Welcome to the first episode of the GenderGP podcast featuring Dr Helen Webberley, GP and Gender Specialist, and Marianne Oakes, lead counsellor at GenderGP. In this introductory episode we’re going to talk a little about why we decided to launch this podcast and what we will be covering in this first season.
Who are we? GP and Gender Specialist, Dr Helen Webberley, has been fighting for the rights of gender variant people to access prejudice-free healthcare since she founded GenderGP in 2015. Recognised as one of the foremost doctors in the field of private gender care, Dr Webberley believes in a gender affirmative approach and takes her lead from the international centres of excellence. In her role as CEO and Medical Director of GenderGP, Dr Webberley provides access to healthcare services for patients while they wait to access care provided via the NHS or as a stand alone service.
Marianne Oakes is head of the psychological support team at GenderGP, a service which specialises in the multidisciplinary treatment of gender variant people. She has great experience in one to one therapy, couples and family counselling. Marianne came to this branch of therapy after struggling to find a counsellor with the right experience and qualifications to help her with her own journey as transgender woman. Marianne has additionally witnessed her own family’s struggles coming to terms with her gender identity, an experience which has given her a unique insight which she brings to her own practice.
If you have been affected by any of the topics discussed and would like to get in touch please drop us a line at doctor@GenderGP.co.uk. You can also contact us on social media where you will find us at @GenderGP on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We are always happy to accept ideas for future shows, so if there is something in particular you would like us to discuss or a specific guest you would love to hear from, let us know. Your feedback is really important to us so if you could take a minute or two to leave us an honest review and rating for the podcast on iTunes it will help others to discover us. Thanks for listening and don’t forget to share!
Dr. Helen Webberley: Hello, this is Dr. Helen Webberley. Welcome to our Gender GP Podcast, where we will be discussing some of the issues affecting the trans and non-binary community in the world today, together with my co-host Marianne Oakes, a trans woman herself, and our head of therapy. Okay, great. So we’re going to talk about a little bit today about what you can expect from our series of podcasts. As I said, I’m here with Marianne Oakes. In our work, we’ve come across many people interested in gender, whether it’s ordinary man or woman in the streets, parents or family, children, teenagers, 20 year-olds, 90 year-olds. We’ve had professional people, we’ve had workers. We’ve had doctors, teachers, gold medalists. The gender topic is a huge one, and we’ve found that a lot of people have got a lot of different things that they want to say about gender, or that they want to know about gender. And we realized that it can be a very confusing topic. It almost seems like it’s a new concept and perhaps a new thing that’s entered our social construct. Whereas, actually, if you dig deep into it, it’s been there for a very long time, would you say, Marianne?
Marianne Oakes: Definitely, I would say, yes. I think the idea of gender being binary is something that has probably grown in our society over more recent times throughout the 20th century. There is evidence that gender variance has been around in culture for a long time. However, we’ve got fixated on the idea that it’s binary in more recent times. That’s what we’re trying to negate at the moment.
Dr. Helen Webberley: Yes, absolutely. So that concept of binary is something that I came across at school, where you have a one and a zero. That is kind of just two choices. And I think that’s a concept that some people find it difficult to understand in that arena. I think what we understand by binary is that you are one or the other. So, if you are born, you are born either a boy or a girl, and you are expected to follow the pattern of boy or a girl. But that’s not always the case. We are often asked, aren’t we, Marianne, how it can be possible that if you are born with the genitals that look like a boy, that you can actually be a girl? How can that possibly be true?
Marianne Oakes: People are looking for a medical explanation all the time throughout this. What I can say is that I’ve learned through my client work and through my own life experiences that it’s just a deeper sense of self. It’s a feeling. Something that isn’t tangible. I don’t think it’s a blood test that would determine what somebody’s gender is. I just feel that society wants it to be about a chromosome thing or a genital thing. And actually, we’re just a mix. We’re biology and whatever that mix is. We come out who we are. I don’t like to think of it as anything more complicated than that. I’m not naïve about the fact that people have never experienced that struggle with that concept. And again, going back to the binary, we’re a melting pot of biology. I think everybody, no matter where we feel we sit on the gender spectrum, everybody has got difference. It’s just that labelling of that difference that seems to be the confusion, I suppose.
