As a trans person, the wait for hormones is devastating – I had to self-medicate

‘I’ve been having issues with my gender. I think I might be trans.’

When I first uttered these words to my GP, she took a long look at me, stick thin, with big lost eyes.

She said: ‘Are you sure? You do realise that this is an extremely big decision and the wait is very long and even after the whole transition process you might still be dissatisfied?’

I sensed her dislike of people like me, who transition, so the first thing I did was change GPs.

My new doctor eventually referred me to a Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) in London, after a consultation with a psychiatrist. It took quite a few months for this initial appointment to come through and I remember how hostile the healthcare professional that I met with seemed to be.

This gatekeeper was eyeballing my flailing hands as I was explaining things, making notes about how I was presenting, progress on my name change and coming out to my family. It was a hard time for me, as it is with most trans people. I was vulnerable and damaged after a whole lifetime of not feeling like I fit in my own body.

I had been putting this off for such a long time and I was at a real turning point.

Looking back, the signs were all there: being unhappy as a child and acting up, making up nicknames to avoid my given name, completely lost and broken as a teenager going through the wrong puberty, and having panic attacks.

Another reason why I put it off for so long was that not one of my string of partners were keen on the idea of me transitioning. When I would bring up ‘gender troubles’ they’d always harp on about my strength in being an androgynous person walking the line of gender and how damn pretty I was.

But by the time I first came out as transgender, I was doing something for me, and it was a do or die situation. I hadn’t wanted to be trans and had tried everything I could over the years to feel comfortable in my own skin, including soul searching and some extensive therapy. I was at a point where I was failing at life miserably.

A shiny beacon of light at the start of coming out as transgender was the support of a trans man who was years into his transition. I admired him greatly and saw him as a wealth of knowledge and somehow the key to me understanding myself better. This trans guy had a surplus supply of injectable testosterone, which he kindly offered to me ‘while you are waiting to get treatment on the NHS’.

His thinking was that I could have this two-month supply, which would tide me over until I was able to get my prescription. How wrong our thinking was, because in reality it would be years before I would be offered hormone treatment on the NHS.

So I took him up on his offer, despite not yet being under the wing of the NHS. After having deliberated for over a decade about whether or not I was actually trans, I was ready to take the plunge, literally, with a needle. I visited him at his house and he taught me how to safely inject into the muscle on my bum or thigh, not directly into a vein.

It was scary but also an exhilarating time. I could finally move things forward, to start a journey I should have started many years previously.

I was so excited about the changes in fat redistribution and my voice. After the two months passed, I spoke with my mum on the phone and she asked whether I had a cold. My parents dropped by to see me and I told them I was transgender. My normally unemotional mother was completely devastated and it took another year of tears for her to fully get on board.

All of a sudden I was at a point where I wanted to keep taking hormones but nowhere near to getting them on the NHS. So I took to the internet and tried out a few different things, none of which worked particularly well. One time, around Christmas, I was injecting hormones, the same brand, but I’d bought them off a body building website.

Instead of working as they should, they made me feel like a completely unbalanced, hormonal mess and resulted in me calling up old friends and wondering why we never saw each other anymore.

All of a sudden I was at a point where I wanted to keep taking hormones but was nowhere near to getting them on the NHS.

By the time my second appointment at the GIC rolled around, six months after my first one, I realised they weren’t planning on providing a prescription. The practitioner there wasn’t pleased I’d been self-medicating and said they might prescribe me hormones at my next appointment, which could have been up to a year’s wait. So despite already being £400 in debt from buying hormones online, I decided the best thing for my mental health was to go see a private doctor, which would ensure a regular supply of hormones.

I phoned up and was relieved to have an appointment less than two weeks later. I brought all of my blood work with me and to my surprise was given a private prescription for testosterone, which my GP honoured. I was so grateful and it was the best £500 I’ve ever spent. I dread to think what could have happened if I hadn’t taken the decision to go private.

I would never advocate for people to self-medicate but I understand why people do, because I did it myself. I was so desperate to try and start my life that I simply couldn’t wait for the GIC to approve of who I was.

Trans people do not have the luxury of time and it’s often deeply insulting to have people question you at every turn. Coming out usually involves years and years of deliberation and planning, and taking these steps isn’t something anyone does easily.

When a transgender person comes out they are ready to start living their life as themselves at last, and having access to hormones is so important for those that need it. It can help them alleviate dysphoria and get physical changes that make them feel more like themselves.

From my first appointment with the GP, it took me 10 months to get the hormones I needed – but that was only because I went private. Having to wait for up to two years (or even longer) to get a single appointment at a GIC is completely unacceptable and has severe consequences on the well-being of transgender people across the country. The NHS is severely underfunded and this is one of the consequences, which can have devastating effects on people’s mental and physical well-being.

We need things to change and waiting lists to shorten drastically, otherwise we will see more people self-medicating as they are unable to access care that they so desperately need. It’s a matter of life and death, and we need to start taking it more seriously.