Helena Wadia: Mathilda, we’re about to do something very shocking.
Mathilda Mallinson: What…?
Helena Wadia: We’re about to hear about the issues facing transgender people from transgender people – and not from Piers Morgan.
Mathilda Mallinson: [laughs] Oh my god… [Sarcastically] No, I actually think we might get really criticised for that. It just feels like such a conspicuous omission, you know, that’s the voice people expect to hear on these issues!
Helena Wadia: Yeah, I know. Where’s the balance?! Look, we’re joking, right – partially – but for a long time, it has been the case that information about transgender and gender non-conforming people has come from people who don’t have lived experience. And subsequently, what we’ve been told is that it’s not only easy for people to transition, but it’s somehow a threat to cisgender people.
Mathilda Mallinson: And for those of you who may not have heard that term before, a cis person is someone whose gender identity is the same as the sex assigned to them at birth.
Helena Wadia: So Mathilda, as a cis person, if you wanted hormones, say birth control, what would you do?
Mathilda Mallinson: Well, I would go to the GP, get a prescription, and be popping pills within a couple days I guess?
Helena Wadia: Well, for trans people, that process is much harder, and that waiting can go on for much longer than we might think.
Mathilda Mallinson: How long are we talking?
Helena Wadia: Well, I’m off around the UK to speak to transgender people about these long waits, what’s been done to reduce those times, and what it’s really like to be stuck in a limbo.
Mathilda Mallinson: And I’ll see you back in the studio with some very special guests to discuss everything around this media storm.
[Compilation of news clips about transgender issues]
Mathilda Mallinson: Welcome to Media Storm, the news podcast that starts with the people who are normally asked last.
Helena Wadia: I’m Helena Wadia
Mathilda Mallinson: and I’m Mathilda Mallinson
Helena Wadia: This week’s investigation: Transgender health care: a waiting game.
Helena Wadia: The NHS. Designed to deliver free and punctual health care for all. But for many transgender or gender non-conforming people, that’s not the case. There have been stories of gender reassignment surgery being cancelled, discrimination from healthcare staff, but most of all – long, agonising, waits.
[Sound of train doors closing and train conductor]
Helena Wadia: I’m off to Liverpool to speak to Felix Mufti, a writer and actor, as he tells me his story of playing the waiting game. I sit down with Felix in Lovelocks, an independent and inclusive coffee shop, covered in plants, pictures and pride flags.
Felix Mufti: When I was about 13, I discovered the word trans and realised there was a word for what I’d been feeling my whole entire life. And I came out, got an appointment with my GP and they referred me to the Tavistock gender clinic for young people. So, my referral went through when I was 14, I got my first appointment three and a half years later, when I was nearly 18. I went to the Tavistock clinic, and they told me I was too old for their services. So they referred me to the Leeds clinic, which is the closest gender clinic to Liverpool, which is two and a half hours away on the train. And then I got my first appointment last year, and I’m 20 now. So I got referred when I was 14, and got my first appointment when I was 19.
Helena Wadia: NHS England’s Gender Identity Development Service, or GIDS, is the only gender identity clinic for people under 18. In the UK, the GIDS website at the time of recording states: “We are currently seeing young people for their first appointment in GIDS who were referred in 2018”. That’s three years ago. There are seven adult gender identity clinics in England. Currently, the London waiting times, which are updated monthly on their website states: “We are offering first appointments to people who were referred in November 2017.” That’s over four years ago. It’s easy to hear this and not really think about what it’s actually like stuck in a limbo, waiting for gender affirming health care.
