Posted by Curt on 18 June, 2022 at 10:01 am. 3 comments already!


by Lucy Bannerman

Alex* was a girl who desperately wanted to be a boy. From the ages of 12 to 16, “he” embarked on four years of experimental treatment, in a desperate bid to transform from female to male. Now 18 and trying to catch up on a chemically delayed adolescence, he feels the Tavistock treated him like “a guinea pig”.


The gender clinic that sent him into the medical unknown has no record of the outcome of his case, he says. It does not know the impact of those experimental drugs on his body, or the repercussions of this supposedly pioneering treatment on his life, he claims, because no one ever asked.


How, he asks, could the NHS’s main gender identity clinic for young people claim its controversial approach was working if it wasn’t recording the results?


Alex describes the service for young people struggling with their gender identity as a “drugs train”. Destination: adult sex change.


He was one of the very few young people who jumped off, deciding after four unhappy years on puberty blockers not to make that final, irreversible leap to cross-sex hormones. The vast majority of children referred by the Tavistock for hormone blockers continued with their transition once they became eligible at 18, but how they are getting on remains unclear as the clinic did not collect the data – a fact that High Court judges in the Keira Bell case noted was “surprising given the young age of the patient group, the experimental nature of the treatment and the profound impact that it has”.


At 18, Alex’s understanding of what it means to be “transgender” is now completely different from what it was when he first begged the clinic for help as a vulnerable 12-year-old.


He was seven when his mother first took him to the GP for advice. His parents had gone through a difficult divorce and, in a traumatic incident, which he still finds difficult to talk about, he was sexually assaulted by a boy in primary school. He rejected anything “girlie” as negative, covered his long hair with hats, envied his male peers and even now, in conversation, apparently unconsciously, equates femininity with “weakness”. (None of this, he says, would ever be explored in detail at the Tavistock.)


When Alex was ten, the GP eventually referred him to the local child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), where they explored his anxiety and struggle to make friends. But the mention of identifying as a boy triggered a referral to the Tavistock. “We were told a million times, ‘They’re the experts on this.’ ”


Alex and his mother travelled to north London for the first consultation around 18 months later. “It wasn’t like CAMHS at all. They didn’t ‘discuss’. They kind of just accepted [from CAMHS] that you were trans” – as if the act of referral were confirmation of transgender identity itself.


“They said, ‘Oh yeah, you’re definitely trans.’ See you in a month.” At the end of the first session, before Alex had shared any personal history or discussed his feelings in depth, exploring for example, why he might not want to be a girl, he claims he was given forms for changing his name via deed poll. “It was like, ‘Have you done this yet?’ ” He was 12. “It was insane.”


“I think it was my fourth or fifth appointment, [when] they said there are drugs that will make you feel better. As a child I thought, yeah, miracle cure. What I really wanted was a ‘transgender guide to life’.”


As a gender non-conforming biological female who pictured, one day, possibly settling down with a wife, Alex really wanted to look like his male friends.


“I was tremendously anxious about looking like a girl. They said, ‘We think you’re the right age and you should try hormone blockers.’ They sell the drugs very early, very hard.


“I was a child. All I wanted was something to make me feel less horrified by my body,” Alex says, reflecting on the experience from the kitchen island of his family home in the west of England. “And I was listening to a doctor, so I went along with it,” his mother adds, shaking her head.


They went regularly to the endocrinology clinic at University College London Hospitals (UCLH). Alex liked the injections because enduring the large, painful needles made him feel brave and therefore manly.


He hoped that artificially halting the development of his female body would help him fit in more with the male peers whose lives he so envied.


Instead, what they did was keep him in a child’s body while his friends grew up. While the boys grew taller and hairier, Alex’s growth slowed and weight ballooned, with the weight going to the hips and breasts, accentuating exactly the female form he was trying to escape. The sudden weight gain also created angry, itchy stretch marks and a new anxiety about eating, which still remains. His little brother overtook him in height. “I felt even more depressed and isolated.” The hormone blockers also did exactly that – blocking hormones and keeping Alex in the asexual state of a child while his friends were having their first kisses and sexual relationships.


“The Tavistock was meant to be the godsent healing force to deal with all these issues. But uh uh,” he says. “No.”


He claims the clinicians failed to explain the possible side-effects or gain his informed consent as a minor.


“At first, I had insomnia. There would be days when I could not sleep at all, then days later I would crash. There were moments of euphoria, then the next day you’d just want to cry. Huge mood swings.”


Alex claims the only psychiatric evaluation during this treatment consisted of occasional form-filling, which wasn’t followed up. “Tracking? There was none.” If they actually gave a crap over what it was doing to my body, they would not have let me continue. If they had read those forms, they would have known I was not feeling any better. They just kept giving me higher doses.”


Alex claims he was also put on beta blockers during this time, until one day he collapsed in the school toilets, heart thumping in his chest, after running 1,500m in athletics. His mother called the clinic, demanding a review of the treatment. Alex came off the beta blockers but continued with the hormone injections until, aged 16, tired, overweight, depressed and increasingly lonely, he decided to walk away from the Tavistock altogether.


In his last consultation, aged 16, “I said to [the therapist], ‘I’m not doing it any more. This isn’t helpful. This isn’t what it says on the tin.’ I’m fed up being sold snake oil. It’s ridiculous.”


At that point, Alex and his mum claim the clinician invited Alex to step aside to make space for other young people on the waiting list – others, he allegedly implied, who were willing to continue to cross-sex hormones. “That’s when he said, ‘Well, we have hundreds of other trans people who want to talk to us…’ ”


“When you stop the drugs, they ditch you.”


The discussions about gender reassignment had proved to be the last straw. Though he identifies as transgender, Alex felt very strongly he did not want surgery.


“It was just assumed [I’d want that]. They kind of wait for you to go, ‘Oh, that’s great, I’ll put it on my calendar.’ Alex felt pressure to proceed down the medical pathway to prove his commitment to his trans identity.


“There was a feeling that you’re supposed to do this if you’re trans.”


When he resisted that path, Alex claimed “They frowned. For me it felt like they were saying, well, you’re not really trans then. You’re only trans if you’re willing to go this far.



“I’m a realist. I know, there’s nothing I can do that will change how I was born. I know that if they dig my skeleton up in years to come, it will be recognised as female. But the Tavistock could not deal with that. They wanted trans people who were young, who they could mould into their idea of what trans is.


“They have their view of what being trans is. And if you do not fit into that, you have no place in their service. I felt I was completely used to confirm their theories. It was insane.”


“The whole experience has been salt in the wounds. I’m still trans, but not in the way the Tavistock wanted me to be.


“I came to the conclusion that I would rather just deal with it on my own because this [treatment] is not helping.”


With the support of his mum and three siblings, he decided to come off the hormone blockers.


“They sat me down and said, ‘Listen, you need to come off of these because you might work out you’re just gay, but you’ll never know if you stay on them.”


“So I was like, ‘OK, just to shut you up.’ ” He stopped the blockers. “It was probably the best thing I ever did.


“Stopping the blockers has actually made me feel more free. It has actually given me the ability to pick what I want from my life without feeling like I have to fit in a certain box. I feel like I’m more able to present myself in a way that is more connected to how I actually feel.”


He realised that “just sitting down and having a good chat with my mum” provided more comfort than pills and injections.


His mother now believes the Tavistock’s approach was deeply unethical. “They were pumping Alex with an experimental drug, then beta blockers, then talking about surgeries. So to come out of that system without any follow-up – that is negligent.

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