By Vicki Faith
I read yesterday — with much relief — that the Court of Appeal has overturned an earlier decision to ban prescription of puberty blockers to those under 16 years old who don’t have parental consent. I had been pretty wound up about this and was glad to see that the courts had the sense to say that clinicians can be trusted with young trans people. I often research on the situations for trans people around the world and typically it makes me feel that I am lucky to be living in the UK, especially when I see that difficult issues such as use of puberty blockers being a headline issue, rather than outright officially condoned persecution.
I decided to write a short note on my personal experience of trans life in the UK and hope that this might prove to be interesting or useful for trans readers or allies. I transitioned about 18 months ago and have had a positive experience with plenty of support from family, friends and work colleagues. I work in a senior managerial role in a male-dominated manufacturing business, have three grown kids and am single.
What’s it like for myself as a trans woman living day-to-day in the UK?
Nearly everyone I meet is fine with me being trans, so going to shops, getting served in restaurants, meeting new people are all fine and relatively trouble-free. Misgendering is still very common and I would say that I am misgendered around 10% of each time I get served and I was recently misgendered in a direct and mean-spirited manner by someone in a restaurant in front of my family.
I have been refused service on one occasion, with the reason being given that a member of staff was receiving dispensation from serving men, for religious reasons. One thing I have found in the UK is that although I have legal protection through the Equality Act of 2010, it is nigh on impossible to do anything about discrimination due to lack of legal support and very well organised defensive response from companies that have been caught out. I tried on only one occasion, the incident mentioned previously, and quickly gave up. Complaining officially is also, in my experience, a waste of time, as the companies I have contacted refuse to admit any liability and will never apologise or admit any wrongdoing. I would say having a particularly positive experience being served when out and about is approximately twice as common as negative experiences.
Is it dangerous for me being trans in the UK?
I always try to emphasize that positive experiences for me significantly outweigh the problems. However, life isn’t safe sometimes. I get stared at a lot, sometimes blatantly and it’s not advisable to challenge people in the street. I used to wear a wig and on two occasions someone tried to pull my wig off. Pushing, jostling, groping and verbal abuse are common, particularly on nights out when perhaps some people have had too much to drink. Being in the car is often a problem with people seeming to feel it’s okay to be abusive when it’s not face-to-face and pulling up at traffic lights is a real nuisance with people being threatening outside of the car and on one occasion having someone spitting on my car. Amongst trans people I know serious abuse is rare but does unfortunately happen including serious physical attacks in the street. Overall, I would say I feel safe but I am very careful, always putting safety first and never challenging anyone who confronts me. Surveys show that homelessness is very common for young trans people in the UK and is perhaps our biggest problem at the moment.
What is medical support like?
Treatment for trans people is fully available free of charge via the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. Support for young people is very difficult at the moment with a lot of controversy about hormone treatment and behavior of schools. As part of the NHS treatment for adults, it’s possible to access psychiatric sessions, hormone treatment and Genital Confirmation Surgery (GCS). Some other items are covered but only in a limited way such as hair removal and procedures such as facial feminization surgery and body contouring aren’t available.
The main issue with using the NHS is the very long waiting times. For an adult entering the system (Pathway) there should be an expectation to need something like 5-7 years to complete transition, maybe longer. I personally use nearly entirely private services, which are available but are still scarce and expensive. I am lucky I have a great NHS doctor locally but another common problem is that many family doctors just won’t have anything to do with trans people.
What’s the political situation regarding being trans in the UK?
Unfortunately it’s currently quite difficult with the incumbent government not having a great deal of interest in furthering trans rights. There has been a big push to improve rights but there has also been a big social push back to stop this happening and in some cases to reverse existing rights. The hot issues are access to single sex spaces and the right of an individual to self-identify.
In the UK you must go through a laborious procedure after two years of living as yourself to gain a Gender Recognition Certificate, and until you have done this you are not fully legally recognized in your chosen gender. Many public figures are supportive but unfortunately there are many prominent people who are currently saying that trans rights are in direct conflict with women’s rights and are pushing for exclusion of trans people from single sex spaces.
The government is refusing to budge, is appointing officials into key positions who oppose trans rights and is delaying or refusing to review and develop legislation on trans rights. I don’t feel confident personally of any improvement in the next few years and the situation is overall becoming very polarized and abusive. Furthermore, the government has said publicly that becoming “anti-woke” is important to them and will be a feature of their future thinking.
How does being trans in the UK compare to other countries?
I don’t have the necessary experience to answer this question fully but from some simple research it’s easy to see that life here is relatively very good. Generally high levels of acceptance, good support in the workplace from corporations, mostly safe with serious abuse rare, access to medical support via NHS for all and trans rights being on the agenda at least. I lived in the U.S. for four years and Germany for two years and have travelled the world for my job for many years. I loved many of those countries and the people there, but I do feel blessed living in the UK and as a trans person I feel strongly that I have it pretty good. The situation for young people is the biggest concern with no real solid plan of action in the UK to deal with the growing number of trans and questioning youngsters.
I hope you enjoyed this short note and have found it useful. Wherever you are I wish you all happiness and success, and if you are trans, I want you to know that you are not alone.
Vicki is a trans woman living her life and doing the best she can to make it rock. At 55 years old, she has three kids, is single and lives in Sheffield, UK. She’s the Managing Director of a manufacturing & engineering company, member of a corporate equality, diversity & inclusion committee, a wannabe eco-warrior and is on a vegan diet. In her spare time she enjoys cooking and dancing the night away.