Life on Transphobia Island

It is fairly well known now that the UK has become one of the most transphobic countries in the world. We aren’t as bad as places like Russia or Hungary yet, but the situation is not good. Most of you will probably think that the bulk of the problem is lack of reform of the Gender Recognition Act, and the constant flow of anti-trans propaganda in the mainstream media. Some of you may be aware that there is now around a 5 year waiting list to get a first appointment at a UK gender clinic, and that in five years time that delay will be much longer. These are the things that hit the headlines, but they are not all that is going on. Behind the scenes, much worse is happening.

I’m writing this post today because today is the first time that I have resorted to ordering medication over the internet. I’m hoping that I won’t have to use it, and there are some helpful people within the NHS who are trying to get me a new hormone prescription. But without the cooperation of a GP local to me they will probably fail.

The GP services in the UK are currently organised through things called Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). There are lots of these around the country. While patients have a free choice of GPs within their local CCG, it is difficult to get care from anywhere else. A recent survey by Gender GP has discovered that 83% of CCGs in England do not have any policy in place regarding healthcare for trans people. That doesn’t necessarily mean no treatment. If you have a friendly GP whom you have know for years they will probably still prescribe. But increasingly GP services are run through large, multi-doctor surgeries where you never see the same doctor twice, and without an official trans healthcare policy from their CCG they will probably refuse treatment.

Note that I’m not asking for anything highly specialist here. The gender transition process is still handled by Gender Identity Clinics. But if, like me, you have had your gonads removed, you need an alternative source of hormones to stay healthy. In theory I should be getting a regular prescription of oestrogen. In practice GPs refuse to prescribe, even though they know I will get quite ill without it.

There are parts of the country that are not so bad. There’s that 17% of CCGs that do have a trans policy. Plus, if you happen to live in London, Manchester, Brighton or Liverpool there are specialist GP services you can go to. But for much of England there is a huge problem.

You might think that, in such a situation, someone in private practice would leap in to take advantage, but that doesn’t happen. I’ve tried three private GP services, including BUPA. All three said that they would not accept a trans person as a patient. Anyone who sets up in private practice specifically to help trans people is quickly hounded out of business by the medical authorities.

So healthcare is a problem, but a potentially far worse one is the removal of trans people’s civil rights through changes in police policy. The UK now has elected Police & Crime Commissioners (PCCs) for each local force. In England, inevitably, the majority of these are Conservatives. Recently there has been a coordinated push by these people to redefine the law as it applies to trans women. In a recent post on the right-wing website, Conservative Home, several PCCs stated their opposition to trans rights, and to the LGBT+ charity, Stonewall.

The reason for the complaints against Stonewall is that their training on the Equality Act correctly explains that trans women can only be excluded from “women-only” spaces if there is a good reason for doing so. This is in line with the official guidance regarding the Act produced by the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC). Earlier this year an anti-trans lobby group spent a large amount of money to bring a court case demanding a judicial review of the EHRC guidance. The claimed that, under the Act, trans women should always be excluded from women-only spaces. The judge described their argument as “absurd” and “wrong in law”. Nevertheless, the media continues to put forward this anti-trans position as if it is fact, and now several PCCs have done so too.

The most extreme example is Philip Wilkinson, the PCC for Wiltshire, which happens to be where I live. He stated that he does not believe that “biological men” should be allowed into women-only spaces. The term, “biological men” is a favourite of anti-trans campaigners. Its meaning varies quite a bit. Some people say it means people with a Y chromosome, others that it means people who do not have ovaries, and others also want to exclude anyone with above average levels of testosterone in their body. But all of them agree that the term absoutely excludes all trans women.

Currently in the UK the Gender Recognition Act allows trans people to change their legal gender. That should allow them to be treated as an ordinary person of that gender in almost all circumstances. Equally, the Equality Act says that it is illegal to discrimiate against a person on the grounds that they have undergone, are undergoing or plan to undergo gender reassignment. By saying that he will bar trans women from women-only spaces, Mr Wilkinson is saying that he wants the police under his command to ignore the Gender Recognition Act and Equality Act, and to act with prejudice against any trans women they encounter.

Of course this is illegal, but if there is one thing that the current government in the UK has shown it is that they have no respect for the law, and believe that they can break it with impunity whenever they wish. The same is apparently true of Conservative PCCs. And while a trans woman who is arrested for using a toilet, or trying to buy clothes, might eventually have her day in court and win, that won’t make up for the trauma of the experience.

It is probably no accident that Mr Wilkinson’s statement was quickly followed up by the launch of a campaign by Wiltshire Police to target “sex offenders”. How they are likley to be able to spot potential rapists before they commit any rapes is a bit of a mystery. But it is axiomatic amongst the anti-trans movement that they “can always tell” if someone is trans, and Mr Wilkinson clearly believes that all trans women are, by definition, sex offenders. It is pretty obvious who the Wiltshire police will be on the lookout for.

Sadly the “we can always tell” manta is nonsense. The vast majority of people who get harrassed in public toilets and other women-only spaces on suspicion of being trans are cisgender women. They might have short hair and a fairly masculine style of dress; they might be wearing a wig for some innocent reason; or their might have lost their breasts to cancer. Many trans women are quite safe in comparison, but it doesn’t feel that way when you know that you are being hunted by the police.

So yeah, life here on Transphobia Island is not much fun right now. My advice to young trans people is to get out if you possibly can. It will get worse before it gets better.

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