With Joan Burton’s recent gender recognition bill coming to force, the journey of a transgender citizen in Ireland has become much easier. People can now change their legal gender of their own accord without diagnosis from endocrinologists or psychiatrists. However the struggle for transgender citizens is still an uphill battle. There are reports of this issue existing in all cultures, even in animals. In spite of this the supports for people who need to transition in Ireland are sadly lacking according to experts. Ireland was the last country in the EU to legally recognise transgender people.
With public figures like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox constantly being discussed in the media, more and more people are coming to terms with the fact that they are transgender. The main treatment centre in St. Columcille’s hospital in Loughlinstown has reported an increasing number of patients seeking help with gender related issues. The number of transgender citizens in Ireland cannot be backed up by any reliable statistics however they do represent a considerable number of the population.
Many studies show that Irish transgender citizens are not being cared for. While 4 fifths of trans people have considered suicide, 4 in 10 are reported to have attempted suicide, 3 of those 10 more than once. A HSE report found that 6% of trans citizens have been raped, 16% sexually assaulted and 36% sexually harassed. 19% of trans people have even experienced violence or abuse from family members. These statistics are incredibly disturbing. It has also been shown that 83% suffer from stress, 82% depression, 73% anxiety and 83% of trans people have avoided public spaces at some point in their lives. This is absolutely horrific.
Times are changing in Ireland and acceptance is becoming much stronger. Achievements like the gender recognition bill catering to those over 18 and Dr Lydia Foy being compensated €50,000 from the Irish government after a 21 year long battle to be given a birth certificate that would recognise her preferred gender are paving the way for a more equal Irish future. However the gender recognition bill excludes those under 18 and those who identify as gender-fluid and non-binary. This is questionable as of 218 patients who were surveyed, 61.9% self-diagnosed as children while another 14.7% did so as adolescents. Simon Blackensee is on the board of directors at the Transgender Equality Network Ireland. He stated “As a parent I believe that medical intervention for trans children does not happen at the opportune time in this country. Believing children, accepting that they know their own minds regardless of their age is vital to their self-image now and in the future.”
Irish public sectors such as the HSE and the Department of Education have no clear guidelines with regards to dealing with transgender citizens. A recent report found that 26% of trans people were discouraged by healthcare workers from exploring their gender while 19% were told they weren’t really transgender. There are only two gender dysphoria specialists currently working in Ireland and both work on an exclusively private basis.
There are also very long waiting lists for psychologists in the public system. “The mental health component is vital because you need a diagnosis before you can see an endocrinologist,” stated Vanessa Lacey, a transgender woman and Health and Education Officer with the Transgender Equality Network Ireland. “It can’t be done fast enough and as a result; many are paying for it privately.” Treatment is highly expensive with those not on a medical card paying up to €5,000 a year.
There are currently no facilities to perform gender reassignment surgery in Ireland. Most people who have pursued this form of treatment have done so in the UK. In a survey of 793 HSE professionals, 90% of respondents stated that they had not had any training on trans issues and 74% of respondents indicated that they would like training in this area. St. Columcille’s hospital also has a policy in which trans citizens must have a written diagnosis from a psychologist in order to be prescribed hormones. Many trans people find this to be a breach of their rights. After coming to terms with the fact that they are trans and telling their families etc. they are put through further turmoil by not being able to make their own choices around medical treatment. The defence of Donal O’Shea, a consultant endocrinologist at St Columcille’s is that “a wrong diagnosis could lead an individual down a path of gender reassignment they might regret.”
However regret is not common amongst individuals who have medically transitioned. When it does occur it seems to be because of an individual’s situation rather than a misdiagnosis. Let’s face it. Changing your gender is not something that a person would do on a whim and it is not an easy thing to do. In light of this, people are generally correct when they believe that they have gender dysphoria. However, when a person’s quality of life worsens as a result of their transition it is understandable that they would regret said transition. Some people find themselves shunned by their families and loved ones after they have admitted their need to transition. Some also believe that they will be accepted into society after they have transitioned but this is often not the case. In this regard people regret their decision to medically transition because of the people around them and not because of themselves.
Ireland has a long way to go with regards to being supportive to our transgender citizens, however we should take pride in the fact that we are on the right track. Trans people have been shunned for a very long time but the time has finally come for them to be recognised as an equal part of society. The future is bright for equality in Ireland and we have the tremendous chance to lead the way for so many other countries in a similar fashion to the recent marriage equality referendum.