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Health LGBTQ+

The system is cruel

Every twelve weeks, I feel like shit. It coincides with the injection cycle for one of my medications, which stops my body from making testosterone; in the week or so before each injection I feel sluggish and stupid and short-tempered and sad.

I don’t know if it’s connected or a coincidence, if it’s a genuine physical thing or psychosomatic, because from what I’ve read of the medication, once I’ve been on it for a year or so – and I’ve been on it for longer than that – my testosterone levels shouldn’t rise significantly towards the end of each 12-week cycle. But I keep a diary and the dates match; more so this month because I couldn’t get a 12-week appointment so I’ll be getting my top-up today, at the 13-week mark. I definitely feel even more sluggish, even more stupid, even more short-tempered and even more sad than normal.

Despite all that, I woke up in a brilliant mood yesterday – and then I got some more good news. I was offered a last-minute appointment with my gender clinic (GIC) doctor.

I was due to see her three months ago, but all trans healthcare basically stopped in Spring this year because of coronavirus. In the meantime I’ve had to do my own endocrinology to ensure a prescription change hasn’t messed up my hormone levels: my practice nurse did the blood test, send the bloods to the labs and I then compared the results with the desired levels. My prescription seems to be okay, but the gender clinic doesn’t know that yet.

It’s not just monitoring. There are some very important healthcare things I need to speak to my GIC doctor about, so when I got a call asking if I could do a telephone appointment at 10.15am I said yes.

It wasn’t ideal, because I was due to go on air at the BBC at 10.45. But it was a really important call, so I told the team that I might not be off the call in time to go on air; my friend and colleague Louise was happy to cover for me.

So I quickly collated all the things I wanted to discuss with the doc – blood test results, weight loss details, a few other bits and bobs – and I waited for her call.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

At 10.30, I called the clinic to see if there was a problem. We’ll call you right back.

They didn’t call me right back.

I finally got a call one minute before I was due to go on air, but it wasn’t my doctor. It turns out that there had been a mistake, the doctor hadn’t been available after all, I can talk to her in October. By this time it was too late to go on the radio, so of course I’m not going to get paid for my non-appearance.

The bungled appointment cost me money and wasted time, but it also really upset me. Most of my interactions with the gender clinic (GIC) have left me crying with frustration, and this was no exception: getting the appointment made me feel that after months of waiting, I could finally put some important wheels in motion. It’s much worse to be promised an appointment and not get it than not to have an appointment at all. As we all know, it’s the hope that kills you.

If the October appointment goes ahead it will be nearly a year since I’ve been able to discuss my healthcare; longer still since I’ve been able to do it with somebody competent*. That’s a long time to be in limbo.

This is normal. The COVID stuff is making it worse, but the system is cruel. Here’s Heather Paterson, CEO of SAYiTSheffield:

A person I know has just received [a] surgery referral letter, still with indeterminate waiting time, 6 years after their initial GRC referral. Which was some time after mental health referral. Which was after a wait from GP referral. Which was after years of building up to come out, tell anyone or approach services.

They have been actively fighting a system for over a decade that has thrown hurdles in their way at every step, and over the past few years been navigated while having to see anti-trans stories in the press EVERY DAY and groups actively organising to try and take their rights to live their life taken away.

I am so happy for them that they have managed to survive this process so far and can finally see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, and so filled with rage for those who couldn’t make it that far.

So if you think people are transitioning on a whim, that they are coming out and in surgery weeks/months later, think again.

I’m amazed so many people actually survive this lengthy, quite frankly barbaric system.

* My prescription change was to undo a serious mistake made by my previous gender clinic doctor, about whom I ended up filing a formal complaint and a request to be reassigned.