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Gender dysphoria is not a ‘lifestyle choice’

10 Dec 2014

The Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) is the focus of a BBC Radio 4 programme which airs on Friday 12 and 19 December.

The two part series follows staff and transgender patients at the GIC, who are pursuing treatment for gender dysphoria in order to become themselves.

The Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic is an NHS service that was established in 1966 to help people with gender identity issues.  Not only is it the oldest clinic of its kind, it’s also the largest in the world. People from all over the UK are treated here for gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria is a sometimes unbearable sense of unhappiness, distress or discomfort that someone feels about the mismatch between their apparent bodily sex and inner sense of their own gender.

West London Mental Health Trust, who are responsible for the Gender Identity Clinic, decided to take part in the programme to help inform and influence public opinion, and to help lessen stigma.

The programme is in two parts – the first part follows trans men and the second programme follows trans women. In 2002, around 80% of those transitioning were trans women (assigned male at birth but female in their inner identity). However the clinic has seen an increase in the number of trans men (assigned female at birth but male in their inner identity) to more equal proportions.  Some people identify as gender-neutral, neither male nor female, or androgynous, incorporating elements of both.

Charing Cross GIC saw around 1,400 new referrals in the last 12 months and, year on year, there’s a steady rise. It is estimated that referrals double every five years or so.  This increase seems to be the pattern in every country where gender services exist.

Dr Stuart Lorimer is a consultant liaison psychiatrist and gender specialist at the Gender Identity Clinic. He said, “Gender identity holds a fascination for the media and the public. Even so, there are often basic misunderstandings about how trans and gender variant people feel about themselves, and what treatments are available for those who suffer dysphoria around gender.

“This programme on BBC Radio 4 seeks to address these misunderstandings and also lessen the stigma around gender transition. Some people – including some doctors – wrongly assume that gender dysphoria is a lifestyle choice. It generally isn’t a conscious choice at all, nor is it a hobby, fetish or ‘phase’.

“It is a serious, potentially disabling condition that should be given the recognition and treatment it deserves. The stigma has certainly lessened over the years but it is definitely still there, as you will hear from people in the documentary.”

‘Becoming Myself’ airs on Friday 12 and 19 December at 11am on BBC Radio 4.

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