Felix Mufti: I had so much of my teenage years that were taken away from me for no other reason than how funded the services are. And that’s years that I’ll never get back. You know, people say, ‘Oh, puberty blockers, oh puberty blockers’ and they make this huge, horrible deal about them but puberty blockers are actually reversible treatment. But the damage that was done to my body and me mentally isn’t reversible, you know, I have to live with that forever, I have to live with the memories of growing up like that. And the memories of dysphoria I had all the time, forever. There was really times where I really struggled with my mental health, like, you know, I had really bad depressive episodes where like, I didn’t leave my house, didn’t go to school, I would live vicariously through the Sims, and would just create my life on there as Felix. And you know, honestly, the things that I would do on there would just be like, go to work, make myself food, like really simple human tasks. That I didn’t feel able to do in real life because of the anxiety that I felt caused by dysphoria. I think as trans people, we wait for so long. We wait to love ourselves, we wait to feel accepted, we wait to feel safe. I don’t think it comes as that much surprise to trans people to have to wait to have medical intervention, which is sad, but it’s the reality. Because we get so used to it, we get conditioned to waiting.
Eva Echo: I am essentially in a binary system.
Helena Wadia: Eva Echo, who came out as a trans woman at the age of 37, also speaks to me about the long wait for freedom.
Eva Echo: Right from day one, I was told how I should be. And I’ve then spent the majority of my life pushing that down. And unfortunately, that resulted in a lot of mental health issues, such as suicide attempts, an eating disorder for most of my adult life, self-harm, depression. I was always told that if I stood out, I’ll be left out, I’d be bullied – I was bullied anyway, just for being the only East Asian kid in secondary school, basically. And unfortunately, when you come out, you have this moment of euphoria, you present yourself to the world. But for me, it was quickly dashed, because I realised the waiting times on the NHS were, were incredible. And it’s almost like, you work up to this moment where you can be yourself after so long after so many struggles, only to be told, great, yeah, but we’re struggling with numbers at the moment. So you’re gonna have to wait your turn. And given my age as well, I’m thinking, you know, the way things are going, I’ll probably be closer to 50 before I can really move on with my life. You know, at a time when I’m supposed to be happy, I’m supposed to be free, I’m not. I’ve just literally jumped out of one cage and been thrown into another.
[Sound of Zoom meeting starting]
Helena Wadia: Eva is being supported by the Good Law Project, who have formally started court proceedings against NHS England over what they call ‘unlawful delays in meeting the trans community’s healthcare needs’. The NHS constitution says patients should wait no longer than 18 weeks from GP referral to treatment. NHS England says the issue is not funding constraints, and that they have done everything possible. The Good Law Project does not accept their analysis and intends to put the matter before a judge to decide. Jo Maugham is a lawyer and the director of the Good Law Project.
Jo Maugham: It’s an illustration of a broader debate that’s happening in society between those who have a very political take, and people like Eva, whose lives are the subject of those political debates. I mean, it’s really, really striking to me, how many people who are not doctors, who are not trans, who are not parents of trans children, who have no real expertise in the issue at all, have very strong opinions about the proper way to help kids who are gender incongruent. And it comes, as I say, from this belief – that is a political position – that being trans is a sickness. And the solution to it is to encourage people not to be trans.
Helena Wadia: What has the response been from the NHS? And what do you expect the response to be?
Jo Maugham: The response hitherto has been to say ‘we’re doing everything we can to make things better, and we are complying with our legal obligations’. We don’t think that is legally sustainable. Indeed, I don’t even think that the NHS believes that it’s legally sustainable. I think the legal responses that we are getting, which are sometimes on some points, little more than nonsense, reflect an internal battle that is happening in the NHS, between those who are focused on patient care, and those who are transphobic.
Helena Wadia: I asked Jo and Eva what they think could be done in the immediate term to help trans people access the healthcare that they need.
Eva Echo: I think immediately I would look to give the GPs the power to prescribe.
Helena Wadia: Currently, GPs can only give out a bridging prescription, which is a temporary prescription of hormones given to a patient who is waiting for specialist treatment, usually at a gender identity clinic. But, the rules say that GPs should only consider issuing bridging prescriptions in cases where all the following criteria are met: 1) the patient is already self-prescribing from an unregulated source, such as the black market. 2) The bridging prescription is intended to mitigate a risk of self-harm or suicide, and 3) The GP has sought the advice of an experienced gender specialist and prescribes the lowest acceptable dose. In a world where the mainstream media tells us that hormones for transgender people are easy to access, it’s hard to find out the exact number of bridging prescriptions given out, especially due to the criteria that has to be met. One survey of 68 people found that 80% of GPs have refused to prescribe bridging hormones to trans patients while they wait for NHS specialist services. I asked the Royal College of GPs for data on this – but they didn’t have any. They did tell me that “new presentations of gender dysphoria in general practice are infrequent, and therefore initiating treatment sets outside of a generalist role”. However, they also said that they recommend transgender issues should be included on the GP curriculum, as currently… they’re not.