Dr. Helen Webberley: Yes. I had a wonderful patient once, a young trans boy. This is a boy who is what we call assigned female at birth. When that little boy was born, everyone had a look and said, oh how cute, you’ve got a girl. But it became very obvious to the family and to the child themselves, that actually, he really felt like a boy. If you have to give a label, we call him a trans boy, assigned female at birth. When I was talking to him in clinic, I said to him, “How do you know that you’re a boy? What is it in you that makes you feel like a boy? How do you know?” and he looked back at me and said, “Dr. Webberley, do you mind if I ask you something?” and I said not at all. He said, “How do you know you’re a girl?” and I was stunned. I wanted to tell him that I know I’m a girl because I’m a girl. And that’s exactly what he was saying to me. How do you answer that question? I know I’m a girl because I’m a girl. And he knew he was a boy because he was a boy. It’s just that everyone thought when he started out he was going to be a girl, but he wasn’t. he was as boy as any other boys who kicked around a football around the playground. And I never forgot that little lesson that he taught me that day. It was lovely.
Unknown speaker: That word dysphoria, gender dysphoria?
Dr. Helen Webberley: This is a concept that people aren’t sure what – I’m going to spend a minute or two explaining what people have explained to me that dysphoria means. And when I was asking a trans person once, what do you mean dysphoria, what is that concept? He said that we all know about euphoria. And that is when you feel ecstatically happy, on top of the world, and you feel euphoric, and everything is going well. They said that dysphoria for them felt like the complete opposite. And so, something was deep and uncomfortable and troubling and harmful. That feeling of dysphoria was everything opposite that happy sunny feeling that we all want to feel. And not everyone who is transgender feels happy because there may be no need to feel unhappy with your gender if you are living in society happy and accepted with people around you who love you and support you, and successful in your day to day life and your job and your home. Then your gender doesn’t matter. But when your gender is troubling you, and causing you grief, and causing difficulties in your daily life, in your work and home, then that is, what I think, what we call gender dysphoria. That’s what my patients and the people I’ve met have taught me. And I think those people who don’t understand gender – we all see them, we hear them talk on the news, we hear them as guests on radio programmes saying that this is a new-founded thing, that you’re either a boy or a girl. If you’ve got a penis, there is no way you can be a human. And I just wonder, have they ever actually met a trans person? Have they met more than one trans person? Have they only simply seen stuff on the telly or heard it on a radio? Have they truly and actually met somebody who feels that their gender is different than the one they were assigned to. I honestly challenge anybody to continue with those feelings if they’ve really met true life people who can explain real every day terms. When we talk about gender, the names are confusing. We never want to offend anybody. We never want to miss anybody out. We want this whole concept to be inclusive of everybody whatever their gender, whatever their gender was assigned at birth, however their gender identity felt two years ago, and however it might feel now or in the future. This is about everybody: cisgender, transgender, but we’re always going to miss a name out. I think I’ll set some house rules here. When we talk about the word transgender, we are including everybody who may currently, or at some time, or possibly in the future, may think about what their gender means to them. The word transgender means everybody who is in some way questioning their gender identity, which might not exactly be conforming to what society is expecting it to go the minute they were born. So, transgender to us is a bigger umbrella. Everybody is welcome. Something that I am often asked is how I got into the field of helping transgender people. I qualified as a doctor in 1992. I did GP training, and I did extra specialist training in the field of sexual health. I suppose that’s when I met my first transgender patients. I always found it absolutely fascinating. I’m a big advocate for any group of people who are treated unjustly, or who don’t have access to the kind of healthcare they should have. Minority groups fit that perfectly. Whether it’s the homosexual patient population, or the transgender patient population from my point of view as a doctor. I’ve always been very interested in it and I love working with the people. In my work, I’ve met some amazing people who’ve taught me so much about what it means to be transgender. And my interest in gender developed into setting up Gender GP. I thought perhaps I would have one or two people who came through to have a bit of help. We are just astounded every day as to how many people are coming forward for help. And, you know, in our work, I am extremely grateful to having Marianne as our head of therapy, and helping our patients. I don’t know how you managed to get into this line of work, because I don’t think you started out as a gender specialist counselor, did you?
