On 1 December, the High Court released its judgment in the case brought forward by Keira Bell, a woman who underwent hormone blockers followed by hormone replacement therapy as well as a gender-affirming double mastectomy (commonly referred to as top surgery) before deciding to detransition to her birth-assigned sex, as well as an anonymous claimant against the Tavistock Gender Identity Clinic.
Bell claimed that she was unable to give informed consent when she was prescribed hormone blockers (medication given to inhibit puberty that is used as an initial and reversible treatment for gender dysphoria in trans teenagers) because of her age at the time. She argues that she was unable to fully weigh the long term impact that it may have on her body.
This seems disingenuous, given she was over the age of 18 when she made the decision to undergo hormone replacement therapy (HRT), the first part of the medical treatment that would eventually lead to irreversible effects on her physical development. The implication is to cast doubt on the general adult population’s ability to give informed consent to potentially irreversible treatment.
The case of Bell is one of someone who earnestly believes themselves to be transgender and later regrets the decision to transition. That is a very real and very difficult situation for a person to find themselves in, and they are deserving of support and solidarity. It would be irresponsible to legislate under the assumption that trans people are going to detransition, in the same way that it would be wrong to ban access to abortion on the basis of some people later regretting their decision.
Would those on the left now acting as cheerleaders for the crackdown on the rights of young trans people to access healthcare be so eagerly cheering on a similar decision if it were a 15 year old girl being forced to carry to term? I should hope not.
The jump from this case to one where a 15 year old is not deemed fit to make her own decision and is forced to carry to term is much less than the transphobic left may like to admit. This case is a blow to the idea of “Gillick competence”: that people under 16 should be able to consent to their own medical care as long as they understand what is involved.
The outcome of this case has been cheered on by Christian fundamentalists and anti-abortion campaigners, who know full well that this opens up space for them to make the argument against young people being able to access reproductive healthcare. This of course undermines reproductive freedoms in general and gives momentum to those wishing to further crack down on the rights of women.
There is a mental health epidemic amongst trans people. Stonewall found that 48% of trans people in the UK had attempted suicide and 84% had thought about it. Hormone blockers play a key role in easing the mental health burden on trans youth. Turban et al. (2020) found that treatment on hormone blockers during adolescence heavily reduced the risk of suicidal thoughts later on. Hormone blockers are an essential and life-saving element of the already limited healthcare provision that trans people can access.
Trans people are currently facing a protracted attack on rights, dignities and freedoms, with people calling for rollbacks of these across the political spectrum. Socialists have a duty to stand up on behalf of the oppressed in society. Trans people should be no exception.