Eva Echo: The hormone therapy that we’re given is exactly the same as a woman who’s going through menopause. Yet, you know, a woman who has menopause does not need to see two independent specialists to get diagnosis in order to start treatment. So we need to remove that gatekeeping. And in doing so, you are freeing up the NHS gender clinics, in fact, you would only need a gender clinic for you know, gender confirmation surgery, or if you needed further treatment and if you needed a specialist, in order to then give you the recommendation and the go-ahead to have those treatments. But other than that, you know, your doctor monitors your blood levels, your hormone levels, can prescribe anyway, why not hand it to the GPs?
Jo Maugham: I broadly agree with Eva. The solution, it seems to me, is to empower GPs to make the decisions that they feel comfortable making. And there’s no reason to think that doctors will behave irresponsibly. If they do, they will be subject in the same way as every other irresponsible professional to oversight from their regulator. So you say to doctors, there will be easy cases and there will be difficult cases, and the easy cases, you can prescribe yourself, and the difficult cases, you should push up the chain. And that way, you release capacity for the most difficult cases to be dealt with, as in every other field of medicine, by the most expert people. The situation at the moment, where the lives and the bodies of transgender people have become a political battleground, is antithetical to what we understand when we use the word healthcare. It’s not about healthcare any longer. It’s about politics, and that’s very, very wrong.
Helena Wadia: So while trans and gender diverse people are stuck in the waiting game, where can they go?
[Sound of Zoom meeting starting]
Helena Wadia: Cleo Madeleine is from Gendered Intelligence, a charity that exists to increase understandings of gender diversity, and improve trans people’s quality of life. She told me about the services the charity provides.
Cleo Madeleine: During the pandemic, there’s been a rise in people seeking mental health support everywhere across the board, and we’ve certainly seen an increase in demand for our services during that time, particularly with our young people. We have youth groups in London and Leeds. We’ve also got an 18 to 30 peer support group in London. And since the start of the pandemic, we’ve been facilitating online youth spaces in safeguarded environments. More broadly speaking, we provide consulting, we provide education, we provide CPD training around gender. So these are for organisations for workplaces, and that’s really about improving awareness around trans people, promoting better understanding. Honestly, I think it’s just so important to have those spaces, you know. Would that we could wave a wand, and tomorrow, these really long waits for specialist services would go away. But we can’t. But what we can do is create spaces for young people just to be themselves, to figure out how they want to be addressed, how they feel with themselves, to be able to talk to trained professionals, who can support them at this really, really difficult moment in their lives. And even, you know, support it into being a good moment in their lives, to being something fulfilling. I think, because there is a mental health crisis, particularly among transgender and non binary people, and because there’s a lot of conversation about that, we almost fall into a trap of feeling like that is the only outcome. Like, you know, whether you get to have that conversation about your gender identity or not, it’s always going to suck. And I really, really want to stress that like, if you can find that supportive environment, then it’s not. It’s always going to be difficult, but it can also be rewarding. It can also be fortifying. You know, it can get better.
Helena Wadia: So if giving GPs the power to prescribe will reduce long wait lists, and will help alleviate the mental health crisis facing the trans community, what’s stopping it happen? Is it that there’s a direct link between the healthcare trans people receive, and how trans people are depicted in the media? That takes us back to the studio.
Mathilda Mallinson: Welcome back to the studio and to Media Storm, a podcast that puts people with lived experience at the centre of the conversation.
