Trans Identities in the UK

25 Jul 2018

In our second blog post focusing on equality and diversity issues, Lee Thair-White, Chair of the Spectrum LGBTQ+ student society 2018/2019 - who is studying for a BA (Hons) in Creative and Professional Writing - talks about recent changes in the law around gender identity and his own personal journey through medical transition.

The LGBTQ+ community has been striving for freedom and equal rights for decades and this struggle has been documented by the media and social networks time and time again. Yet for some, it is only recently that we have felt the impact of the efforts put in by those that came before us. I'm referring to the changes in law and attitudes towards gender identities.

What is gender identity?

While the majority of the world's population identify as Cisgender, meaning that they identify with the gender they were assigned at birth (according to their biological sex), there are millions that do not.

The Trans community is made up of those that identify with a gender different from the one assigned at birth. For example, transgender individuals typically identify with the gender opposite to the one assigned at birth. They may seek medical help to align their body with their gender identity as a result of the gender incongruence or, as it is more commonly known, gender dysphoria that they experience. This can be described as the misalignment they feel between their body and the way they identify and express their gender.

There are both binary (male and female) and non-binary genders within the Trans community. Non-Binary can be used as a label by itself or can be used as an umbrella term, describing people who do not identify with a binary gender. Such identities include Genderfluid, Genderqueer, Agender, Androgyne and many more.

Recent changes

In June 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially removed gender incongruence from mental disorders in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and placed it into sexual health conditions. According to the WHO website, the reasoning behind this decision is that: "while evidence is now clear that it is not a mental disorder, and indeed classifying it in this can cause enormous stigma for people who are transgender, there remain significant health care needs that can best be met if the condition is coded under the ICD."

This is a monumental success for trans people, yet this news did not gain the viral traction that it should have. As a trans person, I was overjoyed to hear that my identity was finally being recognised as 'normal', but it took days for me to hear the news and I was confused as to why more people weren't celebrating. Only a handful of people across Twitter and Facebook were talking about this.

The sad truth is that the Trans community faces a lot of opposition from people that believe trans identities are not valid. For us, it is not just a matter of having our identities accepted by others - a lot of us require access to certain types of health care that some people would argue we have no right to.

For example, I am undergoing Hormone Replacement Therapy through the NHS which involves monthly injections of testosterone that will slowly masculinise my body. I have already encountered people online that feel people like myself should not have access to this kind of healthcare through the NHS. They believe it is unfair that NHS money is spent on us.

Why trans people need the NHS

Instead of giving facts and statistics here, I'm going to take you on a journey through my own medical transition in the hope that I can truly explain why it is that trans people need access to this healthcare.

My first visit to the Tavistock Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) was when I was seventeen years old. At my very first appointment, I was met by two bubbly psychologists and they explained that these sessions would establish what I aimed to achieve within my transition and would explore how they could help me in this journey.

I remember sweating profusely, both from the sun beating down through the window and from the sheer level of nerves that had built up to this point. I was excited yet anxious; I had no idea that this first session really would be the start of my social transition. Over the months, the Tavistock GIC helped my family to communicate with each other and establish an understanding of my gender identity. I can't thank them enough for that - they brought us together as a family.

After being placed on a waiting list for a year, I was then transferred to the adult services at the Charing Cross GIC. It was here that I began my medical transition. Within a few months, I had started Hormone Replacement Therapy and discussed with a clinician which medical procedures would be best for me.

Being stuck in a body that doesn't feel like your own can be uncomfortable at best and horrifying at worst, and coming from a low-income family, I wouldn't be able to afford the procedures that make life bearable if I didn't have access to the NHS.

How does the University of Winchester help trans people?

Firstly, I'm pleased to say that the University of Winchester was amazing during my enrolment and I felt both welcomed and understood by the University as a whole. With my Deed Poll (a free legal document that allows you to change your name) I was able to enrol using my preferred name and pronouns.

I am also pleased to announce that there are gender neutral toilets available across campus, as well as disabled toilets which are always available should you be unable to find a gender-neutral toilet.

That brings us to the social side of support at the University; the Student Union is home to a large range of societies where you can meet and interact with like-minded people.

The Spectrum society, of which I am Chair for the 2018/19 academic year, is the LGBTQ+ society that is open to all students from all walks of life. It is both a safe space and a place to meet and interact with other LGBTQ+ students and allies through the multitude of events that we hold all year round. We also work with the University and the staff network to ensure that LGBTQ+ students feel safe and welcomed at all times.

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