Tories aren’t just stoking a trans culture war, they’re endangering my life

As soon as I saw the news that Health Secretary Steve Barclay is reportedly banning transgender women from female NHS wards, I was angry.

Angry because – despite being legally a woman courtesy of the Gender Recognition Act – I no longer feel safe as a transgender woman. I no longer feel included.

For anyone unaware, the Health Secretary told the Tory Party conference today: ‘We will change the NHS constitution following a consultation later this year to make sure we respect the privacy, dignity and safety of all patients, recognise the importance of different biological needs and protect the rights of women.’

He also pointed to an intervention on ‘unacceptable changes to the NHS website that erased women from conditions such as cervical cancer’, and stopping the NHS from making staff declare their pronouns.

How can Barclay, under the guise of tinkering with systems that have worked well for years, seem hell-bent on stoking up a dangerous culture war?

I came out as trans in my early 50s in the very last days of 2009, after reaching a breaking point. Before this, I had a sense that, at some fundamental level, I felt like an imposter. 

This feeling infected my work and personal relationships, made it hard for me to relate to work colleagues – especially male ones – and caused severe anxiety issues and panic attacks. By the time I joined the dots with the realisation of gender dysphoria, I was barely functioning.

In order to get my diagnosis though, my doctor insisted on a psychiatric evaluation.

Cut to me sitting in a small airless room being interrogated by three men while I was slowly climbing up the wall. They were all entirely professional, but – somewhere along the way – they must have mislaid the bit where I mentioned panic attacks when being forced to interact with men.

But then, this would seem to be par for the course in the NHS.

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For while there are oases of excellence when it comes to the treatment of trans people, there are also vast deserts in between where – already! – the hopes, fears and simple preferences of trans people are ridden over roughshod because we do not fit the two-gender model; because everyday health professionals ‘don’t get us’; and because some in the NHS (starting, I suspect, with the Health Secretary) would just much rather we did not exist.

So, while some may be surprised by today’s announcement, and some may even nod along sagely at its mildness, I fear it for what it is: a direct attack on trans people, and an attempt to turn us into second-class citizens when it comes to healthcare.

As a Director of TransActual – a UK-based trans-run CIC aiming to advocate, inform and empower trans people – I’m writing this piece in a personal capacity. But I’d like to bring in a statement from Chay Brown, our director of healthcare.

He said today: ‘This is an answer in search of a problem, likely concocted without input from any organisations representing those – trans people – most likely to be impacted by this diktat. Conservatives are seemingly again doing nothing to provide real protection for women, while making life for trans people significantly more dangerous. Meanwhile, they are doing nothing of any substance to rescue the NHS.’

That is it, in a nutshell.

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Except neither this riposte, nor Barclay’s rabble-rousing address goes to the heart of how it feels to be once again singled out for such cruelty.

Did I mention I was angry? Well, yes, that. But also scared; fearful for my future in a country that can contemplate this; and – having seen how vicious, how violent the anti-trans backlash has been in some parts of the world – wondering just where this one stops.

There is not one iota here of consideration for how it impacts on the (very) small number of trans women in hospital at any time. It ignores the fear and the very real danger faced by many trans women when forced to navigate male-dominated space in hospitals and in the wider community.

It ignores the fact that assaults on trans women, simply for being who they are, is a real and growing statistic, of which the Health Secretary cannot be unaware; or that many such assaults have taken place in spaces where we would hope to feel safe – including hospitals.

It ignores, too, the alienation it will cause. It pretty much bars us from being treated on the NHS because many would rather not be treated at all than be incarcerated on a ‘male ward’.

The most outrageous part of this is that there seems to be no evidence of harm caused by trans women on female-only wards. A series of FOIs on this issue – by trans organisation, TransLucent  – draws a blank in respect of reported incidents that would give rise to such a measure.

In fact, I read – and smiled – at a personal story told recently on a trans social forum, by a trans woman in hospital right now, who has made friends with women on her ward and found a place of mutual support and friendship.

As I get older, it is likely that at some point I will need hospital treatment.

When that happens – thanks to this floundering, incapable, blame-everyone-but-ourselves disgrace of a government – I fear being forced to choose between my health and my personal safety.

I suspect the Health Secretary is not listening. But if, perchance, Barclay’s eye should alight on this piece today, I ask him – beg him! – not to turn my life into grist for his obscene and ill-founded culture war.

Address the real issues – like some trans people having to wait over seven years nowadays for a simple first appointment to see a gender specialist (and everyone else having to wait ridiculous amounts of time as well!).

Have a little humanity and maybe – just maybe – talk to us before you go announcing policies that will make our lives so much worse.

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