Author explains why it’s ‘horrible’ trans people are ‘used to paying for each other’s healthcare’

Darcy and Josie

Frustrated by the limited and often conditional trans healthcare options offered on the NHS, poet and author Harry Josephine Giles and her partner Darcy Leigh have been forced, like many trans folk before them, to take matters into their own hands.

Harry Josephine Giles (also known as Josie) has been a name on the Scottish literary scene for a while, winning first place at the BBC Radio 4 Scotland Slam in 2009 and being shortlisted for various prestigious prizes including the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award and the Saltire Prize for Best Collection.

She’s from Orkney, an archipelago off the coast of the Scottish mainland, and often writes in Orcadian or or Orkney Scots, including in her most recent publication, Deep Wheel Orcadia, a sci-fi verse novel set on a distant space station.

But it’s not about accolades. Giles also has a deep sense of social justice. Last year she withdrew Deep Wheel Orcadia from the Highland Book Prize longlist in protest of the all-white selection. This withdrawal was in response to a call to action from the Scottish BPOC Writers Network, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.

In an open letter published on their website the Scottish BPOC Writers Network asked the Scottish literary scene to make Black and POC writers “part of the foundation”, to dismantle organisations and institutions that don’t, and to demonstrate their actionable aims. Giles was the only writer to withdraw their work in protest.

Despite their success Harry Josephine Giles and her partner Darcy Leigh – an academic in the law department of the University of Sussex – have had to turn to their community for help with their transitions in the form of a fundraiser, due to a lack of options on the NHS.

Harry Josephine Giles with her latest book.

Harry Josephine Giles with her latest book. (Harry Josephine Giles)

“Horribly, we have got used to the idea of having to pay for each other’s healthcare,” Giles tells PinkNews.  “I don’t really have a back-up plan. I suppose the options are not getting the treatments and dealing with the health effects of that, medical loans, or waiting until activism has succeeded in pushing the NHS to provide what we all need.”

Current waiting lists for even the initial appointment at Gender Identity Clinics can be years long, with GPs and other healthcare providers voicing their concerns that delaying access to appropriate specialist care for trans people can increase the risk of self-harm and suicide.

A report into Transgender Equality from the Women and Equalities Committee of the Westminster government in 2016 found that there was a “clear and strong” case that delaying treatment causes harm and raised serious concerns about the treatment protocols in Gender Identity Services, particularly around the requirement for “real-life experience” prior to genital surgery.

While compiling their report the Women and Equalities Committee heard from the Scottish Transgender Alliance, who told them that the process of transitioning – particularly accessing a Gender Recognition Certificate – is experienced as “traumatising and humiliating” for a number of trans people.

By reaching out to their extended networks and wider community for financial help Giles and Leigh have been able to regain some of their dignity, stating on their crowdfunder: “We don’t want to give you all the blood and guts: we don’t think support for trans health should depend on revealing all the details. But here are some of the things we need funds for: cutting body parts off, adding body parts on, putting hair on, taking hair off, shaving bones, redistributing body fat, and getting past gatekeepers.”

Darcy and Josie. (Harry Josephine Giles)

The fundraiser has already allowed Leigh to attend a surgery consultation and put down a deposit. “Honestly, I can’t even really think about not making enough money to cover the surgery I need,” says Leigh.

As part of the fundraising effort Leigh has been selling a zine called ‘boi tits’ through Easter House Press, the independent publishing outfit that the couple run together.

“I’ve been writing about how great trans masculine tits are for years,” Leigh explains. “That’s something that you don’t often see – celebration of butch tits or boi tits or transmasculine tits. But not, like, cheesy celebration – celebration that holds all of the ambivalence and complexities too. I decided it would be right to raise some money to chop my tits off with a zine that was in part about my tits!”

The 'Boi Tits' Zine.

The ‘Boi Tits’ Zine. (Darcy Leigh)

As part of their commitment to social justice the pair are passing along a third of the funds raised to the fundraisers of other trans people needing medical treatments and surgeries.

“It felt like the right thing to do,” says Giles. “Because of our jobs, we have access to a bigger network of people with money than most trans people, and yet we still can’t access our healthcare without help. Every day I see multiple crowdfunders for trans people who can’t afford their healthcare, or basic living expenses. Many of them are not reaching their goals. They are most often Black and disabled trans people.”

Leigh adds: “Access to healthcare shouldn’t be based on popularity or having the resources to run a fundraiser”.

With more than £12,000 raised of their £30,000 goal, the couple still have a long way to go, but they’ve been blown away by the support they’ve received so far. Leigh says: “After decades in queer ‘community’, you do get a bit sick of people saying ‘community’ over and over… but it does feel like the community has turned out for us.”

While even £4000 each will make a huge difference to Leigh, Giles and the projects they plan to support, they’re keen to emphasise that fundraisers such as theirs are a sign that not enough is currently being done.

“I want trans healthcare to be free, universal, and provided by informed consent. I want the abolition of the Gender Identity Clinic and the mainstreaming of trans health into primary care,” says Giles.

“I want trans healthcare to be provided by well-funded trans-led community clinics. I want services run specifically by and for trans people of colour. I want this to be part of a project of the communisation of healthcare, where we are liberated from healthcare as a project of the state management of unruly bodies and create a world in which all are cared for in their full autonomy.

“I want this to be part of a project in which we all have the resources we need for our lives to flourish. I want it all.”

Josie and Darcy’s crowdfunder can be found on GoFundMe. Harry Josephine Giles’ latest book Deep Wheel Orcadia is published by Picador.