The effect of the coronavirus crisis on transgender issues

8 April 2020

Carys Moseley comments on how the coronavirus crisis has affected transgender issues.

The coronavirus crisis has had a major effect on transgender issues, and there are many questions that need asking about the challenges that arise. As will become evident below, the current crisis put a spotlight on the most important problems. In particular, there is a need to be vigilant in case transgender policies continue receiving favour from the government, the NHS and the BBC once this public health emergency period is over.

Gender reassignment isn’t essential healthcare

Gender reassignment surgery and cross-sex hormones are not essential healthcare. They most certainly do not count as emergency healthcare either. (The Coronavirus Act 2020 assumes that the present crisis constitutes an emergency involving loss of life and spread of illness, hence why healthcare services are being diverted during this period.) This is very important as it removes one of the strongest arguments the transgender movement has used to justify physical treatment for gender dysphoria.

Looking at the websites of the gender identity clinics, as well as social media accounts of gender clinicians in both the public and private sectors, it is evident that they have struggled to communicate with the self-identified transgender population about this. However the NHS Gender Identity Clinic for adults in London is determined to make signing off cross-sex hormones and referring patients to surgery a priority once face-to-face appointments resume.

Coming off cross-sex hormones

The same gender identity clinic also admits that its endocrine team is not an emergency service. It also says the following:

“Please note that physical harm is unlikely to occur if hormone therapy is temporarily reduced or stopped. There may be a slight return of characteristics of birth assigned sex but these should revert when hormone therapy resumes.”

This reveals that the clinic’s tacit thinking is that people are mentally harmed by living as members of their sex. For this reason, we still need to be vigilant about the possibility of campaigning for easier gender change coming back at the end of the present public health emergency period.

People will just have to wait

Gender identity clinics are offering consultations online and clinicians are still available by email. People are being told that they will just have to wait until the end of this period of social distancing before taking gender reassignment further. This makes such a contrast with the frequent news stories, particularly in the BBC, over the last few years complaining about long waiting-lists for NHS gender clinics, and how these were endangering lives.

Once this public health emergency period is over, it is doubtful whether the public or journalists will be so prepared to put up with such propaganda, as many operations have had to be postponed due to the Coronavirus crisis taking over.

Policy on transgender patients in emergency care

Some NHS trusts have guidelines for transgender patient care, and insist that patients even in an emergency should be treated as members of the opposite gender. This is a serious problem as it is now known internationally that men are more likely than women to die of COVID-19.

See for example the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust document, ‘Supporting Individuals Who Are Transgender Policy’, published in January 2020:

“6.1.7. If, in an emergency situation, it is unclear if the patient is transsexual or a transvestite (because they are unconscious) the staff will need to try and ascertain the person’s preferred gender before contacting the family or moving to a ward.  For example, the staff could look for forms of identification that the patient has to see if this will indicate their gender.”

The question is how many other NHS trusts have similar policies?

Is the truth about biological sex essential or not?

Clearly the medical profession needs the numbers of men and women who have had coronavirus symptoms, who have contracted COVID-19, those who have died from it and those who have recovered. All this data is essential for different kinds of testing that are being conducted both in the UK and around the world, to try to develop treatments and make better assessments of risk factors. As previously mentioned, it is significant that across the world, men are more likely to die of COVID-19 than women.

The question that needs to be asked, but is not being asked at present, is how do we know how many of these men are actually men, and not women who live as men? The truth is we do not, because thanks to transsexual rights being enshrined in legislation, people who legally identify as transgender are recorded as members of their chosen gender both on healthcare records and on death certificates. The problem this creates is that it is nearly impossible for medical researchers into coronavirus and COVID-19 to study how people who identify as transgender, including those who are considering de-transition but who are still recorded as the opposite sex, are affected.

Are female-to-male transgender people at greater risk?

So-called ‘chest-binding’, or breast-binding, among female-to-male transgender people, can produce respiratory problems. In a major study of women from several countries including the UK who practice ‘chest-binding’, nearly half (46.6%) had shortness of breath as a result, and 17.2% had a cough. This is surely relevant as COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. So far, no medical professionals have spoken publicly about the need to investigate possible problems.

