Once again the media circus has lost its way with understanding trans people, this time with a 16 year old trans girl from Hull who has prompted angry comments following revelations in the News of the World that she may become the youngest person to undergo gender reassignment in the world. In fact this is probably not true.
Ria has been referred to the Tavistock Clinic in London for assessment. Once it is determined that she definitely is transsexual she will be prescribed hormone treatments to suppress the male hormones and then cross gender hormones to feminise her body. At some time after two years of assessment she may then be referred for gender reassignment surgery by which time she will be 18.
The first I knew of the story was a phone call from Radio Humberside asking if I would like to comment on the Peter Levy show. Interestingly I had had a conversation with one of Ria’s school friends just last week when I discovered that she had been the subject of an article in Closer Magazine. I have been aware of Ria for a couple of years and colleagues from GenderShift have provided some support from time to time.
At the interview the first challenge was over how she was to be referred. Because the New of the World article had referred to her as ‘Bradley’ and used male pronouns throughout, Peter insisted on doing the same to avoid confusing everyone. I agreed because I was not sure how she wanted to present herself. Had I spotted the video on the News of the World Site earlier I would have known that this was wrong.
Ria clearly identifies as female in the video, uses a female name and pronouns and her mother refers to her as female. The newspapers should have respected that and used pronouns appropriate to her present gender expression. I don’t know if she has changed her name legally – but I suspect so.
Apart from this – two regular issues came up in both the Radio Humberside Interview and the Newspaper articles. The first was “How can someone of 16 know their own mind” and “How can it be justified for the NHS to pay £10,000 for this surgery when there are people who are really ill”.
Well Ria knew she was confused about her gender at age 5 – she told her mum at 12 and has received lots of support – she has been dealing with this issue and the resulting bullying and hostility for 10 years. She has learned to survive on some of the toughest sink estates in the country where the pressure to conform has been immense – yet despite that she is undeterred. I think she knows her own mind. Also she will undergo a minimum of 2 years of assessment and support to help her make sure that this is the right decision. The NHS are paranoid about making a mistake.
On the cost - gender reassignment is the internationally agreed best solution to gender dysphoria. The consequences of not providing this treatment are years of mental health counselling and the very high risk of suicide, self harm and other forms of abuse. This is a treatable condition originating during fetal development and we know what treatment works. Many of the serious illnesses being cited in the media are avoidable, like cancer caused by smoking or heart conditions caused by obesity. We have a health service for everyone and that means we should not discriminate just because a condition only applies to a small community of people.
The good thing is that we are seeing more and more trans children coming out and being supported by parents. What is needed now is better education in schools and for the media to get the pronoun thing – at the moment the tone of articles and their instance in using incorrect pronouns is encouraging transphobia.
At GenderShift we have recently been joined by a counsellor who will be enabling us to provide an extended range of services to support our workshops and drop in services, and start to provide a local first point of call for trans people and their families. I will blog about this later in the week.