Marianne Oakes: I certainly didn’t, no. my story of how I’ve ended up here working with Gender GP – I would say ten years ago it was not even on my radar. I decided after a lifetime of, I won’t say repressing my gender, I was really fortunate I was able to live at least in part as an authentic person. But I just decided I was ready to move forward. My starting point was to go and get some counseling. I went to a support group and I asked if they could recommend a counsellor that I could talk to, and everybody just looked at me blank. Nobody seemed to be able to point me in the direction of counselling. I don’t know why I was astounded. I just assumed that this would be such a big part of therapy. That a therapist would be trained in gender identity, and that I would go speak to them, and I would get clarity on what I needed to do and then move forward. There was nobody. I’m sure there are people listening to this who would scream “we were there!” but they weren’t obvious, it wasn’t easy to find them. I just decided to have some generic counselling, and when I finished the process, I thought, “Actually, I feel like I might be able to help other people in my position.” So I went and did a counselling concept course. It was a ten-week course introducing me to counseling, and I thought that I really liked this. I decided to continue. I went there from a certificate to a diploma, and then went into private practice. And I want to say the rest is history.
Dr. Helen Webberley: Yes, absolutely. We can’t do without you, certainly. You mentioned about – this is a concept that I come across a lot regularly – this idea that a generalist counsellor can’t possibly deal with gender, and that a general GP can’t possibly deal with general aspects of medical health. A general endocrinologist or a general psychiatrist can’t deal with this. It’s this kind of feeling that it’s so super specialist; that ordinary counsellors, doctors, nurses, specialists can’t deal with it. And actually, you wouldn’t have that in any walk of life. You wouldn’t say “I’m not specialist enough to talk about divorce” because I’ve never been divorced or I’ve never known divorce. You know, you just understand the concepts and worries that someone is going to be having if they are going through a divorce. And the general skills you have as a counsellor should follow into that. I think that what we see a lot of is the fear of the word “gender”. And the fear of the ignorance around it. People aren’t helping and I think what that means is that we’ve got a cohort of people desperate for some help, who are being blanked of every opportunity because of that tricky word “gender”. And actually, it’s not that tricky, is it, Marianne?
Marianne Oakes: I’d like to think that. From a counseling and therapeutic perspective, they have to be non-judgmental, they have to deal with their own prejudices, and they have to be able to reognise wrong prejudices. I think when somebody walks into a therapy room and mentions gender, just as you were saying, I think it is like genuinely like holding a mirror up to themselves and making them question their own being. That they are frightened on their journey with this client. They think that their own gender is going to be questioned sometime, which is something that they never had to think about. Outside of that, I can’t imagine any other reason why a therapist of any kind would not be competent to work with somebody who is gender variant. What we have to recognise within the counselling profession is that anybody who identifies under the LGBTQ+ umbrella is 70% more likely to walk into the therapy room more than the average person. Yet, it’s such a small part of training. I come across a lot of my clients and a lot of patients at Gender GP who have had counselling, and the first thing that the counsellor said is “I’ll have to learn from you.” And straight away, what we’ve done is catastrophized what is a very simple subject. It’s simple in that everyone talks about gender when they come into the therapy room. You know, if you’ve got a cis-woman or a cis-man talking about life’s issues, on some level their gender is being questioned. The fact that we say I may be transgender or I may be questioning my gender identity or I don’t feel like a man or I don’t feel like a woman – the counsellor doesn’t need to go into meltdown or panic.
Dr. Helen Webberley: This meltdown panic that you mentioned is an interesting concept, because it seems to me that over the last few years, our society and people have gone into a bit of a meltdown and a panic because we’ve been talking about gender so openly. One of the things that people often bring up is why now? Why do we have, all of a sudden, gender on the front page of every newspaper, on the radio shows? We’ve got documentaries, we’ve got even on the soap operas – why? What is this new-fangled thing? And what I try to explain is that this is not new-fangled. This isn’t a new concept. This is something that’s always been there. And if ever anything fitted the concept of coming out, then this does. This has always been there. Transgender people have always existed. You can see it throughout history. They existed, but they had to hide themselves away. I wish they’d come out when the homosexual community felt able to come out in the eighties and early nineties. If the transgender community had come out then and there, maybe we would have found this a bit easier. But what we have got, is we don’t have people suddenly going, “Oh my god I am transgender.” What we’ve got is people saying that they are brave enough and they can see it happening and I am brave enough to start talking about this. Stepping out of the house to get some help. To start sharing feelings. Having a voice. Exploring their own gender identity. So this isn’t something new that’s suddenly taken off because it’s fashionable. What’s happened is that people are able to be heard and listened to, and for them to have a voice.
