An open letter from Dr Helen Webberley…
In the world of trans medicine every day it feels like I take one step forward, two steps back.
Recently, I was delighted to receive an email from a Medicolegal Society. They were planning a collaboration with a Medical Institute Psychiatry Division to focus on the consultation about the Gender Recognition Act. Specifically, they were interested in looking at the idea of removing medical evidence requirements for legal gender transition.
They were looking for a doctor in favour of the de-medicalisation of gender identity. This was something they had struggled to find until they saw me on Panorama: Trans Kids, Why medicine matters. Despite hearing about my struggles with the GMC, or perhaps directly because of them, they decided I was the right person for the job and they approached me.
I responded to the invitation with glee. I am fully in favour of self-identification. I do not believe there is a need for a doctor to give evidence so that someone can legally change their gender. This is not a medical issue, but a legal one, and the rule book needs rewriting.
What makes me even more perfect for this role is that my experiences and passion for transgender medicine, have led to me studying a Master of Laws (LLM) at Cardiff University on the subject of medical law and ethics.
I responded quickly, and received a reply straight back. The format would be non-confrontational, a short speech, followed by a panel discussion and maybe a vote at the end. This was even better, a podium to share my views, a panel to challenge them and then a vote to satisfy my competitive streak!
I immediately started thinking through the potential angles that would inevitably crop up and my position on each of them:
– Should a person be allowed to state their own gender identity?
– What if they got it wrong?
– Why do we require a doctor to confirm it?
– How many sessions are necessary before a doctor can confidently conclude that you are indeed what you say you are?
– What if the doctor got it wrong?
– What would the legal implications be?
Then I began planning my opening statement: ‘Why ever would it be right that a doctor should have the final say on a person’s innate gender identity?’
Dates were penciled in, virtual hands shaken.
Then I received an email….
‘Dear Helen, I am really sorry, but I had not quite grasped the nature of challenges with GMC hearings………’ I didn’t need to read on.
While my work with gender variant people is some of the most rewarding of my career, and I will never give up my fight, this is not the first time I have been rejected in this manner.
I wonder if I will ever become hardened to the responses which have included: ‘I am very sorry, but we don’t want you to…… work with us anymore, speak at our event, join our panel discussion, be part of our team, join the debate, treat our patients, teach our students, have a stall at our event, attend our workshop, have your name associated with us.’ All the things that professionally I love: doctoring, teaching, debating, working, collaborating.
It’s no wonder they struggled to find another doctor who would stand up for the rights of trans patients, look what happens when you do.
I have learnt that once you get that kind of email, no amount of discussion will change their mind, so I wrote a two character response 🙁
In relation to my individual case, the GMC states very clearly that, ‘Matters are currently under investigation so we have not made any findings against Dr Webberley at this stage of our process.’
But no one seems interested in the finer detail.
GMC proceedings have been ongoing since January 2016, when my NHS colleagues started to write to the GMC to say that they did not approve of my approach. This approach is different to theirs but in line with best practice coming out of the US and Australia.
Since 2016 the GMC has not been able to identify exactly what it is that I have done wrong. There have been no patient complaints and no conclusions drawn as to whether I have gone against the code of ‘Good Medical Practice’.
Yet I am suspended from being a doctor, teacher, speaker, colleague, partner, panel member.
I travelled to Los Angeles last month to attend a conference on Trans Youth Care which was being run by one of America’s leading physicians in gender care, Dr Johanna Olson-Kennedy. She said: ‘if a child tells you they are trans then they most probably are.’
The UK is still a very long way from grasping the notion that we should just believe a child and support them to the best of our ability, whether that means counselling, hormone blocking medication, or in the wonderful words of Dr Olson-Kennedy simply by giving them: “a hat and a handbag.”
On most days, I hold my head up high, take a deep breath and stand firm in my belief that my views on trans rights are correct. But sometimes, I feel battered and bruised by the fight. It is no surprise that Dr Richard Curtis, having had his case with the GMC dropped after four years for helping trans people – with no fault found – threw in the towel, and that Russell Reid voluntarily removed his name from the GMC register.
I wonder what the future holds, maybe this GMC legacy will stay with me forever. Is the institution always right and the individual always powerless to defend themselves?
Whatever lies ahead, I remain steadfast in my belief that trans rights are equal rights and I will continue to fight for the rights of gender variant people to access the healthcare they are entitled to – as well as my own to continue helping those in need.
Dr Helen Webberley
Photo by Søren Astrup Jørgensen on Unsplash