Helena Wadia: Today we are talking about transgender and gender nonconforming people and how they are depicted in the mainstream media. And with us are some very special guests…
Mathilda Mallinson: Our first guest is an award winning creative producer, the founder of Alphabet Radio, a presenter on Soho Radio, and broadcaster of The Laura Blake Show on Twitch. It’s Laura Blake! Hi, Laura!
Laura Blake: When you’re reading that I was like, Oh, this is impressive. Who’s this? Oh wait, it’s
Helena Wadia: Our second guest is a physicist, presenter and producer. They produce the award winning LGBTQ+ history podcast The Log Books, have presented on Virgin Radio Pride, BBC Radio One and much more. Plus they present the podcast from charity Mermaids, She Said They Said – it’s Shivani Dave!
Shivani Dave: Hello! I feel like I need somebody to read that out every time before I enter a room.
Helena Wadia: We’ve just heard Helena’s investigation into the barriers that transgender people face when accessing healthcare. We heard there the story of Felix Mufti who was 14 when referred for an initial gender care appointment, and 19 at his first appointment – is this surprising to you to hear?
Shivani Dave: Unfortunately, not surprising for me. I think, sadly, for a lot of people, five years is kind of an optimistic timeframe.
Laura Blake: Here’s the thing. I’m not shocked as somebody with the lived experience. I was referred a few years ago, I’m still waiting for my first NHS appointment, but with the context that the NHS is supposed to see anybody if they’ve been referred within 18 weeks – with that context, I’m absolutely shocked, livid and heartbroken for Felix and for everybody. And if we said, oh, some cancer patients are being seen after five years… It’s just devastating.
Shivani Dave: That would be, like, front page news. People would be outraged. They’d be up in arms. You know, people should be feeling that outrage I think about trans people accessing the health care that they need.
Mathilda Mallinson: It’s not even just that it’s not reported on, I think that the media almost gives the opposite impression. Okay, I’m someone – and I apologise for this – but my main exposure to this topic is the mainstream media. And the impression that I would almost have on my mind is that puberty blockers are being handed out like candy, kids being rushed through surgeries, they might lead to regret… You know, proportionality and reporting, how we choose which stories are told, is one of the the most covert ways bias infects our media. An article might look impartial because it presents two sides of the story, but the very existence or the prevalence of that article, that may be a distortion. Because I remember a viral story about one child who regretted transitioning, and it was discussed with panic on every morning show. But hearing these accounts, it doesn’t sound like there’s much space for uncertainty to survive the process.
Laura Blake: 1% of humans are transgender – that are reported. That’s 1%. 1% of those trans people ‘de-transition’. That is 0.01%. When you have any kind of surgery, you will be told ‘there is a risk to this’. These services for young people are life saving. If you look at the rates that young people and trans adults take their lives because they’re not in their right identities – it is absolutely life saving medical intervention. I went through the wrong puberty, I’m so unlucky to have had the word ‘transgender’ come into my vocabulary too late in life. I always knew that I was a feminine entity. I always wanted to be a girl, I wanted to be like my female friends, I always wanted to be one. But I never knew… I just thought I was weird. It was never in my vocabulary. There are children today that are so much more educated on this topic. And they can receive a puberty pauser. So they can make sure that they’re happy. I would’ve loved to pause my puberty so I knew which one I wanted to go through. My pronouns are she/her. And my voice does not relay this. And it’s heartbreaking.
Helena Wadia: I think it’s a really good time for us now to talk about the type of language that’s used in the media. Something that I’ve been thinking about, you know, while doing this episode, is the term “sex-based rights” that has really risen to prominence over the last few years. And the main basis for the people that use that term is science, right? They say ‘no matter what your gender identity, it is fact that you are born male or female’. But I guess what is, like, problematic about that is that, scientifically, intersex people exist, or people known to have differences of sex development exist. The fact that there are many different biological sexes is completely ignored. When “sex-based rights” are reported on it, it kind of makes me question what those people campaigning for “sex-based rights” are actually campaigning for? Are they actually campaigning for a world in which sex is still defined in binary terms, because there are very few legal systems that allow for any ambiguity in biological sex.
