Saturday, 12 January 2013

a failure to care

It's been quite a week for trans news. On 6th January, David Batty wrote in the Guardian about the GMC's investigation of Dr Richard Curtis, whose  Trans Health Clinic provides a private alternative to the sometimes problematic access to medical services for trans* people under the NHS. It is alleged that Dr Curtis made errors in prescribing hormones in some cases. As David Batty says,

The case seems likely to revive the furore over the treatment of gender dysphoria in the UK triggered by the GMC inquiry against Dr Russell Reid, a psychiatrist who provided private treatment for transsexualism. Reid was found guilty of serious professional misconduct in 2007 for breaking international guidance between 1988 and 2003.
 It's possible, of course. I do remember that case very well; I was a patient of Dr Reid's, back in 2002, and thought him a very good, understanding and professional man; I was alarmed to find that he was subjected to this treatment by the GMC, and was not alone in thinking that the case smacked of territorialism on the part of the three senior consultants at Charing Cross GIC, who brought the case.

As for reviving a furore, though, that seems to be more David Batty's intention than the GMC's. The juicy element  in both stories, from a sensationalist perspective, is the presence of someone who transitioned and then regretted it and blamed the medical practitioner who helped them. In the case of Dr Reid, it was Charles Kane / Sam Hashimi. In the present case, it is an unnamed patient who underwent a double mastectomy.

These are the stories the tabloids love, and apparently David Batty loves too. Part of the spin-off from the Reid case was the BBC Hecklers programme in which Julie Bindel argued that 'sex change is unneccessary mutilation'. Julie's opposition to transsexualism is ideologically-driven, and for several years she seemed to make it her mission to Stamp It Out. I recall the debate between Susan Stryker and Julie Bindel at Manchester Metropolitan University in December 2008, in which Julie again displayed what I concluded must be a wilful ignorance of the facts. I wrote at the time
The general gist of the event was that Bindel accepted that on all the points raised, she was less informed than other people present at the debate. And those better-informed people refuted all her points. Giving chapter and verse. Bindel continued to maintain that there is a substantial and presently-organising caucus of what she termed "survivors" of the "sex-change industry". This is news to me, but then, what would I know?

Yes, there are people who regret transitioning or surgical reassignment. There may be all sorts of reasons for that; gender transitioning is not a panacea; it may solve a fundamental problem for the person who does it, but it can create all sorts of other problems too- the result of prejudice on the part of other people, mostly, of course. Even so, I contend that the number of people who can say "No, I made a mistake, my true sex is congruent with that which I was assigned at birth" is extremely small.

Which does not stop the newspapers from trying to hunt them down. Sarah Brown put out some bait for them on Twitter, saying that she, a trans woman, had undergone surgery following a misdiagnosis. Five minutes later, the press were phoning her up wanting the story. Sadly for them, the surgery in question involved Sarah's hand. This was not deemed newsworthy, and off they slunk.

The next day, Sarah began the Twitter hashtag #TransDocFail, which quickly became a catalogue of instances of bad practice in healthcare:

 ...people being called “abominations” by their doctors, people bleeding to death being refused treatment by A&E departments, vast numbers of GPs telling people to pull themselves together, or “sacking” them as patients, sexual assault by unnecessary and repeated genital examinations, and so on.

This material should be the stuff for campaigning journalists, not stories of individual doctors who are criticised for giving people what they want.

Fortunately, times are changing. At the time of the Russell Reid inquiry, trans people were a group that was talked about by other people. Nowadays, we have got our own voices, thank you very much.