ITV recently aired a three part series called "Butterfly", the fictional story of "Maxine" a trans-child growing up in modern day Britain. I'd like to applaud ITV in taking on this contentious (for some) subject. It was specifically pleasing to see the subject tackled in drama form. There's something about drama that can capture the knotty interconnectedness of human relationships - that shows the true complexity of a social issue and social change, in away that documentary often fails. Although the show has many failings and limitations (it could have easily been 6 episodes, not 3, and last nights episode felt rushed and resolved in too neat bundle), I believe it will be remembered as a 'landmark' piece of drama, in spite of its flaws.
There were two scenes I was struck by.
There was a scene where the adults (mum, dad, grannie and grandpa) gathered to discuss Maxine in front of Maxine. I'm not sure whether adults would actually do this in real life. I suspect they would discuss it without the child's presence. But the presence of Maxine was there for dramatic effect. She stood there silently whilst adults discussed her, as if she wasn't there. That's a situation that for me seems to reflect the trans-community. We are a tiny minority, often outnumbered by people expressing their strongly held opinions. Often those people who have no direct experience of what gender dysphoria actually feels like, and the daily struggle that some people in the trans-community have just to be themselves, and be out in the world.
The other scene I was stuck by was the families engagement with the NHS and other agencies of the State (the police and social services). Maxine is 11 and just started senior school. We learn in the story of how she had been taken to see a GP when she was 5. Back then the family was told that Maxine would probably "grow out of it" or perhaps she was actually gay. Scroll forward 6 years later, the family is told that they wouldn't be said now. Now, of course this is work of fiction, and whilst the programme creators worked close with trans-child charity "Mermaids", its a little dangerous to extrapolate a factual point from a fictional source. But, if true - I was struck just how much attitudes within the NHS had moved in just 6 years. It also made me wonder what the likely response would have been had my parents presented me to the NHS back in the early 70's, when social attitudes were decidedly less informed.
Last week as the GRA Consultation came to its close. The media started to pay attention to the consultation, and the issue as an item on shows like Today, PM and Question Time. I was particularly struck by the testimony of mature trans-woman who describe her experiences back in the 50s/60s (Question starts at 37min in, with the trans-woman's experience at 44min). Back then the response was aversion (or conversion therapy) and electro-convulsive therapy. We've come along way from the 50's. We have come along way since the 70's. We've come along way since 2012. I guess my realisation is how much change I've experienced in my own lifetime. How its only recently that trans-people have enjoyed (or should that be endured?) the recognition and spotlight that previously was denied. But the GRA Consultation and Butterflies made me realise another thing. How much more progress and battles need to be gained and won.
Show's like Butterfly play an important part, culturally, to bring the issue to the wider population beyond the way trans-people are persistently represented in the media (for instance the repeated emphasis on appearance and invasive medical treatment, that overlooks the impact socially and psychologically on the individual, their relationships, family and work life). They also play an important part in busting some of the myths peddled by the right-wing media, evangelical christian groups, and the obscure fringes of radical feminism. There's a persistent and inaccurate myth that a rise of political correctness is doling out treatment like smarties to individuals like myself, and trans-kids like Maxine. Sadly, our cash strapped NHS is a long way from that myth.
The average wait for the for NHS Gender ID Clinic is in some regions 2 years or more. That's just for the 1st appointment (about half an hour) to speak to a psychotherapist. It's a further 6 months wait (or more) for the second consultation with different psychotherapist. If both therapists agree with their diagnosis - then a trans-person could get approved for hormone therapy. Surgery if offered, and if desired - is a further year away. Under the current regime, a trans-person would then have to live a further two years before they could apply (if they was so inclined) for this thing called a "Gender Recognition Certificate". Total time spent - 6 years (if your lucky). According to some in the "debate" a trans-person should not be admitted to the "safe space" of a women's loo until they have their certificate. That's 6 long years of keeping one's legs crossed. Even without the waiting list the "process" of transition is a 4 year slog (some say its a continually process that never ends, and I take their point). For many trans-people "gender recognition" is more akin to how we used to determine if someone was a witch or not. If you can survive this 6 year ordeal, then clearly your not a witch.
Trans-people have been extraordinarily let down and discriminated in the past. But like the Murphy's were not bitter. We just want to secure better treatment and rights for what time we have left on planet earth, and to secure a brighter future for the children of tomorrow. Children like Maxine.