By Draiton Berridge, Support Worker
Since my last blog, which you can read here, I have moved from St Patrick’s Supported Living Scheme in Brighton to Willow Walk in Cambridge, a decision to stay with Riverside and scope out new experiences and opportunities in East Anglia.
A recurring issue in the trans community is changing GP because if something goes wrong, we pay the price. When my previous GP retired, the new one refused to support me until I went back to London’s Gender Clinic, despite my assertion that I didn’t need to see them anymore and hadn’t seen them in years. I agreed to anything just so she would keep on prescribing my hormones. She didn’t feel confident that I knew myself. It’s fair enough when GPs don’t have the right training but we are expert patients of our own needs.
So when I moved to Cambridge I didn’t have long until my next injection was due.
I registered with the GP as soon as I could in case their booking in process took weeks. And what if they didn’t have any appointments for 10 days? Typical trans-stuff for those of us who take injections and don’t have an alternative to a GP *.
You can hopefully understand why this is a difficult process – the questions, the hoops. I’m not saying its institutionalised homophobia, it’s simply a lack of training and understanding.
Of the percentage of trans people in the UK, of those who take testosterone injections versus alternatives and then which GPs meet them and who don’t, it’s not unusual to expect the worst when meeting a new GP or nurse.
Registering wasn’t too hard (I brought my Folder of Everything: birth certificate, passport, driving licence, deed poll, Gender Identity Clinic acceptance letter, licence agreement of our rental property – anything and everything to make sure they can’t trip me up). Again, they’re not trying to, but you learn to be prepared for anything along the trans journey. It turned out that before I could book my nurse appointment I had to see the GP for an introductory appointment. It felt really stupid:
“How can I help you today Mr Berridge?”
“You can’t. I’m just seeing you so that I can book a nurse appointment.”
To give her credit, the nurse I am seeing now is really nice, very professional and the injections don’t hurt as much as my Brighton nurse, she seems to have a better technique.
Of course it is a little embarrassing seeing someone for the first time and showing off my backside, but this is life. She was glad I knew exactly what the injection was, how often, where (alternating sides FYI) and that I brought it myself. Almost as if I have had to be hypervigilant about this before.
Other trans-related perceptions I have had since moving is trying to figure out how ‘me’ I can be. In Brighton, my home town, the liberal culture is very accepting, non-questioning. Our customers couldn’t care less what identity someone had as it was just Brighton life. Moving away from that and not knowing how accepting Cambridge is has been tricky.
I’m trying desperately hard to fit in and make friends, to make this transfer work out for me. In the process, keeping quiet about how weird I am. I’ve only told one person so far I’m a LARPer! (A live action role-playing gamer, in case you don’t know).
I am genuinely frightened that customers could bully me for being different. I don’t know the culture here. I’m assuming that a university town is going to be liberal and accepting, but I can’t make those assumptions. Assumptions get trans people beaten up or killed.
I reassure myself that we align to Riverside’s zero-tolerence approach to bullying, harassment and discrimination, and that I should be safe working here. But until I know for certain and feel safe, I just can’t take these risks. I’d say it’s natural but I can’t speak for everyone, this is my perception.
Part of my fear stems from being in a completely new city, I don’t know the ‘safe areas’ or ‘dangerous ones’. In Brighton, West Street is where all the clubs are so locals avoid it at late night. Whereas St James Street is Gay Central hosting many gay-bars, drag bars and has a thriving Pride community. I knew all the roads, I knew if I were ever in danger where I could find help. Right now Cambridge is one blur of mystery yet to be explored.
There’s not a lot that can be done to change this, it is part and parcel of safeguarding ourselves. I need to be sure that the environment I am in is safe and accepting before I fly my colours. At work I need to see that homophobia is challenged promptly because every time a customer shouts slang at someone – perhaps even in jest – these micro-aggressions really dig deep. I need to feel supported and backed up, that bullying has a zero tolerance.
I feel better about Riverside employing diverse people with a range of backgrounds as this helps me fit in and feel that it’s ok to be me. And even if you’re as vanilla as they come, it really helps to get to know you. To hear about what your interests are, being yourself, being open. If you feel proud enough to admit to liking jazz, dancing burlesque or being totally mad about cats… then I can feel proud enough to open up about my world.
* Trans alternatives to relying on a nurse injection
In order to get approved hormone injections your psychiatrist needs to be sure you are genuinely trans and not just mentally ill taking it out on your body or even worse, attention seeking!
This stems from the fear of trans-regret, a theory that trans people regret their irreversible decisions and the GP is wracked with guilt for messing up someone’s life.
For those people rejected at the initial stage, but still definitely trans, they can try alternative routes to hormones. Some successfully go holistic, diet and lifestyle to bulk their bodies the way they need to. Others can buy hormones online, testogel being the safer one as it’s self applied.
It’s not the worst choice for some people. I’ve met people who have self-prescribed and then when seeing their psychiatrist are able to say it would do them more harm by not moving their journey forward due to the dependence their body now has on these substances. It also proves they are dedicated to their journey and not ‘making it up’ or ‘confused’.
I explain this, not to advocate, but to shed light on the barriers that some trans people face when it comes to autonomy over our situations. As someone who has successfully moved through the system, I still experience stress when having to negotiate with GPs that after 10+ years I know what I’m doing.
Trans people early in their journeys need this information shared so they have the knowledge they’re not alone, they’re not mad or bad, they will get through this. Yes it is a bit of a fight and it can be frightening fighting a GP or psychiatrist, but you know you and it’s ok.