'Years Of Waiting For Gender Affirming Healthcare On The NHS Pushed Me To Crisis Point'

Transgender people and their supporters gather in Parliament Square to protest against a ban on puberty blockers in London, United Kingdom on April 20, 2024.
Transgender people and their supporters gather in Parliament Square to protest against a ban on puberty blockers in London, United Kingdom on April 20, 2024. Wiktor Szymanowicz via Getty Images

Trigger warning: This article discusses eating disorders.

For me, pride is about joy and togetherness in defiance of a world which can make us feel miserable and alone as queer people.

I’ve fought long and hard to get to a place where I can say I am learning to be proud of who I am – and it is the most liberating, exciting feeling I have ever experienced.

Trans youth in this country do not deserve to suffer and struggle to the extent we do under current systems; it is denying us our childhoods, our lives, and something needs to change.

Five years ago, I was referred to GIDs, the Gender Identity Development Service which operated in a Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust site.

Commissioned in the 80s by NHS England, it was the only gender identity clinic for young people until it was closed in March this year.

The replacement healthcare centres in London and Liverpool opened the next month amid reports of understaffing and a lack of preparedness.

Five years later and I still have not been seen, haven’t been told when I’ll be seen, and have been left with absolutely no gender affirming care.

This story is common among trans kids in the UK, and no matter how many times it is told, I feel that the distress of this truth for individuals can never be fully communicated.

Between my referral and now, the eating disorder I had been suffering in silence with for a couple years reached a crisis point, in large part due to a lack of gender affirming care.

Looking back, I developed anorexia out of a necessity – to be in a body that was less dysphoric, to make myself smaller and less visible, to disconnect from a world that was unsafe for me – but this necessity could have, should have, been resolved in other ways.

The average wait time for a first NHS appointment related to GIDS can exceed five years for young people.

It has been said that people can die while on those waiting lists.

I believe I was close to being one of them. Some days I can’t fathom how this fact doesn’t single-handedly prompt a change in the system, how my suffering and the suffering of other trans individuals can still be routinely dismissed.

The world should have taken care of me, should be taking care of trans kids.

Unfortunately, anorexia did for me what gender services and wider society didn’t; it stopped my period, it flattened my chest, it removed all feminising features from my body until nobody recognised me as Deadname (pre-transition name) anymore, nobody recognised me as Girl.

But more than anything physical, my eating disorder placed distance between me and the world that had hurt me, that continued to hurt people like me. None of this should have been necessary.

The world should have taken care of me, should be taking care of trans kids. Because the reality is that without support, without acceptance and healthcare, we are forced to find more dangerous means of meeting our needs.

My eating disorder protected me from an unaccepting world, and at the time that was all that I wanted.

But it also barred me from all the brightness of being queer, of finding community, getting angry about the state of the world, knowing that you are made for the world and the world is made for you.

Recovery has been hard, will continue to be hard, but I feel the world opening up and among the right people, it can be so beautiful.

I don’t want my story to just be about my pain.

My body may not ever be a comfortable place to exist in, because it is different to the ever-changing goal post my eating disorder set for me, because it isn’t aligned with who I know I am, and because I’m physically disabled.

But I am learning that to be trans isn’t just to be a body, it is to be a person, the whole collection of parts, all its joy and all its pain. I don’t want my story to just be about my pain.

I know that it needs to be said, because the violence of the systems we live under needs to be shown beyond statistics, but I am tired of being defined by my suffering, am tired of seeing transness defined by suffering.

We are labelled as mentally ill and incapable of deciding what we want for ourselves, or we are called fakers and accused of jumping on a trend without the pain required to be a “real trans person’”.

We cannot win by the standards of the people who want to take our rights away, and so I am learning to be trans by my own standards.

I thought that recovery would only make being trans harder. And in some ways, it has. I am growing into a body that doesn’t match how I see myself or how I want the world to see me.

But it has also enabled me to find community, to understand my identity and disconnect it from the trauma that I experienced due to it, and it has enabled me to see a future for myself where I am happy, truly and authentically happy. A future where I am proud, in defiance of everything the world has done to me and everything I have been through.

The author, Orion, is a non-binary 18-year-old.

You can donate to Mermaids, the trans youth charity, here.

Help and support:

Help and support:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.

  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).

  • CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.

  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email help@themix.org.uk

  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.