Shivani Dave: At the end of the day, like, it’s because we have this really binary system that people think the world operates in – like, you’re either a man or you’re a woman. For me, being non-binary, I’m neither of those things. And that’s the point. And what I find really interesting about feminists and feminism, who are transphobic – I find it tough to call them feminists in the first place – but what I find really interesting about these kinds of people is that so much of their predecessors in the feminist world have sort of said, you know, we’re so much more than our genitals! But now what’s happened in – I don’t know what this is like the 27th wave of feminism – it’s like, the sum total of a woman is defined by what’s between her legs, and it’s almost regressed in that way. If you pick apart some of that language, so much of it is just so deeply entrenched in patriarchal language that some people think they’re trying to shake off, but they’re actually just enforcing deeper and deeper.
Mathilda Mallinson: Which is why the word feminist and transphobe shouldn’t go in the same phrase.
Shivani Dave: Exactly. The whole idea of a trans exclusive radical feminist is kind of like an oxymoron.
Laura Blake: You mean exclusionary? I’d like a trans exclusive – right – that kind of T E R F, and I’m not saying the word because I’ve been told it’s a slur many times even though I don’t believe it is, I’d love that – We are the trans exclusive radical feminists! By the time this podcast goes out, I’m going to be selling that on a T-shirt. I’m writing that down in my notes. I’m going to make that T shirt.
Shivani Dave: Laura if you’re gonna do that, tag me, credit me…
Laura Blake: I’ll give you a percentage.
Shivani Dave: I’ll take it.
Laura Blake: What’s quite scary is – your question was like, what are they campaigning for with ‘sex-based rights’ – if I asked the three of you, “Women, you know women, right? They deserve to be safe when they go to the toilet”. I think you’d all say Yes, right?
Laura Blake: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. “Well, if you think women deserve to be safe when they go to the toilet, you’ve got to hate trans people because they want to do stuff to them in the loo” – no! I tell you what, I am petrified of going to the toilet. I’m petrified of being verbally abused. I just want to wee. I just want to wee. If somebody wants to do some kind of assault, they’re going to do it. I’ve never seen a toilet with a doorman before in my life – or door person we should say, it’s the 21st century Laura, get your act together – there’s not a security accredited official at the door checking IDs or toilets, there never will be! But only because we’ve not got enough staff because of Brexit.
Helena Wadia: Like in that, first of all, there are several studies that confirm there’s no link between trans-inclusive policies and bathrooms safety-
Laura Blake: Colour me shocked!
Helena Wadia: Yeah! But also there’s also been reports of cis women saying that they’ve been verbally abused in bathrooms because they don’t look ‘cis enough’ or you know, because they present in a more androgynous or masculine way…you know what’s happening here? Like, are you rolling back the rights of women?
Mathilda Mallinson: Also, something that I thought a lot about when this discussion started happening was, if a female toilet is my safe space, Laura, what are your safe spaces? How many safe spaces do you find in public areas?
Laura Blake: Literally none. My safe space is my car. I am very privileged to have a car in London, I can’t afford it. And every time I go see a friend, they’re like, why did you drive? And then five seconds alter they go, ‘ah’. Because when I walk in public, I’m six foot two. And I’m pretty cute. But I don’t massively pass in public. I’ll get verbal abuse, I’ll get couples nudging each other to have a look. I will get people like sat in restaurants or sat outside cafes over the road pointing because they don’t think that I can see them. Although I’m looking at everybody on the street because I know it’s coming. I have people shouting abuse from vans that drive past. The only safe space for me is when I walked the dog in the park, outside my flat. And even then I’m on edge.
Shivani Dave: It’s so horrible that that is the reality that you have and so many other people have that reality.
Helena Wadia: Just to kind of continue with the conversation about the language used. We hear sometimes that the language used to describe trans people or gender diverse people is similar language that was used about gay and lesbian people in the past, particularly gay men. I have a few examples. In December 1991, The Times ran a column with the headline “The sad fraud of gay equality”, in which the writer argued against equalising the age of consent, saying that men who are too shy to talk to women are vulnerable to being seduced by gay men, and then “will find themselves in a club from which there may be no return”. In a similar way in 1994, when the vote was in the Commons about equalising the age of consent, there was – as may sound familiar now – concerns about children. Lady Olga Maitland, then a Conservative MP, claimed that a 16 year old boy troubled by his growing sexuality could be vulnerable to pressure from “the gay lobby”. Does all of this sound familiar?