Marianne Oakes: Definitely. And I am hoping that actually, in this podcast series, that we can start exploring, because it is a broad subject, far more than our experiences in the sixties growing up trans. It’s not the same experience as someone who was born in the last ten years. And actually, the experience of people being born in the last five years is going to be greatly different from the five years previous. If we’re going to be able to explore gender and gender identity, the evolutionary process of where we are today, we’ve got to recognise the history. And this idea that it’s an epidemic, that children coming out now – transgender men were not visible to me in the not so distant past. That basically, I think if we can encompass the changing times and put this into some kind of context, we would be doing really well. Yes, there are more (unclear 18:11). Yes, there are role models. Caitlyn Jenner, she can be reviled within the trans community. But the one thing that she did do, with her coming out, is put transgender into every living room in the country. And across America, shall we say. We cannot ignore the significance of that.
Dr. Helen Webberley: Obviously, this is a massive area. We have so much exciting topic discussions to be had. You know, it’s really difficult. We welcome all ideas on what we’re going to cover on this series and other series. But how we outlined things to cover in this series, is a general discussion of what it means to be transgender today, and what it means to be trans in this society today, what is gender identity, what does it mean, how many identities are there, and how can we support people who are transgender? What do people who are transgender need in order to be happy in their lives? On the same point, can we get rid of it? If someone doesn’t want to be transgender, can we stop them? Or the converse, if we’re supporting someone who is transgender, does that mean we are supporting it in some way? There’s a real debate and discussion there which I am really looking forward to. Marianne, what are you looking forward to in the series?
Marianne Oakes: Too many things for me! Just the opportunity to be able to talk in a safe environment, where we’re not having to justify or validate gender identity. That we can have an open and free discussion and hopefully, not necessarily answer all the questions because I don’t think question to be answered shall we say, but we can talk and educate. Secondly, it’s some of the guests that we’re going to have and introduce. I’m really excited to be able to have a conversation with the author Juno Roche, who wrote the fantastic book “Queer Sex”. She really did open up the subject around our bodies, and actually pushed the idea of gender – that we can be transgender and still be sexual beings – I find that exciting to be able to talk to her about that in more detail.
Dr. Helen Webberley: For me, the concept of what makes a woman needs to be explored. So for example, “It’s not possible to be a woman and to have a penis.” And who better to speak about that than Reece Lyons, who is a poet and a transgender woman herself, who wrote “I am a woman and I have a penis.” That’s just exciting. Then of course, we’ve got Suzy Green, who is the CEO of Mermaids. She is going to be coming on. She is the mother of a transgender daughter, and she is a massive advocate and she’s done amazing work for transgender people and parents and families. We are really excited to welcome her as well on our podcast.
Marianne Oakes: Yes, hopefully we can start and cover some of the questions that non trans people might have by talking to all of these people. You know, much and me and Helen can talk about these subjects, the fact that we are able to produce other people and bring in other perspectives, hopefully that should give a more well-rounded view on that subject.
Dr. Helen Webberley: Brilliant. Well, I really enjoyed talking to you on here, Marianne. This is a really exciting start for the future. We want people to get involved by Twitter, Facebook, and comments through our websites. So, get involved, let’s lead a discussion. Let’s lead the future for transgender healthcare and other issues. Let’s lead the way.
Thank you. We hope you enjoyed that program. Do go ahead and subscribe if you haven’t done so already. If you or anyone else are affected by any of the topics addressed on our podcast, and would like to contact us, please drop us a line at email@example.com. We’re very happy to accept ideas for future episodes and guests, or if there is something specific you would like us to cover. You can also visit our website www.gendergp.co.uk. You can follow us on social media @gendergp and you can sign up to our monthly newsletter. More details can be found on our show notes on the podcast page. Thanks for listening.