History has many moments. Points in time where a minority decides it has finally had enough, turns and bites the hand that oppressed it. There’s Rosa Parks, refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery bus (1955). There’s gay youth finally turning on New York’s finest homophobes (1969) following a raid on the Stonewall Inn. (1969). There’s Indian women, taking to the streets to give voice to decades of anger in the wake of a brutal rape (2012).
Times, places, incidents, details: all may vary. What stays the same is a certain sense of ultimate outrage: the last straw, after which everything must change.
Listening to the trans community today, in the wake of reports that Dr Richard Curtis, the principal independent route to treatment for trans issues is being investigated by the General Medical Council (GMC), one cannot help but sense something in the air. Something, perhaps, with a whiff of Stonewall to it: because a lot of people are saying, very loudly, very clearly, that they have had enough.
The significance of the moment will, no doubt be lost on the rest of the world. After all, this is, on the surface, a technical matter: allegations have been made about the competence and ethics of a general practitioner. Complaints have been laid. The GMC must investigate, must report. Where’s the issue?
There are in fact three big issues here. The first is totemic, but nonetheless important. The trans community, as a whole, has issues with the NHS. What ought to be a collaborative process in which trans patient and medical consultant work together to find the best possible outcome for the former all too regularly turns into confrontation and gate-keeping. There is scarcely a trans man or woman who does not have their own tale to tell of disrespect, of humiliation: of treatment depending far too obviously on the ability of the patient to perform suitable obeisance to their physician.
There is little respect for the gender services: a great deal of informal knowledge exchange within the community designed with the sole purpose of fooling the foolish.
It seems likely that that will get worse with the shiny new commissioning process that the government seems determined to put in place.
Against which, the mere fact that Dr Curtis stands alone outside the system, providing a service for those who can afford his off-Harley St rates is a ray of hope. Let’s not have any illusions here. Dr Curtis is no saint. Nor is he necessarily the first to be invited to anyone’s coming-out party. But still he is there, providing an alternative model – that in many ways is much closer to internationally accepted standards than the standards practiced within the NHS.
To attack Curtis is to attack something the community holds very dear indeed.
Physician – heal thyself
Of course, it is possible that Dr C has done something he shouldn’t have. No doubt, in the fullness of time, the GMC will decide the truth of the matter. What galls, though – what sticks in the craw – is how little attention the GMC appears to pay to trans patients bringing complaints about non-trans GP’s.
I refer honourable readers to what went before:
“There is scarcely a trans man or woman who does not have their own tale to tell of disrespect, of humiliation”
Often, as the twitter feed #TransDocFail makes all too plain, at the hands of GP’s. So what does the GMC have to say about this matter? Er, not a lot.
The GMC website provides guidance to making a complaint about a Doctor in Arabic, Chinese and French. It also provides helpful guides for Lesbian, gay and bisexual folk wishing to complain. For the transgender community? Zilch.
Search their site for “transgender”: 36 references. Search for “transgender” combined with “good practice” or “causes for complaint” – and not a one.
In other words, while the GMC may claim that it is neutral in this matter, no more than innocent regulator, it is failing the transgender community on an industrial scale. The only slight ray of hope is an internal document, from June 2011, in which it notes that it really must make more of an effort to establish links to certain communities – including the transgender – where it currently does not have good relations.
Motes and beams
Meanwhile, there is the press. Their attitude to all this is best illustrated by a story from that doyenne of trans politics, Councillor Sarah Brown, who recently tweeted somewhat mischievously that she was regretting having had surgery.
Omigosh! The local press were on the phone in a trice, demanding all the gory details. Could she, could she possibly be the highest profile “regretter” yet? Well, maybe: if you count regrets over surgery on her hand.
When they learnt that, their interest instantly waned: disappeared, in fact.
Which just about sums it up. The press are not balanced. The stories of trans folk being abused by the medical professions are legion. They are not hard to find. Some are heart-wrenching. But are the press interested? No.
Even though these things are happening to hundreds – thousands, even – of trans individuals every week.
Yet lay before them a single regretter – or the merest whiff of trans impropriety – and they will be there.
It is sickening. Seriously, genuinely sickening. It is why, tonight, I wonder if something is not changing: the trans community is angry. Angrier than I have ever known it – and maybe this time, that anger will begin to translate into something else. The first stirrings of something better.