When it emerged this week that Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust was ordered to close its Gender Identification Service (GIDS), it was a particularly personal victory for one young woman.
In fact, as Keira Bell admitted today, it felt like David had finally slain Goliath. Two years ago, Keira, now 25, stood on the steps of the High Court after winning a case against GIDS to stop children with gender dysphoria being given anti-puberty drugs.
Keira’s War was based on her own horrific experiences. Aged 16 and, ‘very mentally ill’, Keira was drugged by doctors at a controversial clinic to stunt her growth – six years later and after undergoing a double mastectomy – it was monumental. mistake
Keira Bell has spoken about her experience of being prescribed drugs aged 16 to stunt her development after being referred to Tavistock Clinic’s gender identity service.
In bringing her High Court challenge with another claimant, Mrs A – the mother of an autistic girl on the waiting list for gender treatment – hoped she would save other youngsters from similar trauma.
Yet she and her fellow whistle-blowers find themselves vilified by bigots, transphobes and, in Keira’s case, transgender people as ‘traitors’ for daring to question GIDS’ practices.
Even his initial victory turned into disappointment when it was overturned on appeal.
Now, of course, the tables have turned and Keira and many others know they were on the right side of history.
The Tavistock clinic has been ordered to close until the spring following a damning interim report by Dr Hilary Cass, former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, commissioned by NHS England to conduct an independent review of gender identification services for young people.
Dr Cass raised concerns that young people were ‘highly at risk’ of poor mental health and distress, and said the Tavistock clinic was not a ‘safe or viable long-term option’.
A full report is due next year. But for many, the fight is not over. Keira is aware of what the changes to gender identity clinics mean in practice – and is determined to continue the fight to protect the thousands of children on waiting lists for treatment.
Keira Bell is campaigning to stop doctors prescribing drugs to children with gender dysphoria
Speaking to The Mail on Sunday, Keira said: ‘It’s been a long time coming, but I believe significant change is taking place and now at least the terrible experience I went through is not in vain.
‘I hope this means an end to the medicalization of children.’
Keira’s case awakened the world to the reality of children’s medical transitions and the dangers of unquestioningly affirming a child’s beliefs about their gender.
Keira was referred to GIDS in 2013 when, in the midst of a mental health crisis, she told a therapist she thought she was a boy.
Keira, pictured at age 5, was born female but later began to question whether she was a boy
But instead of exploring the underlying causes of her anxiety and depression, GIDS staff prescribed puberty blockers. ‘They asked questions like “How did I grow up? How did I dress, and were my friends boys or girls?”‘ she recalls.
‘They didn’t do any research into my background or mental health. It seems they want to appease me by using my chosen male name Quincy and confirming me as a boy.’
She was said to be given regular injections of anti-puberty drugs to suppress her growth hormone, which would give her ‘more time to think’.
Keira, 20, known as Quincy, took testosterone and underwent breast surgery
What he wasn’t told was that there were concerns about the long-term effects of such treatment, including stunted growth and decreased bone density. It can also hinder the brain development of children.
Keira says she can’t believe an NHS service she trusts would plunge a vulnerable teenager into the world of ‘experimental’ drugs with such little care.
‘I thought, “OK, I’ve been taken to hospital”, so at that age I thought it must be all right and safe,’ she says.
‘Now I think, “What happened?” I had to undergo several years of psychotherapy before I was allowed to take such medication.
‘I certainly shouldn’t have been allowed to do that as a minor.’
The reality of the next two years was ‘hell’, she says, with hot flushes, night sweats and brain fog.
Having just entered sixth form, she failed most of her exams as she struggled to cope with the side effects of her medication.
Keira outside the Royal Court of Justice after winning her case against the Tavistock Clinic
‘Tavistock told me it was a good thing, but it was all negative,’ she says. ‘I can’t think of any positive effect from this. I wish I wasn’t given the option. I’m fighting for that now – I don’t think there should be a choice for children.’
Keira is also confident that this first step has put her on the path to further healing.
At the age of 17 he began taking testosterone to begin his ‘transition’, which gave him a deeper voice, increased body hair and muscle tone.
At the age of 20, she underwent surgery to remove her breasts. But Keira soon had serious doubts about her decision.
She says, ‘I was hiding as a person in the society. ‘I was 22 and I felt nothing had improved.’
It was a painful realization: changing gender, as she had believed, was not the answer to her mental health problems.
Today she has stopped taking male hormones and is once again living as a woman. But an irreversible change will happen to his life.
She, too, suffers from the psychological effects of such life-changing treatments—as well as a growing resentment toward the professionals who led her down this path.
A Tavistock clinic has been ordered to close until the spring amid concerns that young people are ‘highly at risk’ of poor mental health and crisis.
It was this anger, and his knowledge that children were still being prescribed puberty-blockers, that prompted him to join the legal action against Tavistock.
It was not an easy undertaking as Keira – a natural introvert – was suddenly thrust into the glare of the public eye and was the subject of abuse by trans activists on social media.
While the case was initially successful, the judges ruled that the ‘suspect’ children could consent to such treatment and there had to be a court order to take them, a decision that was later overturned on appeal – this was not wrong, but on a technicality. The Court of Appeal ruled that the High Court did not have the authority to decide.
But Keira has no regrets, and believes it may have raised red flags about the GIDS model.
She says there are thousands of other children and teenagers as young as 13 who now regret their decision to live as the opposite sex and tell their stories online.
‘I think a court case is necessary and I’m happy to be able to share my story,’ she says.
‘The case was to prevent puberty blockers from being prescribed to under-18s. But I just wanted Tavistock to realize that what they’re doing has consequences.
‘The fact that it is closing is symbolic because what they have done there is reprehensible. This is the life of the people.
‘My whole life has been affected and I am not getting any relief from the medical problems I am having. How much damage they have caused, that too cannot be stated.’
Keira welcomes Dr Cass’s findings and hopes that recommendations for the service to be replaced next year by regional centres, which will take a more holistic approach to tackling complex mental health problems, will be implemented in good faith.
But she admits she is viewing these developments with some trepidation. ‘I’m just keeping my eyes and ears out because I hope these centers are set up and they’re doing the same thing.’
A spokesman for Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust said it could not comment on individual cases.
In a statement, it said: ‘We work with each young person on a case-by-case basis, without prejudging what might be the right path for them.
‘We provide support, advice and information, and consider possible future paths together.
‘Only a minority of young people are supported to access any physical therapy while we are with them.’