Keira Bell: “What makes me a man?”

Keira Bell is a young British woman, a detransitioner, a court claimant, and a canary in the coalmine for a generation of gender-questioning kids. 

In her own words: “I was an unhappy girl who needed help. Instead, I was treated like an experiment.”

Keira Bell grew up as a self-described tomboy in a broken English home. When puberty hit, she hated it all: hips, breasts, debilitating periods. At 14, already feeling depressed, she realized she liked girls. She decided then she was really a boy.

At 16, she was referred to Tavistock, the UK’s main gender clinic for young people, and after a series of what she calls “superficial conversations with social workers,” she started puberty blockers. At 17, she moved onto testosterone, and at 20 she had a double mastectomy.

As her brain matured in her early 20s, she realized that her gender dysphoria was a symptom of her depression, not its cause. She decided to start the process of detransition, coming to realize that as a child she had been unable to consent to the treatments given to her.

“Before beginning on testosterone, I was asked if I wanted children, or if I wanted to consider freezing my eggs because of the possibility that transition would make me infertile. As a teenager, I couldn’t imagine having kids, and the procedure wouldn’t have been covered by the NHS. I said I was fine if I couldn’t, and I didn’t need to freeze my eggs. But now as a young adult, I see that I didn’t truly understand back then the implications of infertility. Having children is a basic right, and I don’t know if that has been taken from me.”

In 2020, she became a co-claimant against Tavistock in a judicial review case, saying that the clinicians there should have questioned more her claims of being a boy and that she and her fellow patients at the gender clinic are tantamount to guinea pigs. The Tavistock also did not seem to establish the importance of her homosexual feelings.

On December 1, the three judges ruled unanimously in her favour. They noted that children cannot consent to the often lifelong side effects of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, including infertility and sexual dysfunction, and they expressed surprise at the lack of data Tavistock kept on its patients, some on drugs as young as ten, and the reasons behind the exponential growth of natal girls being treated at the clinic. (The law has since been amended to say that parents can make such decisions on behalf of their minor children.)

The Tavistock has appealed this ruling, the result of which will be heard on June 23-24, 2021. Will the UK stay the course in safeguarding gender-questioning children? Let’s hope that whatever happens, Keira Bell continues to speak out about her lived experience on behalf of gender-questioning youths and their inability truly to consent to lifelong medical treatment with irreversible consequences.

Image credit: David Levene/The Guardian

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