Waiting times for trans healthcare are spiralling out of control. So these activists decided to take matters into their own hands

Vic Parsons
·5-min read

Being transgender in Britain in 2020 has at times felt incredibly difficult: not because being trans is in itself hard, necessarily, but because society makes it so.

From a long-awaited and ultimately disappointing “reform” of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) – which saw the Conservative government ignore almost all of the proposed reforms that could’ve made legal gender recognition more straightforward and less dehumanising for trans people – to spiralling waiting times for healthcare, it has at times been a rough ride.

Healthcare, in particular, has been the focus for many in the trans community. The time it takes from getting a GP referral to a specialist NHS gender dysphoria clinic to the first appointment stretches to four years in some parts of Britain. Without the gender clinic, trans people are unable to get support, healthcare, hormones, surgeries, therapy, and the paperwork needed for legal gender recognition.

With NHS waiting times so long, trans people are often forced to turn to their community to provide the support that should be freely available. The sight of people’s top surgery or facial feminisation surgery crowdfunders doing the rounds is as heartbreaking as it is regular.

And the lack of access to healthcare is not spread evenly across the trans community. Those without savings, without family support, without a public profile, will all find it harder to pay for the transition they need privately.

Yet as hard as things have been, hope grows in the cracks. Mutual aid and community support have thrived, even as the pandemic rages.

One new trans-led organisation is We Exist. A community cafe in London – before lockdown 2.0 forced its doors shut – and artist space, We Exist has also launched a healthcare fund for trans people who need financial support.

PinkNews spoke to one of its founders, Sophie, about the new project.

What is We Exist?

We Exist is a trans-led project aiming to do two main things. First, to raise money to directly give to trans people in need across the UK with essential healthcare costs, and secondly, to take up space within London and beyond to benefit trans people as well as the wider queer community.

Who are you, why have you set up We Exist and what led you to this point?

We Exist at the minute is me, Sophie, a trans woman, and Jo who I met when I moved in with them in July. I work as an artist and my own practice often involves elements of identity and self, and I previously ran a queer arts space in Belfast called The 343 whilst Jo has worked within the London queer scene for the past eight years both as an activist and club night promoter.

We set up We Exist because I felt it was a necessity in the face of the rising waiting times for healthcare for all trans people in the UK and the associated costs with going private. This came a lot from my own experience of being referred in 2016 to an NHS Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) and as of this date still not even being assessed.

For both of us, partly a sense of frustration led us to actually doing something. We have a lot of friends in a similar healthcare position and also we wanted more spaces in London that are queer spaces but aren’t centred around alcohol and nightlife.

What are the key issues facing trans people in the UK? How will We Exist be working to address them?

We feel it’s important to make sure that we’re not just London-centric. Even if there was any adequate GRA reform, for example, this wouldn’t apply in devolved governments like Northern Ireland where history already shows us that rights for queer people lag behind and aren’t in line with the rest of the UK.

Transphobia and hateful language has also massively grown across the UK and we don’t want to only have those who want to deny our existence the right to take up space and to speak. This hasn’t just affected trans people in daily life but has also harmfully affected public policy decisions, as shown in the most recent lack of any meaningful reform to the GRA.

We aren’t saying we can just fix these, but through taking up space we want to exist loudly, educate and battle misinformation and also, perhaps most importantly, ensure trans people can access the life-saving care that hormone therapy is in an affordable and accessible way.

Until that happens, we’ll continue to protest, facilitate other voices and raise funds to give to trans people directly so they can afford such care.

Who are the other community organisers and organisations that you’re inspired by, and why?

Both of us have always been inspired by Sylvia Rivera, from the Stonewall Riots, for not only challenging those outside of the queer community but for challenging those within the community who, when thinking their rights were won, ignored those still struggling.

Our challenge is similar to cis queer people, especially in cities, who desperately need to support and raise trans voices now even though they may feel their own rights have now been won.

I also love the Tie Project as an example of a group of people, queer and allies, working together to bring mass change to education right across Scotland that is inclusive of all members of our community.

How can cis people best support you? Do you have a donation pot?

Trans people need cis people’s allyship to go beyond just social-media posts or even showing up at Trans Pride or similar protest.

We need them to support us when we speak and to raise our voices in places that make a difference. Trans rights are literally under attack in the UK media constantly, despite recent polls showing the majority of the public support trans people.

If you’re a cis person, challenge people who are using transphobia as a weapon and misinformation about trans people, especially trans young people as a way to delegitimise our existence.

If you have money to give you can donate directly to the healthcare fund.