An IT engineer put on puberty blockers as a 16-year-old girl has claimed a gender clinic failed to carry out a proper psychiatric assessment before giving them to her.
Keira Bell, 23, of Manchester, who is taking legal action against the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London, suffered from gender dysphoria as a child.
She took testosterone, which left her with a deep voice and possibly infertile, and had a double mastectomy – but later realised she had ‘gone down the wrong path’.
Miss Bell is now taking the Tavistock, which runs the Gender Identity Development Service, to the High Court to stop it ‘rushing’ other teenagers into changing sex.
She is also raising fears over puberty blockers which halt a child’s normal physical development, making sex-change surgery easier when they reach adulthood.
Miss Bell told ITV’s This Morning today: ‘I grew up very gender non-conforming and so that, along with things like sexuality struggles, kind of led to feelings of alienation.
‘I just became very depressed in my teens and very anxious and definitely very distressed about my body and all of that kind of manifested into gender dysphoria.
‘I was referred on to the CAHM clinic from my GP, which is the child and adolescent mental health service, and very shortly after that I was referred onto the Tavistock.
‘It was just a process for me, because I found out how the process went through online forums and things like that so I was already aware of how the process worked.
‘It was just a process, I wasn’t necessarily happy or felt that I was being listened to. I was very focused on getting on the medical path.’
Miss Bell changed her name by deed poll, changed her gender on documents and identified as male, but claimed she did not receive sufficient therapy sessions.
Keira Bell, 23, of Manchester, spoke to Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield on This Morning
She said: ‘There was no exploration of the feelings that I had, no psychiatric assessment. It was very brief and based on my recent past. There was no in depth discussion.
What is gender dysphoria?
Gender dysphoria is a condition in which someone becomes distressed because they don’t feel that their biological sex matches the gender they identify as.
For example, someone may feel like a woman and want to live as a woman, but have been born with the anatomy of a man.
Gender dysphoria is a ‘recognised medical condition, for which treatment is sometimes appropriate’ and is ‘not a mental illness’, according to the NHS.
People who live as a gender which is not the same as their biological sex are called transgender.
Some people may choose to have hormone therapy – for example, to make them grow hair or develop breasts – or to have reassignment surgery to give them the genitals of a person of the sex they identify as.
People diagnosed with gender dysphoria are allowed to legally change their gender.
According to the charity Stonewall, as many as 1 per cent of the population may be trans – although accurate numbers are not known.
‘I can see now when I reflect back it was all very rushed, and I wish that there was some psychiatric assessment. At the end of the day I feel like it should have been explored into why I had those feelings and not just accepted for what they were.’
At 17 she was injected with testosterone and her body began to change. She said: ‘I think I was happy because I thought that I was able to finally move on with my life and live how I was, at the time, thought I was supposed to live my life.
‘So it’s not until I have been able to reflect back recently that I realised I was just stunted by the hormones and allowed to disassociate further through that.’
She then had a double mastectomy aged 20, adding: ‘When you’re on that pathway it’s hard to come out of that and after those drastic changes have already happened to your body it’s hard to basically admit you’ve gone down the wrong path.
‘I’d say roughly a year after my surgery I just started to dissect my mind and how I got to that stage and it was just a lot of reflecting and being very introspective.’
Asked about how she felt about the changes now, Miss Bell said: ‘This is going to affect me for the rest of my life and I have to make do with that and try and accept for how I am now and attempt to move on with that.
‘It’s true you can’t change your sex. You can appear a certain way. If you’d had me on a couple of years ago I would have had the same story (as others), saying that it saved my life and I’m in a much better position.
‘But the point is that teenagers can’t comprehend how it’s going to affect their adult life. People may say that it’s helped them but for how long? For two, five, ten years? It’s very flippant.’
Miss Bell is now taking legal action against the Tavistock to protect others from going through the same thing as her. She said: ‘There needs to be explorative therapy.
IT engineer Miss Bell is pictured outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London in January
‘I don’t think that changing your body is going to help a psychological condition – that doesn’t make sense to me. So I think it’s important for these children to be protected and to be actually listened to in a professional manner.
‘It’s difficult for me to put myself in a parent’s position or anything that anyone could say verbally to prevent the treatment going ahead. I think again it’s down to the institutions.
‘There needs to be some institutional changes, which is why I’m taking the case, because there’s so many factors into why these kids are being influenced to transition, so I think it’s very important that institutional changes.’
And asked how she was feeling now, Miss Bell said: ‘I’m in a lot better of a position now because I’ve been off the hormones for close to two years now.
‘And I just feel very healthy and it’s always good to be grounded back in reality, so I’m just focused on my own development now and getting back on my feet.’
Miss Bell took testosterone, which left her with a deep voice and possibly infertile, and had a double mastectomy – but later realised she had ‘gone down the wrong path’.
A Tavistock spokesman said: ‘GIDS (Gender Identity Development Service) is a safe and thoughtful service which puts the best interest of its patients and their families first.
‘We won’t comment on the ongoing proceedings and await the judgment of the court in due course.
‘Surgical interventions are not available for under-18s. They can only be assessed by an adult gender identity clinic.’
Miss Bell is taking the gender clinic to court along with a mother who wants to prevent youngsters making ‘catastrophic’ decisions that they live to regret.
Miss Bell (pictured as a five-year-old) had treatment which began at the Tavistock in London
The woman, who can only be called ‘Mrs A’ for legal reasons, fears her 16-year-old daughter will be fast-tracked for transgender medical treatment once she is seen by clinicians at the GIDS.
She says they will simply ‘affirm’ the girl’s belief – mistaken in her mother’s opinion – that she is really a boy. In reality, Mrs A believes her daughter’s desire to be male is driven by having Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism.
‘This is bigger than just my child. The whole narrative is that if your child is confused about their gender, then transition is the only course of action,’ she told The Mail on Sunday last week.
‘There doesn’t seem to be any discussion of other possibilities. And that’s quite frightening.’
The Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust (file picture) runs the UK’s first gender clinic in London
The married, middle-aged mother thinks gender experts have no real idea which of their young patients are ‘truly’ transgender and which are going through a phase. She believes they are too ready to accept what the youngsters tell them at face value.
‘The consequences of them getting it wrong are catastrophic,’ she added.
In July 2018, the MoS revealed that 150 autistic children had been given the ‘puberty blocker’ drugs by GIDS.
Some experts say puberty blockers give children time to reflect on whether to press ahead with further treatment.
But studies show the vast majority of those who take them move on to ‘cross-sex hormones’ such as testosterone for those born female.
Taking the hormones can cause irreversible changes, including loss of fertility, and are a stepping stone to sex-change surgery.