Mathilda Mallinson: So many of the media storms that we talk about on this show are like air raid sirens, about some perceived incoming, cultural, spiritual threat to the nation. The reality is, most people reading about these issues will never in any way be remotely affected by them. They’re very localised. But these headlines, get people emotionally invested in a way that’s kind of unnecessary, like for their own mental wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of the people actually affected. Not that long ago, many people saw gay marriage as a great spiritual threat to the nation. Now it’s normalised, most realise that its existence hasn’t actually changed anything for them. But it has changed whole lives for the people affected.
Laura Blake: To give fairness to the people that are questioning like the medicalisation of children… I think it’s fair to say the concerns for children who are queer, are slightly different to the concerns of children that are trans, because there are medical – sometimes irreversible – medical decisions. And that’s why puberty blockers aren’t blockers. They’re puberty pausers, they pause puberty, so that child can get therapy and can be talked to and be made sure that it’s the right decision for them. All trans people, all queer people and all cis het people all have concerns about children – I just don’t think they’re the same concerns. We want to safeguard them. We don’t want to delay them so long, that they have irreversible damage going through the wrong puberty when it can be paused.
Helena Wadia: There’s a lot of talk in the media about, you know, ‘children as young as X’ or, you know, ‘brainwashed’, ‘impressionable’, ‘irreversible’, ‘life-altering’. But I do just want to read what the writer and presenter Shon Fay wrote in her recent book, The Transgender Issue, about it, because I just think it sums it up: “It might seem that in the past decade, there has been a huge rise in children expressing issues with their birth assigned gender. This is a perilous misunderstanding of the reality. In fact, there aren’t greater numbers of children asserting trans identity than there were in times past. There are simply more children who feel able to talk about it openly and seek support and advocacy from their parents”.
Laura Blake: Hearing you read that out, I’m kind of almost at the point of crying like I was reading the book… I wish… I wish when I was younger, my parents knew more and society knew more. I wish I didn’t go through the wrong puberty and it’s heartbreaking to think that children do and I’m not talking like heartbreaking like you’re watching DIY SOS. I’m talking proper heartbreaking, that there are people that don’t think it’s worthwhile pausing a child’s puberty, if it gets to a point where they spoken to professional to say, you know what, let’s give you a bit more time. Let’s give you a bit more time to decide.
Shivani Dave: I think also, the thing that we’re all skirting around is, this is life saving treatment for some children. And what what you said about ‘children as young as’ – that’s a phrase that really riles me up, it really, really gets me going. Most people would say, “Yeah, children need to be kept safe and need access to education, and all sorts of things”. But for some reason, that education and all of the safety always seems to be in the cis-normativity space of safety and education, as opposed to what is right for them.
Laura Blake: It is a culture war, right? Trans people are 1% of the population. Most people that I know have never met a trans person. It’s the last taboo. And it’s so easy to make everybody scared of trans people. So that’s what’s happening.
Shivani Dave: When I came out as non-binary, for my family, it wasn’t so much of “ahhhh, you’re scary. This is terrifying”. They were completely on board with like, this is who you’ve always been, these are some new words that you want us to use, but a huge part of their concern and their worry – it was more my mum, just saying like that she was worried about me in the sense of like, how the world was going to perceive me, and the way that I was going to be a target for people. She was just scared for me,
Helena Wadia: I suppose what we want to ask then, is what can the media do to depict trans people in a fuller way?
Laura Blake: I mean, take a cue from this podcast – actually have trans people on?! In 2020, The Times wrote over 300 articles about trans people. Do you three want to guess how many of them were written by trans people? I’ll tell you, it was none of them. None of them were written by trans people. Not one.
