A Letter from a Transgender woman to British social liberals

Trans Rights March – Source: Getty Images

Dear Social Liberals,

Thank you to all of you who have been kind and accepting.  I thought you should know that a few of you are not.

There is a beleaguered minority in the UK that feels it is coming under increasing attack.  And the malign source is not just from bigots on the political Right but from those who describe themselves as socially liberal.

The transgender community is dependant on medical support and care.  For its mental health it needs access to hormonal drugs and often surgery.  This has been hard to obtain under the NHS, in large part because the financial resources have not been made available.  Faced with waiting years for treatment, in desperation many in the trans community have had to turn to the private sector for help.  But this past week one of the greatest providers of help, Gender GP, has reported that the online pharmacy it uses, Clear Chemist, is no longer making itself available to dispense the hormones that are prescribed by Gender GP.  This has sent a shock wave of fear through many transgender girls, boys, women and men.

Fortunately it appears that Clear Chemist, who had been coming under pressure from a powerful lobby who are against the treatment of teenage transgender people, has backed off a little and some sort of new agreement has been cobbled together. But the forces aligned against dispensing drugs to young trans people are part of a bigger picture.  The press, and not just the right-wing press, have relentlessly published articles focusing on people who have transitioned and have later changed their mind.  No matter that only a tiny proportion of people do change their mind after having taken puberty blockers and/or hormone treatment.  Most of those who wish to reverse the process do it because they can’t cope with the family and social pressures they have faced.  Steph, who is a student trans rights activist, says about Gender GP that “if ever there was a caring organisation that has been “stitched up” by the establishment, peers and opponents it is you” and she is referring to Dr Helen Webberley, who is the founder of Gender GP, that serves thousands of transgender people like myself.

Dr Webberley has been suspended by the General Medical Council for having, as they see it, set up an unlicensed and illegal online medical support that prescribes hormones to trans people.  Its primary offence was the allegation that it had given puberty blockers to children at their request (and at their parents’ request).  Gender GP has now quit its UK base and is owned by a company in Hong Kong.

Last week the Tavistock Centre, part of the NHS that provides a “Gender Identity Development Service”, found itself in court and faces the prospect of a Judicial Review.  The ruling has yet to be given. The claimants include former Tavistock patient, Keira Bell.  Ms Bell is quoted by the BBC as saying she should have been challenged more by medical staff over her decision to transition to a male as a teenager.  If she and the other claimant are successful at Judicial Review the impact on young transgender children could be calamitous.

If you are transgender, the arrival of puberty is a big threat to any hope of full gender transition.  I came out late in life and while I have been on HRT for a few years and have undergone several significant surgical procedures I cannot hope to “pass” as a woman.  This is because of my height, my pelvis, and my voice and other distinctively male features that develop in puberty.  I have had Gender Confirmation Surgery whilst in old age and even in my mature years I was required to be interviewed at length by a psychiatrist and psychologist in Harley Street.  For this reason and others I am very confident no child would ever be given puberty blockers without careful professional assessment.

The biggest threat to the transgender community presents itself in those who believe that treating trans children is morally wrong and fail to understand that being transgender isn’t just a life option.  It’s not a fad any more than coming out as gay is.

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In this country much of the opposition to treatment of trans children in particular and to the very existence of people like me comes from a very influential, if small, wing of the feminist movement.  They have a strong presence in the academic community, especially in Gender Studies departments, and amongst journalists in publications as august as The Guardian, The Times and The Economist.  They are capable of exerting undue influence.  Most damaging are their assertions that trans women threaten safety in “women’s spaces”.  They seem to imagine that “biological women” will be at risk of assault from people they see as men.

One powerful and prominent figure who has joined their ranks is J K Rowling.  Amongst her many utterings on Twitter, she has written about us saying “If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased.”  Six months later she came under fire for supporting a woman who lost her job after stating that people cannot change their biological sex.  Rowling’s influence led to a letter published online, but picked up by the national press, from 200 prominent writers, including Nick Cohen and Ian McEwan, defending her right to free speech and condemning the hate expressed by many in the trans community. 

Last year the surprising source of much of the anti-trans sentiment in the UK attracted the attention of the New York Times.  Dr Sophie Lewis wrote an opinion piece saying: “a surprisingly mainstream movement of feminists oppose transgender rights as a symptom of ‘female erasure’ ”.  She continued: “in the United States, my adoptive home, the most visible contemporary opponents of transgender rights are the right-wing evangelicals, who have little good to say about feminism.  In Britain, where I used to live, the situation is different.”

This radical leftist movement believe they have a right to debate about transgender people and trans rights and they see resistance to this as a challenge to their right of free speech and believe it is part of the insidious “cancel culture”.  Would they then argue that attacking homosexuality, anti-semitism or racism is justifiable on the grounds of free speech? I think not.  So why is it OK to go after a vulnerable minority group (who represent around 1% of the population)? 

The trans community has a record of dreadful mental health and extremely high suicide rates.  Stonewall, which campaign on behalf of the LGBTQ community, estimates that almost 50% of trans people have attempted suicide at least once in their lives.

We transgender people face a political and social pincer movement from both left and right.  At a time in history when populism has taken hold in many democratic countries it is deeply disturbing to be threatened by a section of the community we believe ought to be our friends and allies.

I thought you should know this.


Ed: Zoë Perry is a retired BBC broadcast journalist