My Trans Journey
As lead counsellor with GGP you might expect to hear that I have been managing my journey to HRT through our services. Well, you would be wrong. I took the decision, three years ago, to follow the NHS pathway to treatment. Here I wanted to share my experiences with you in the hope that you will see you are not alone.
July 2018: My trans journey to date
In September 2015 I visited my GP to ask for a referral to the Sheffield GIC and, despite his ignorance to the protocols, a week later my referral had been submitted. This was three months after I had qualified as a therapeutic counsellor, with a view to realising my dream of working as a female therapist.
In January 2016, I set up a private practice and advertised my services in Pink therapy. Low and behold, a month later this eager woman called me to ask if I would be interested in helping her with trans clients. Delighted, I accepted. This turned out to be my first experience of GenderGP and the wonderful Dr Helen Webberley.
I will admit now, having heard the horror stories of endless waiting lists on the NHS, that I did consider my private options. It was clear that I would have been a suitable candidate for accessing the services of GenderGP, however, I was concerned there might be a conflict of interest. Keen to keep my focus and do my work to the best of my ability I decided to stick with Plan A.
Some 14 months after my referral I was offered my first appointment at Sheffield. I put on my best dress and did my hair and off I went. It was December 2016. I told them my story and it was explained to me that I would have another three appointments within a six month period. At that point I would be put forward for treatment. It was an exciting time and I was happy to wait.
My initial appointments went well, I thought, and I was on track for receiving the treatment I so craved. But nothing came. No letter, no appointment. Nothing. Two years passed. Then a letter arrived, it was an appointment with the voice coach. I was delighted and waiting with bated breath for more news. Maybe treatment would be quick to follow. It wasn’t.
By October (some two years after my initial referral) I faltered and approached Dr Webberley for help. I needed hormones and the situation was becoming increasingly frustrating. I was living and working as the woman I have always known I was, but wasn’t able to access the treatment I needed to feel complete.
I spoke to my voice coach and she did a little digging. According to my records, she said, I should have received a letter two months earlier detailing my treatment pathway. Needless to say I never received the letter. Luckily, she managed to get a copy sent to me. Back on track with the NHS, I put GenderGP on hold.
As a counsellor, specialising in the treatment of gender variant patients, this insight into the experiences of those seeking treatment via the NHS was proving invaluable, so I decided to stick with it. I had first hand experience of the frustrations and I knew, that no matter how painful it was, I needed to go through the process. There are so many mixed stories out there, I had to see for myself.
In December 2017, I was offered an appointment to see the psychotherapist – something which I had personally requested.
On my first visit I asked when I would be able to start HRT. The response was that they would be unable to start my HRT as I was still presenting male. I calmly explained that I was living and working as female and had been doing so for the past 18 months. The response left me stunned: “Then why haven’t you changed your name by deed poll?” I explained that I hadn’t changed my name because I didn’t want to. “Well”, came the response, “you can start HRT but there will be no surgery.” I wasn’t even asking for surgery!!!
It is now July, seven months later. I am still waiting. I was told last week that my GP is being sent a letter to give them the OK to start me on hormones, but at the time of writing, the letter is yet to arrive. It is now almost three years on from my referral.
I want to share my journey with you so that you can see, you are not alone. I will include regular updates in the newsletter so that I can share my ups and downs – not just my frustrations with the NHS but also the things I love about it. Take my voice coach for example, she is absolutely brilliant.
As a counsellor, I know that experiencing the NHS pathway can only enhance my empathy for those facing similar challenges. However, my experiences have also helped me to appreciate just how valuable services like GenderGP are for those who have already waited a life time and are ready to start their journey now, not in three years’ time.
August 2018: My trans journey on the NHS – Month one on hormones
Tuesday 10th July 2018. After three long years on the NHS and a lifetime of waiting and dreaming, I finally picked up my first prescription for my Oestrogen patches. I was fighting back the tears as I walked out of the surgery.
This was such a monumental event in my life and yet, everyone I saw, seemed too pre-occupied with their lives to even notice. Not even those closest to me seemed to understand the magnitude of this moment.
I have never felt more conflicted. On the one hand I was so elated, I wanted to high five everyone I saw and on the other, I felt totally alone.
To be fair, my family are going through the grief of never seeing the old me, and despite the fact I know I left a long time ago, I think hormones are putting the final nail in that coffin.
I didn’t get to collect my patches until the day after. As soon as I was able, I stuck the first patch on. I don’t know if it was wishful thinking but, I swear I could feel the oestrogen running through my very being, and this feeling has not left me.
The following Thursday morning I went for my T blocker injection. Another huge step in my trans journey. This was going to be the end of testosterone invading my body. I was a little nervous, what would life be like without this hormone running through my veins?
I am now three weeks in to my treatment. Do I feel different? You bet I do! I am not sure how much of that is the actual treatment and how much is down to the knowledge that I am no longer being poisoned by the dreaded T but, either way, I can feel its effects.
I was warned I might suffer a mini menopause, hot flushes and mood swings and they weren’t kidding! I go from feeling calm, flooded by an overall sense of wellbeing, to a sinking feeling, which starts in the pit of my stomach and overwhelms me. My patience evaporates and I feel like I need to leave immediately. The hot flushes appear from nowhere. I can be mid conversation and suddenly I feel beads of sweat around my nose and forehead and then I am hot all over. It only started like this a day or two ago, but I have never experienced anything like it.
