Note: This post owes a great deal to the contributions and input of a friend who had lived through relevant experiences. While they wish to remain anonymous, I want to express gratitude for their help and lend credit where credit is due.
Last week a story broke in the British press concerning a young trans woman, Ria Cooper, who at 17 had been the youngest patient to ever receive hormone treatment for gender transition under the NHS. Ria was now considering “detransition”, that is, the choice to eschew her scheduled lower surgery, discontinue the use of exogenous hormones and anti-androgens, and return to living and presenting as male, within general cultural concepts of male-ness.
Obviously the often notoriously vicious and transphobic mainstream British press seized on the story, providing as it did an apparent “confirmation” of the initial fears and doubts that the cis public had expressed when Cooper first sought treatment: their outrage at the idea of “kids being given sex changes!”, the idea that at 17 she was “too young” to make such a decision, the distrust of the NHS funding gender transition at all, let alone for “unconventional” patients like trans youth, the idea that it was a frivolous and risky expense of the NHS’ public funding, and the general “gatekeeping” mentality: cissexist or cis-centric biases that lead to the idea that medical gender transition is something that demands an especially extraordinary amount of caution, evidence that the patient is “sure” and capable of being “sure”, and evidence that the patient is “really” trans. Cooper’s (immediately publicized) choice to detransition offered an almost irresistible narrative for everybody in Britain who had expressed outrage, disgust, unease or even mild suspicion that it was a “bad idea” to “allow” her to be treated. It offered them all a chance to feel smug, collectively shrug their shoulders and sigh “I told you so”.
Naturally, this was how the story was spun. It was also intertwined with additional tut-tutting to allow the general cis-centric consensus to feel very proud of its initial suspicions, such as hitting on a note of “wasted tax dollars” (a sentiment that would be considered in extremely poor taste if the medical issue in question was chemotherapy failing to prevent a cancer from coming out of remission, or medications failing to slow the progression of HIV into AIDs, or a heart transplant being rejected by its recipient despite an expensive immuno-suppressant regimen), and the misogynistic explanation that female hormones had in and of themselves “caused” Cooper’s mood swings, depression and eventual suicide attempts. This latter explanation did far worse damage than simply being a trite and sexist simplification designed to confirm the pre-existing biases of the general public, however, in that it also buried the lead, buried the real story, and buried the complex and tragic truth of Ria Cooper’s experiences since their transition. I’ll return to this momentarily.
Worryingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the reactions of The Trans Community, and the discussions that ensued, weren’t any less callous, simplistic or centered on the affirmation of pre-existing biases than those of the cis public. While it’s entirely understandable to be very frightened about what affect this story might have on how gatekeeping procedures and medical access to transition-related treatment are done in the UK and under the NHS, particularly for British trans youth, it’s appalling how many trans women have laid the blame for this risk on Ria Cooper and her supposed “recklessness” or “bad decision-making” or “selfishness” rather than on the press (for how the story has been presented), the cis public (for their biased reactions), and the NHS (for being all too quick to prioritize the cissexist biases of the public over the needs of transgender patients).