The Tavistock and the fight for gender identity support

Hey. The language in today’s issue is going to be a bit less playful than usual. Not because I want to be dour, but because the subject matter needs a bit of respect.

I’m going back to British slow journalism outfit Tortoise this week, to bring you a minute from a piece of reporting that uncovers the seemingly politically-motivated closure of the UK’s only gender clinic, the Tavistock. That’s the subject of The Tavistock: Inside the Gender Clinic.

Before we crack on, a couple of things to note.

Firstly, the story in this podcast relates to the UK’s bonkers 2022 when we went through three Prime Ministers in one year. Specifically we’re referencing the Truss government which famously lasted all of 50 days and managed to do even more damage than her party had already done to the country.

Secondly, we’re going to talk about gender and gender identity, but only really on a social level – essentially we’re talking about people and their emotions, not what’s between their legs, which is none of our business.

OK, so with that out of the way, let’s get into it.

The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation ran their Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) in London and Leeds, with the centre announcing closure in July 2022. The centre has been criticised on both sides, and has come under fire for how young people experiencing gender dysphoria are treated.

What’s crucial about the minute I’m bringing you – which starts at around 25:02 in my copy, and is just before the mid-roll ad break – is how journalist Polly Curtis uncovered what was to replace it, which seems like not enough.

As you might understand – and what I get from my limited understanding – young people may embark on a medical discussion about gender having already socially transitioned. That means they might wear clothes or use a name that better fits the gender they identify with. So before they discuss puberty blockers or other medical interventions, there’s a discussion to be had about how they present.

What journalist Polly and the then head of the Tavistock – also called Polly – hit upon is the government’s seeming desire to reduce or remove support for social transitioning. Whatever you feel about gender, you must surely believe that a person has the right to express themselves. That’s what caught me about this particular minute, and why I wanted to bring it to you.

Good journalism is thought-provoking. Not in that tabloidy way I think that phrase can be used. Not to stoke controversy for the sake of it, but to genuinely make you stop and think.

When we take polarising viewpoints, we become more and more intrenched. What podcasting allows us to do – because we get right to the heart of a person by hearing their voice – is to connect with an individual story. That shows us the people who make up the faceless swathes who get demonised, lionised, or victimised in our minds. We’re invited to take a look, to take a listen, to engage with someone’s lived experience, not the blurred and smeared version we encounter elsewhere and that so often goes unchallenged.

OK, soap box away. Let’s see what the podcast Gods drop in my lap next week. Until then, you keep listening, and I’ll do the same.

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