I've been listening to BBC Radio 4's programme Becoming Myself: Gender Identity, part 1 of which was broadcast last Friday, and part 2 today. Both parts are presently available for playback using the BBC iPlayer Radio app.
Part 1 dealt with the aspirations and progress of trans men through the long-established Charing Cross Hospital gender clinic in London. Part 2 dealt with trans women passing through the hands of the same clinic.
It was no surprise to find the cases of the featured men and women were reported with care and balance. The editing let them come across as well-rounded human beings with realistic self-perception. Some of the professionals were also interviewed, and they came across well too, as people who knew their stuff and wanted to assist their patients through a demanding process. It seemed that, on the whole, the set-up at the clinic was distinctly better than it had been in the past, just as the outside world was more accommodating and understanding of trans people than it used to be. But there was no disguising the protracted nature of the process for those referred to the clinic.
I asked myself whether, if I were now at the beginning of transition, and choosing between the private route (very expensive, but fast-track) and the Charing Cross route (free on the NHS, but awfully slow), whether I would feel tempted to go for Charing Cross. I decided that if I were young, in my twenties say, I might. But if I were older, and especially if I were my actual age, sixty-two, then no. Time matters much more when you haven't a lot of it left. Even though I would be impressively well-organised, and very pro-active and persistent, and scrupulously meet all of Charing Cross's requirements, and never be late for an appointment, I'd find it all too frustrating. I'd want to get everything done quickly, by a team of professionals of my choice, and to a timetable that I had some say about.
So I would still find the money, and go private.
In this country it's easy to feel uncomfortable about 'jumping the queue' or 'opting out of the ordinary system, and enjoying something better' if one has some cash. But I'm pretty sure that my decision to go private in 2008, and in particular my putting up £10,500 of my own money for the op in early 2011, must have taken a little pressure off the NHS gender clinic budget and its facilities, and must have enabled someone else to progress a bit faster through the NHS system.
Getting back to the level tone of the programme, I wondered whether the days of lurid documentaries were now over. Here were a set of individual stories, related in the trans person's own words, without third-party interpretation, and certainly without any suggestion that these were strange people with a bizarre problem. I would expect nothing less from the BBC; but across the media, sensational stories about trans persons are surely getting rarer. It gives one hope. It would be very pleasant indeed if, during the next five years or so, it became usual for a trans person to go about their daily activities without being especially noticed, because public opinion had moved a few critical steps down the road to total acceptance, and only diehard idiots were standing firm on their prejudices.
Perhaps I am being too optimistic about the timescale. But the trend to acceptance seems to be establishing itself. Certainly, I already feel perfectly easy about going to most places in the UK, or at least those that a woman can go to on her own. That's a big gain. I haven't forgotten the terror I felt when appearing in public during the winter of 2008/2009 - and with reason: I didn't look good at all. I measure my personal progress from that era. No wonder it feels like I've come a long way since then.
If trans people are going to be talked about without sniggers or frowns, then we will all feel a lot happier in our minds. I really don't mind being recognised as a tiresomely chatty female pensioner first, and a trans person second, so long as a decent, courteous response to me kicks in - and not a wish to poke fun at me, or ignore me, or do me harm.