Shivani Dave: It was the same for me in my previous employer, I pitched articles, videos, multimedia stuff, all sorts of things about trans people, non-binary people – I was actually told that I wasn’t allowed to report on the issue – because they obviously see trans people as one big issue – I was told that I wasn’t allowed to report on it from an editorial point of view, because I’m, you know, part of that community. And I was like, wow, would you have would you have…
Mathilda Mallinson: It’s like saying a black reporter can’t report on Black Lives Matter?
Shivani Dave: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Mathilda Mallinson: And there’s a fallacy in that the belief that to be detached from an issue makes you impartial. That detachment is privilege, that detachment is bias, to think that you are objective if you are not impacted by an issue that affects other communities, makes you privileged, it is just a complete illusion. And yeah, it’s so dominant within schools of journalism.
Laura Blake: It’s all about ‘oh, we have to be impartial’. No, it’s due impartiality, which means – that we’re not impartial about racism. We don’t have somebody going, “let’s have somebody from the KKK or let’s have a Nazi on to talk about the other side”. We don’t do that. Because it’s due impartiality. Shivani, it feels mad to me, it is absolutely mad to me that whoever your last employer was, and I don’t know who you’re talking about, but it’s mad to me that somebody would say that to you.
Shivani Dave: I don’t think I’m still quite over it. Like I’m still processing that. Yeah. It was like [mimes explosion] galaxy brain.
Helena Wadia: Time now to look at some of the articles that are making headlines in the news this week. What we want to look at now is this article from The Times. It’s titled “Conversion therapy ban will face tough opposition”. For context, conversion therapy refers to any form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress a person’s gender identity. It is discredited by the World Health Organisation and more than 60 health professional associations from over 20 countries. It’s referred to as torture by those who have been through it. Now, campaigners have been trying to get conversion therapy banned in the UK for a long time, and there is currently an open conversion therapy consultation by the UK government, which comes three years after pledging to ban conversion therapy. This week the consultation deadline has been delayed. Again. In the last week, there have been several stories in The Times, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail in particular, who claimed the ban is a ‘controversial gender law’, that it’s going to criminalise ‘parents’ and some religious leaders if it goes ahead as it is. Many of those papers have been calling for the ban to be delayed, which it now has. Did anyone have any thoughts on this article?
Laura Blake: I mean, the government delayed it. Were they too busy having cheese and wine? But in all seriousness, it just smacks of this government. It feels like ‘we’re gonna keep retrying this until we get the response we want with this’.
Mathilda Mallinson: This particular comment in The Times is arguing that you don’t need new legislation to ban conversion therapy. And one of the things that just instantly had my eyes rolling was the clear double standards afforded to a practice – an abusive practice – that is common in white Christian culture. One of the first points that this article makes is that the government has to juggle banning conversion therapy with preserving the fundamental human rights of freedom of religion and the right to a private and family life. This is a practice described as torture by those subjected to it right? Can you imagine talking about forced child marriage or the selling of young girls in the context of a private family, the right to a private family life, or the right to freedom of religion? We barely even afford hijabs and burkas that allowance. It’s such a double standard.
Laura Blake: Can I just say you said it’s described as torture by the people that have experienced it. It’s also described as torture by the UN.
Helena Wadia: Yeah, and the World Health Organisation.
Laura Blake: Yeah, it is torture, it is torture. There are multiple countries that consider it torture, and yet this country – “respect religion”. Well, I’m part of a religion that involves the government given me a million pounds every year. Can we respect that religion, please?!
Mathilda Mallinson: And I’d like to point out that the person writing this article, Roger Kiska, is a lawyer based in Slovakia who works for the hardline UK based lobbying group Christian Legal Centre. So not only does this comment in The Times fail to reflect the views of anyone who has ever experienced this practice, it reflects the views of groups who profit from it.
