Thursday, 12 January 2017

Emily's story: For Newsnight and the BBC...

Below is a true story, only Emily's name has been changed.

A few years ago my life as a trans activist brought me into contact with the mother of a young trans woman aged 15; Emily. Like me, and many other trans people, Emily had known she was trans since she was very young and attempted to be out as a girl at school when she was 13. Bullied out of her education almost immediately and struggling with living in a body that was not hers she was desperate to have surgery but was told this was not available to her until she was 18.

It was a rollercoaster of a time for her family, she would disappear for days on end and be found off her head by the police; a dread phone call at night which always made them fear the worst. After a while her mother and I realised that, at her 18th birthday, rather than being able to access the surgery she so desperately needed straight away it only meant that she would only be able to book an appointment after her 18th birthday. With a 7 month waiting-list (at the time) for the main London gender clinic she was looking at being 20 or 21 before obtaining surgery. You didn't have to talk to her much to realise that she wasn't going to last that long.

We started to put pressure on the gender clinic and the NHS to allow her to make an appointment 7 months before her 18th; as Christine Burns remarked at the time, it wasn't as though her 18th birthday was going to come as a surprise. After a lot of hassle the clinic agreed to allow this to happen, and Emily got her first appointment about two months after she was 18, and surgery, eventually, six months short of her 20th birthday. In the days and weeks after her surgery she was a changed person; the wild, unstable teenager, out of her head at parties on drink, drugs and whatever else she could get her hands on had gone. The bottle of bubbly I brought to celebrate with her stayed unopened, she didn't need to drink any more. She had had to wait until 18 months into adulthood but had finally got her surgery.

In the last few months before her surgery Emily had been clinging on to life with the fingernails of one hand, you could feel it, her parents were beside themselves, it had really become a white-knuckle race against time. A cancellation threatened to take the surgery date past her 20th birthday, something we all felt would be impossible for her to deal with. But after it came there was relief all round, literally overnight Emily became Emily, a well-rounded, calm, happy young woman, when just a few hours earlier she had been stressed, confused and desperate. The transformation was such a delight to see that I cried with joy for her, it really felt that she was safely with us on this planet at last.

Today a rise in demand coupled with NHS cuts has meant that waiting lists are a great deal longer, and the arrangement whereby 17-year-olds could make appointments before their 18th birthday evaporated in the face of these pressures. So Newsnight and the BBC and assorted transphobes in the right-wing press and elsewhere trying to peddle the lie that primary school children get surgery, are not merely distributing misinformation but their misinformation is so far removed from the truth that even calling it a lie is to do a disservice to liars.

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