Complimentary Networks from a Social Work Perspective.

Barbara Ross

Social Worker. Trustee, Gender Trust. Eastern Regional Contact, GEMS. GEMS associate. OASIS group
Gendys Conference, 1992


I am Barbara Ross, a Social Worker and A.S.W. Mental Health Officer with Norfolk County Council, Social Services Department.

I am currently working with clients with learning difficulties, but I am also allocated some time for gender dysphoric people.

My involvement with gender dysphoria goes back to 1973 when I was a generic worker with a particular interest in helping minority groups I had been involved for sometime with, amongst others, homo sexual people. I had contacts with FRIEND and gay rights groups.

I came across a case of cross dressing via a colleague who assumed that I would be better able to help. They had jumped to the conclusion that cross-dressing equated with homosexuality, which is not necessarily true. This particular referral in 1973 was of a young man called Robert and it had a tremendous influence on me. It brought home the realisation of how bewildered and isolated a person can feel and the inadequacies and limitations of help available. At this time it became clear to me that more intensive care was required if gender dysphoric people were to be helped to come to terms with their situation, either by being enabled to fulfil themselves in the role they feel most comfortable in or through self acceptance gained by sharing their thoughts and feelings with an impartial party such as a counsellor.

In Robert's case, sadly with many factors existing making his personality very unstable, it ended in suicide. Possibly unavoidable, but the tragedy of his death left me with the feeling that not every thing that should be provided in the way of help, advice and support was available. Indeed, things are little better now!

Through research during my involve ment with Robert, I heard of The Beaumont Society, which, at that time, was obscure and difficult to contact. I attended their meetings in Ipswich with Robert and his parents and at these meetings I learnt of the Beaumont Society's 1975 Gender Dysphoria Conference at Leicester, which I attended. Here I met Alice Purnell who became a family friend and who inspired and educated me further. With Alice's help I started to realise the need for ongoing support from those with the professional knowledge required to really help with day to day issues and able to understand the specific problems and needs of the gender dysphoric. I have put a lot of effort into gaining this understanding myself, and gradually I have achieved a reputation in the field as being one of the few social workers specialising in this area. I often get referrals from other professionals who recognise the help I can offer. The specific areas of help I offer are to aim at achieving the personal self- acceptance by the person, of their condition, and get them to explore their ideas and feelings and the possibilities of what the future could hold for them. At the same time, relationships with family, spouse, children, extended family and society are discussed, but my help is primarily biased to the gender dysphoric person's needs. I follow on with general counselling so building up through prolonged and regular meetings a confidential trusting relationship. I am a believer in the benefits of properly run self help groups, and am myself an area organiser in the Beaumont Society, a Trustee of GEMS, and a member of several groups. I also run a group at my home called Oasis, and I try with the help of Oasis members to enlighten and increase the understanding of other caring organisations who come into contact with gender dysphoric people. We do this by giving talks and have spoken to Relate, Samaritans, Social Workers, GP's and nurses with our group presentation aided by TV and TS group members. Within the group we provide the relaxed informal atmosphere for people not in need of a social worker's direct professional involvement. We offer understanding of their needs and the facilities for them to explore, come to terms and accept themselves without the danger of giving biased or undistanced help. I am not offering encouragement, but through my skills and the opportunities for them to meet, if they wish, other TV or TS people, they can realise their options, being able to talk through their feelings rather than experimenting rashly and putting themselves into possibly damaging or dangerous situations, or contacting people who, in my opinion, do not giver appropriate advice.

I would like to bring you some observations you may find interesting. Firstly, the divorced TV who, upon coming out within a group of other people, with his own ultra conservative view of sexuality, the question is raised as to whether he decided he was transexual because it seemed more respectable in that it had a possible medical connection. He started to set foot on the TS route gaining hormone treatment privately without my help. He did not commence treatment as prescribed and has now formed a relationship with a heterosexual woman and reverted to secrecy where his feelings are concerned. I feel the group may have a lot more help in time to offer this person. Next we have the TV whose wife and family do not know of his transvestism. He needs the opportunity to dress in a safe environment and the chance to discuss his situation with the possibility, because of his honest nature, that he may eventually tell his wife. We hope to be able to support him in any decision he makes, providing caring support to either him alone if he decides not to tell his wife or to his wife and family also, both from myself and from other wives in the group if he does tell her. Then we have the lifetime TV who had only partially told his wife of his TV desires. With other health problems and frustration building up he decided he must gain understanding of his own feelings and reconcile them with himself and his wife and family. On realisation of her husband's true feelings, his wife could not cope and left him. This all occurred five years ago and he joined the group at that time. By discussing his problems he has now managed to gain an understanding and learnt to live with the transient nature of his own cross dressing. He also helps other TV and TS members with friendship, listening, skills and a knack of helping people address their primary problems in a sympathetic way. He is now a happier and more well-balanced person who is seeking another partner without feeling his transvestism is a hang up or should be kept secret. Next we have a married TS who joins the group confused but knowing deep down that he is transexual. He hopes to continue a close relationship with his wife and family, but because of his common sense, everything seems to tell him that the TS condition could destroy a lot of what he loves and holds dear. Within the group he starts proclaiming that TS's do not exist, and are only deluded TV's, hoping to believe this himself. Both myself and my daughter, Sarah, could sense the inner torment this person was having and through counselling he eventually admitted his deepest desires and feelings, along with his fears and perhaps even a greater sense of reality in respect of the problems and the demands he was making on others.

I helped him get a referral to the GIC, at Charing Cross where he was assessed in a professional manner and is now undergoing appropriate treatment backed with counselling. He realises he has all the same problems but he is now properly addressing them. The group's ongoing support is helping this individual and his family. I have built up a good relationship with the GIC at Charing Cross and I always try to encourage those chronic gender dysphoric people who after great deliberation and counselling wish to go further with medical help to contact Charing Cross rather than seek treatment from other areas where assessment may not be as selective or as intensive. I am sure there are other good GIC's but my own personal experience has only been with Charing Cross, going back to the days of Dr. John Randall who encouraged me tremendously. The GIC at Charing Cross have, over the years, acknowledged the work I do by referring clients to me professionally for everyday help and counselling. Current areas of specific concern to me now are young people and I recently attended the conference at St. George's Hospital, London, to gain further knowledge of current feelings and attitudes. I have on my books two young people, both a male and a female, transexuals. Following on from these general observations about the lack of professional help of the scope and the degree required, is my concern for those already in the existing pipeline. It seems there is no real help or counselling available between clinic appointments of possibly six months separation either before, during or after treatment and surgery.

What would I like to see for the future? I feel I am at the moment one of too few people who are involved and interested in this field of work and helping people with their problems encountered on a day to day basis. I actually feel quite isolated. I would like to see greater effort towards education of other professionals and voluntary caring bodies. At present I am helping to fulfil a tremendous need without proper resources, funding or defined guidelines, but I feel the care currently given on a limited basis should be more easily available from suitable qualified people on a far wider basis. Guidelines should be discussed and implemented by all interested parties - psychiatrists, GP's, self help groups, GIC's, etc. Funding should be arranged at either local or ideally national level, resources made available at local levels and a body set up capable of training people to follow up the work being done in this field, so that we can bring the care these people need and deserve up to acceptable standards.

Citation: Ross, B., (1992), Complimentary Networks from a Social Work Perspective., GENDYS II, The Second International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England.
Web page copyright GENDYS Network. Text copyright of the author. Last amended 27.06.06