Changes to my body are slow, I have spent three weeks convincing myself that my breasts have grown or are growing. They haven’t. The only thing of note is that the skin on my hands feels softer and my body hair has slowed close to a standstill, which is fabulous.
I know other changes are happening, but I am on the lowest dose of Oestrogen a girl can be on, the NHS are so cautious about these things. Having said that, I couldn’t be happier despite the negative symptoms, which, if I am honest, are of some comfort as they make me feel like things are actually changing.
Of all the things I expected to happen, I never realised how confident this experience would make me. I have read and heard from many of our patients about the impact of HRT on confidence, but, just three weeks in, I am brimming with a new found confidence that I never knew I was lacking. Perhaps this is the authenticity I have heard so much about. I can’t wait to see where this journey will take me next.
September 2018: Month two on hormones
It is really difficult to say how my hormone treatment is affecting me at the moment. Physically there has been little change. I keep rubbing my skin and wondering if it is getting softer and, while some days I feel like it is, other days I feel like nothing has changed. My NHS prescription gives me the lowest does of Oestrogen combined with a really powerful Testosterone inhibitor and, in truth, I am not really sure what physical changes to expect because it is different for everyone.
As a result my skin has softened and, thankfully, my hot flushes have all but stopped. Emotionally I feel far more grounded and I am filled with a sense of contentment.
You know when you are running for the train and you manage to jump on just as it is about to leave the station, but you can’t quite relax until you are sure you are on the right train, heading in the right direction? Only then can you start preparing for the rest of the journey. That’s how I feel.
As for the other physical changes, frustratingly I am feeling all the pain and none of the gain. My chest area has a dull sensitivity, a bit like I have been punched on each nipple and they are bruised and sore. Even a cuddle from my wife can really hurt. But there’s very little growth. In spite of this I keep checking every day and just knowing changes are afoot is really comforting.
I have an appointment at the GIC later in October to speak to a clinician. I honestly don’t know who they are or what they do. Like all things NHS, it seems to be shrouded in mystery. I assume they will ask how I am doing. I am doing really well, so hopefully the appointment will be a formality. I will report back!
On a happy note, in spite of the fact that my first prescription was made out in my male name (nope, I haven’t changed it officially, this will be the subject of a separate blog) the doctor sent my second prescription in my female name – without me having to complain! This was a really nice touch. It can be draining having to keep repeating the same stories and explanations over and over so, just to have this little but significant detail sorted without me raising it, was a positive step in the right direction.
November 2018: This month saw the arrival of two small but life-affirming packages…
While I would love to share my latest news in a calm and orderly fashion, it is impossible. This month saw the arrival of two small but life-affirming packages, in the shape of my very own breasts and I couldn’t me more delighted.
January 2019 – New Year New You?
This month it’s the inevitable diet issue!My muscle mass is turning in to fat. This hasn’t been as disturbing as I thought it might be as I am acutely aware that if I want fat redistribution, first I need the fat to redistribute! I am also experiencing cellulite, which is a bit of a shock as I have been lucky enough never to have experienced it before.
The realisation that more physical changes were afoot dawned on me on a recent family holiday to Centre Parcs. We had hired bikes and were cycling around the complex. I love to cycle and it is not something that has ever been a struggle for me in the past. But all that has changed.
I got on my bike and assumed the position. As started to pedal I noticed that my legs were sluggish and each rotation felt like like wading through glue. It took almost an hour of this for me to realise what was going on – the muscles that once made this activity so easy have lost their strength, the power has simply gone. I knew this was coming, but knowing and experiencing things are very different! Not that it was an unwanted side effect – for me each of these changes are like a little surprise, reminding me of this wonderful journey I am experiencing.
On the fat redistribution front, my stomach has started moving south and my bum feels fuller. When I stand on the scales I am no heavier but I can see the extra weight I am carrying. This has spurred me on to take more interest in my weight, so the post Christmas diet and new year exercise regime have now begun in earnest.
Over more recent years I had stopped exercising as doing so built muscle very quickly, muscle that wasn’t very feminine and did not help my dysphoria. Now, six months into my hormone treatment I feel I don’t need to worry, fingers crossed I will loose a few pounds without loosing shape where I need it most.
One really positive effect of all this has been that I keep getting complimented on my skin. One old family friend asked me how I manage to have such lovely skin, I was delighted to reveal my secret, it’s all down to my hormones.
My life has changed in so many ways purely because of HRT. Yes, I am now having to work harder to maintain a body that is reasonably fit, but that is all I have wanted throughout the years.
I can now engage with my friends who have had a lifetime of maintenance in this way, I can talk about dieting or keep fit, and these are some of the things that allow me to connect with my new world. To sit, if only in a small way, with my female experience, to be seen and received as the woman I am.
1. Among all the changes brought about by HRT, my breast development has been the most significant in terms of the impact on my emotional wellbeing. My breasts are the undeniable proof (size at this stage really doesn’t count), that my body is gaining the secondary sex characteristics of my gender identity. This is beyond anything I could have imagined before starting HRT.
2. I can’t imagine being a young trans teen and going through this process if my breasts were not a welcome addition, such is the significance of this area of our body. The dysphoria it could potentially cause would be unimaginable. It is no wonder that trans boys choose to wear binders and long for top surgery.