TG09 - The Barbara Ross Association Conference

Olivia Johns


Issue 48
Winter 2009

Barbara Ross and her committee staged the latest of the biennial transgender conferences at UEA, Norwich on 4-6 September 2009. Launching the conference, Barbara reflected on her 37 years working in the field of gender dysphoria and the gradual progress in changing society's attitudes to transpeople. She dedicated the conference to Robert, a client whose tragic story 37 years ago was the catalyst for Barbara's decision to get involved.

Like the previous four conferences, TG09 provided a stimulating forum for discussion of transgender issues. A particularly successful feature of this year's conference was the greater prominence given to personal stories.

Celia Mcleod, Consultant Gynaecologist, gave a moving account of her life-long struggle to live with her gender dysphoria, before finally transitioning, at age 60, Medical Director of Kings Lynn Hospital, in the full glare of the media. In her successful retention of her post, this was an important success for the transsexual community

Dr. Emma Scully provided a vivid contrast in style, through her multi-media presentation of how she moved from male driver of HGVs to female specialist in laser therapies. She explained how she reconciled what was going on in her head with the ?blokey presentation' she was saddled with. She contrasted being feminine with being female - a much tougher proposition! Her concern was for what constituted everyday transsexual "normality". Modifying her visible appearance allows everyone else "to see the person that I feel I am on the inside - and that is just a normal person".

The keynote speakers' slots were filled by two experts well known to TG conference attendees.

Dr. Douglas Ousterhout, internationally renowned facial surgeon, gave an arresting presentation of his techniques for feminisation of the face - a major component of male to female transition. He highlighted the crucial areas of difference between male and female craniology and copiously illustrated how he modifies and conceals these differences.

The second keynote speaker, Professor Richard Ekins, gave a scholarly review of his 40 years' sociological transgender research. Linked to key encounters with leading transpeople, his research project illustrated the varieties of transgender response in different times and places.

Continuing the academic thread, Dr. Dave King, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, charted the way in which gender migration over the past 40 years has gradually become an issue of entitlement - both medically and legally. He highlighted the work of medical pioneers - from Dr. John Randall who organised the first international symposium on gender identity in 1969, to the adoption of the Harry Benjamin Rules in 1979; and other subsequent developments.

Another personal story transfixed the conference when Terry Reed from Gires spoke about transitioning at work; she shared her own direct experience of the vicious transphobia suffered by her young son as (s)he struggled to transition at work. She pointed to the fact that four in ten transpeople do not feel able to ?come out' in the workplace.

Bernard Reed reported on the continuing escalation in numbers of people seeking medical help for gender variance - from about 7000 in 2003 to more than 10,000 in 2008. The NHS will struggle to cope, he predicted, and GPs especially will have a much bigger role in the care of gender variant people. He deplored the slow progress in moving the mindset of GPs towards a more proactive response to transpatients, although a new NHS guidance booklet for GPs has been published. This reflects the principles of the recent Oslo Symposium in its emphasis on local support systems and much greater patient autonomy - a holistic approach instead of ?one path for all'.

The benefits of voice modification as part of successful transition were sketched in a practical presentation by Christella Antoni, Consultant Speech and Language Therapist, who stressed that it was a realistic goal for everyone. The highly individualised treatment ideally needs up to 12 sessions, modification is gradual and patient honesty is essential. Success depended not only on change of pitch but also on varying intonation, greater animation and rounder ways of communicating. "You must own the voice, just as you own the person you are becoming."

Dr. Richard Curtis, Gender Specialist at the London Clinic, reflected on the issues confronting him on a typical daily routine, with particular reference to hormonal treatments.

Mr. Phil Thomas, Gender Surgeon at Charing Cross described the process of male to female surgical re-assignment in a frank but reassuring way - sensitively illustrated.

Dr. Stuart Lorimer, psychiatrist at Charing Cross, described the Hospital's current procedures for diagnosing gender dysphoria. He acknowledged that increasing numbers of referrals were creating longer queues and that a more streamlined system was needed - and more staff! He defended the need for a psychiatric dimension to transgender patient treatment. This was obviously an important issue for many and stimulated a lively exchange of views in the discussion that followed.

Other contributors included:

Dominic Davies (Director of Pink Therapy), who explored the interface between sexual orientation and gender; Stephenne Lynn Rhodes, expert in statistical analysis, summarised her research into the demography of transsexualism in the UK and the implications for provision of public services. She drew particular attention to the high risk of suicide, both before and after transition; Christie Elan Cane, Pioneer of Ungendering focussed on the discriminating absence of a third alternative in dealing with authorities; Tina Livingstone, Counsellor, reported on trends in client perception of the effectiveness of psychotherapy for members of the transgender community; Gina Ramsay, gave an amusing account of her search for signs of transsexual women in ancient literature.

Workshops focussing on Hate Crime, Employment Issues, and Transition within marriage gave opportunity for further discussion.

Once again, the conference was given a high satisfaction rating by those attending. The quality of the speakers, the excellent food and accommodation at UEA, the friendly relaxed atmosphere and the opportunity to chat and make contacts - all contributed to the resounding success of TG09. The Gala Dinner with live music and dancing on Saturday night was the social highlight of the conference.

Looking Ahead

The conference also saw the formal establishment of the Barbara Ross Association, hopefully as a charitable body, to take forward Barbara's work, including the TG conferences and Oasis, the Norwich support group.

The next conference (TG10) will take place in September 2010, in order to break the ongoing clash with the biennial cycle of another major international transgender conference - which will enable people to attend both. Barbara's TG series will revert to its biennial pattern with TG12.

In response to many requests, TG10 will provide an opportunity to give a higher profile to issues relevant to transition from female to male.

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