lack of LGBT material on the curriculum amongst her peers at Warwick Medical School. They’re particularly unimpressed with how trans people are treated. The students in question feel they should be taught properly about all issues they might encounter as doctors, and are taking action to ensure this actually happens.

The staff-student liaison committee reps in my year have decided they want to push having teaching on LGB and especially T stuff added to the curriculum,” explains my informant. “I bashed out a quick petition over breakfast and floated it round my lecture theatre to collect signatures for them so they had a bit more clout – so they now have a petition signed by over half of my cohort telling them they should be teaching trans stuff.

Of course, this is just one small step towards the provision of appropriate health services for trans people. As the Student Lancet article concludes:

“I feel that this is a change which is urgently needed at an institutional level rather than at the level of individual medical schools. Only by taking a unilateral approach will we ever manage to change the perception of the NHS as a discriminatory institution. In order to effectively treat transgender individuals we need to prove to them that we are worthy of their trust.”