Throughout LGBT History Month, which takes place during the month of February, the team at YourGP are raising awareness of gender dysphoria, also known as transgender. At YourGP private medical practice in Edinburgh, their gender specialists and psychiatrists support and guide many transgender people through their gender reassignment journey. We therefore asked them to give us an insight into the history of transgenderism and asked how treatments have changed over the years.
Give us a little background on transgender history in the UK
The history of transgenderismis a complex one that stretches back generations. Although the term ‘transgender’ wasn’t used until 1971 (as explained by Prof Stephen Whittle, founder of Press for Change, in an article in The Guardian newspaper) people were identifying as transgender long before then. In 1755, Charlotte Clarke came out as the first openly transgender person in the UK, after she published an autobiography of her life. Although there were a number of partial sex change operations in the early 1900s, Michael Dillon’s gender reassignment treatment from woman to man, which he obtained during the Second World War, was the first of the modern era.
What other people have made an important contribution to a wider understanding of transgender?
Other names include Roberta Cowell, who was the first known British male-to-female transsexual to undergo sex reassignment surgery, and April Ashley, whose gender reassignment was revealed by the Sunday People newspaper in 1961. And in 1966, five years after the Sunday People revealed Ashley’s gender reassignment, Harry Benjamin published the first major textbook on transgenderism, The Transsexual Phenomenon.
The road to greater understanding hasn’t been an easy one has it?
No, in 1966 trans women took a stand against discrimination and harassment during the Compton Cafeteria Riots. Three years later, in 1969, they again took a stand – this time during the Stonewall riots, commonly acknowledged as the birth of the modern LGBT movement.
Which country led the way for transgender legislation and treatment?
Three years after the Stonewall riots, in 1972, Sweden became the first country in the world to allow its citizens to legally change their sex. But it wasn’t until 2004 that the UK followed suit, when the Gender Recognition Act was passed. Since then, the rights of transgender people, as well as the services and treatments available to them, have continually evolved.
How important was the 2010 Equality Act?
As Tom de Castella writes in a BBC article, ‘The 2010 Equality Act, granting equal access to employment as well as private and public services, regardless of gender reassignment, was a milestone’.
How has treatment of transgender people evolved over generations?
Dr Lyndsey Myskow has been working with patients with gender dysphoria for over 25 years and over that time have noticed many changes. The most dramatic change has been the social acceptance of transgendered people thanks to education of the public by transgender organisations, but also due to openly transsexual people appearing in soaps etc. It was not unusual in the past for patients to report being spat on in public or even beaten up which made the Real Life Test much more of a challenge. Thank goodness times have changed.
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