In addition, the skewing of official data and records due to redefining sex is bound to have a negative effect on medical research on coronavirus and COVID-19, and any ensuing health advice that has to be sex-specific.

Given this, the NHS and the Department of Health should not treat transgender people as the sole stakeholders in any further guidelines, research or consultation on the sex-based risks for coronavirus and COVID-19, but should make a scientifically accurate impact assessment of the entire population according to sex at birth.

What trans groups are doing online

It is interesting that during this crisis transgender campaign groups are saying very little on their websites about healthcare. They seem to realise that the public will not tolerate their demands. The question is, what will they do next?

Some groups are undermining families that do not approve of changing gender. For example, Mermaids has added a quick ‘Exit’ button to their website, to help children conceal from their parents the fact that they are reading it. There is a need to remain vigilant here for further tactics.

Social distancing and isolation

Many mental health professionals now fear that the coronavirus crisis is causing massive mental health problems among the wider population. The current crisis isn’t going to magically remove the underlying problems that people suffering from gender confusion already have. Indeed, they may be exacerbated by social distancing and self-isolation for some people.

For others, they may discover that life away from those who have influenced them in the transgender direction is more peaceful and start to question the transgender narrative that they have previously accepted uncritically. The challenge then is to reach out to such people.

Plans for easier gender change shelved – for now

For weeks now, journalists have reported rumours that the governments of the UK and Scotland have said they would shelve their plans to make changing gender easier by reforming the Gender Recognition Act. This was supposed to happen by removing the requirement for medical checks. The rumour was that Prime Minister Boris Johnson simply did not want this fight. Last week, Scottish government ministers told the press that these plans would be shelved for the duration of the present Scottish parliament, ie. until after the Scottish elections in May 2021.

Have these plans really gone away for good? We cannot be sure. There has never been an official announcement published on either government’s website and thus we must remain very vigilant in case the plans come back when few people are looking. In the present crisis, we have already seen how the UK government has overridden Parliament by allowing abortion pills to be taken at home. This means it is quite willing and capable of overriding other legislation if it wants to.

The BBC tells the truth about sex – or else

It is noticeable how all of a sudden, outlets such as the BBC that were previously avoiding saying words like ‘mother’ and ‘women’ in relation to pregnancy are now speaking of ‘pregnant women’ again. Maybe BBC executives realise that this is a testing time for them, in that whilst the BBC is publishing and broadcasting official messages about coronavirus, it has to be trusted to tell the truth about biological matters, or else.

All this must also be related to the fact that the government had previously wanted to revise the licence-fee arrangement and end the criminalisation of those who don’t pay it. This would result in a huge loss of revenue for the BBC and threaten to end its monopoly over news.

The eerie silence of WPATH

Last but not least, we need to keep a close eye on the two most influential international organisations involved in transgender healthcare and rights: The World Professional Association for Transgender Health, and the World Health Organisation.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), which sets standards worldwide for gender reassignment and transgender healthcare, has said nothing about the coronavirus crisis except that it is postponing a major event. It is significant that it has said nothing about the most obvious problem which is that so-called ‘chest-binding’ is surely unwise given that COVID-19 is a respiratory disorder.

It’s time to challenge the World Health Organisation

As for the World Health Organisation, its silence on the same matter is a very serious problem of medical ethics and sooner or later, medical professionals and concerned others around the world should start to challenge it. For the truth is that as the WHO proudly pushed for countries to no longer classify gender dysphoria as a mental illness, it has allowed a situation to arise where dangerous quack physical ‘treatments’ have taken the place of proper mental healthcare for very vulnerable people. This situation should no longer be tolerated and indeed needs to be actively countered.

Whilst this seems to be the doing of the mental health section of the WHO, this clearly has significant implications for physical health, and as such it raises serious questions about the entire organisation and its ties to healthcare systems. The WHO’s campaigns and pronouncements need to receive much more medical, political and press scrutiny in the UK from now on, rather than just being rubber-stamped from on high.

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