Shivani Dave: It’s the kind of thing that nobody really like, bats an eyelid about. People, I think, particularly in the media and in the press, seem to think that it’s a thing that happens, but nobody actually has to actually undergo it. For a lot of people, though, in the UK, regardless of race, regardless of religion, conversion therapy is something that happens. And yes, it can be torture. But it can also happen in very small, very under the radar ways – ignoring that person’s identity, arranging for them to have introductions for marriage or dating and whatever, with somebody of the sex that they are not attracted to – those things can mount up and they can put pressure on on an individual. And it leads into a culture of homophobia and transphobia that we have in our society.
Helena Wadia: The main issues in the coverage of conversion therapy this week have been that a lot of the articles are conflating gender transition services and gender transition health care with conversion therapy. They’re kind of saying, “yeah, conversion therapy for gay people is bad, but it may be good for trans people”.
Shivani Dave: Yes!
Helena Wadia: When you think about that in the most basic terms, it’s actually shocking.
Shivani Dave: When I think they announced the consultation, there were a lot of people who were like, ‘Oh, this is great, it means that charities like Mermaids and Stonewall are gonna be breaking the law because they’re trying to convert people to change their genders’
Laura Blake: And people said that seriously. There’s not any education about it. So somebody says to me, ‘Oh, this is really bad because of x, y & z’, I’m gonna go ‘Okay, is it? Oh, right. Oh, okay.’ And even if that’s the first thing I hear, even if I look into it, even if I do the research, and I decide it’s not, my muscle memory is gonna remember the first thing that I was told, and my muscle memory is gonna always go to that point and then correct itself.
Helena Wadia: There is a statistic quoted in this article from The Times that says, “NHS statistics indicate that if left alone 80% of gender dysphoric children reconcile with their birth sex by the time they pass through puberty.” Now Media Storm have searched for the NHS statistic quoted here and could not find it. We have reached out to The Times to ask them to cite where they got the statistic from. And, at the time of recording, they have not yet responded. We will keep you updated on our social media channels if and when they do respond.
Shivani Dave: Within that statistic, there are people who are trans who have been unable to transition. May that be because of financial reasons or being unable to access health care, whatever the reason is, there are trans people who can’t transition. And I think a huge thing that that statistic, if it does exist, needs to consider is how many of those people live beyond the point of which they realise that they are unable to transition? And also, how many of those people in later life still do wish they could transition? Like, how much is that just rooted in the fact that people kind of say, “well, like it or lump it, this is what I’ve got. And I’ve just got to deal with it’. Because there are so many people who don’t have access to the kinds of financial support that they would need, like Felix talks about needing to get a really expensive train to be able to go to the clinic. And there’s so many barriers as to why people can’t transition. And some people might just say, “well, this is my lot” and try and live their life.
Laura Blake: And also, some people don’t want to because of society.
Shivani Dave: Exactly.
Laura Blake: I know so many trans people, masculine and feminine, who don’t want to come out because they’re scared of the hatred. I questioned if I should be my authentic self for years – not because I questioned who I was, my friends were calling me Laura for five years before I came out. The reason is because I just saw how rampant transphobia was, and it just gets worse. I feel like I was I was privileged in coming out and not having to deal with what happens today. But those people face even more crap from society and from the press specifically, that I wish editors, sub-editors, and writers that do this stuff are meeting trans people, are hearing from trans- even if they want to keep their bigotry going – that they at least listen to people. And they consider that actually they might be ruining a crap-ton of people’s lives. I feel like I lost years. And there are people that have been in the closet for over a decade that are ready to come out. They’re just scared, and it’s getting worse.
Laura Blake: How long have your episodes been? I will bet a cocktail for the next time I see you both – or the first time I see you both in real life – that this is over 45 minutes.
Mathilda Mallinson: I’m a pretty good editor!
Helena Wadia: Matilda is ruthless!
Shivani: If you cut us out, it’s transphobic!
Mathilda Mallinson: That’s a wrap. Now before we finish, we would just like to say to all of our listeners – Merry Christmas! This is our final episode before the festive break. But we will be back on Thursday 13th January with part two of the season.
Helena Wadia: We start by looking into the criminal justice system, before taking on the media storms around body image, homelessness, disabilities, sex, drugs and rock n roll… minus the rock n roll.