Transgender youth in London are facing a crisis with long waiting times for Gender Clinic appointments, gender dysphoria and body issues leading to a rise in mental health problems and being forced to navigate societal prejudices from a young age. 17-year-old Matthew Felstead is a London teenager who has taken to GoFundMe to help fund the start of his transition after waiting more than three years for cross-sex hormone treatment on the NHS.
Matthew, from South East London, spoke to MyLondon about his experiences with depression, suicidal thoughts and the difficulties he faces living in a body which does not match his gender identity. Waiting lists for transgender people looking to start their transition are often months, if not years long, but those like Matthew, who has been waiting more than three years for an appointment, they are having to search elsewhere for support.
Matthew said: “I was at a friend’s house talking about how much I was hitting a breaking point, just after New Year’s looking at the prospect of spending another year being someone I’m not and I told them how difficult I was finding it. I set up the GoFundMe as I just thought I’d bite the bullet and see if I could get some support to speed up what could have been up to a four year wait for movement with the NHS, and I’m so glad I did because the response has been overwhelming.
“I am so sure in my identity and I have been living as male for almost four years, I came out at 13 and I was having a lot of emotional difficulties with myself and my body image, my body was changing and I was incredibly uncomfortable with it and I didn’t know how to cope.
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“I reached out for help with acceptance of my body and found people online who were nasty and took advantage of my insecurity, which led me to some dark places.”
Matthew found himself in severe mental distress and he was admitted to a mental facility for his own safety.
He added: “I was depressed, I felt alone, I was suicidal and I was harming my body.”
For Matthew, in order to end the ‘limbo’ that he finds himself in he has turned to GoFundMe to raise the funds he vitally needs to assist the start of his transition.
He said: “The end of the NHS waiting list is not in sight, several years away, but I can’t wait that long; I don’t know if I can survive that long.
“The cheapest way for me to access the necessary hormone treatment is through the London Transgender Clinic, starting the day I turn 18, at £1060 for the first year of treatment, which is something completely unachievable for me alone as I only have 8 months to come up with this money.”
Transgender youth are a highly vulnerable group in society, a study shared by Stonewall found that more than one in four (27 per cent) trans young people have attempted to commit suicide and nine in ten (89 per cent) have thought about it.
For Matthew, coming to terms with his transgender identity gave him a new understanding of what he had been feeling. He said: “As soon as I learnt the words to describe myself it gave me a new perspective on my future and a new way of thinking about myself, everything became much clearer.
“Everyone else seemed to fix the box and I never did – I went to an all girls secondary school and I tried to fit in to the stereotypes and it took a toll on my mental health as I pretended to be someone I wasn’t.
“The darkest places were as I hit puberty and my chest started developing and I got periods I was disgusted by my body and I had no reason why I was feeling so horrified.
“I tried to hide who I was to fit in socially and it just wasn’t working for me, then I found these labels of who I was and it all started to make so much sense.”
The NHS terms gender dysphoria, which many transgender people experience, as: “A term that describes a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.
“This sense of unease or dissatisfaction may be so intense it can lead to depression and anxiety and have a harmful impact on daily life.”
Matthew was referred to the gender clinic in 2019, about two and a half years ago and he is still waiting on his first assessment.
He said: “It’s been an incredibly long wait, it’s been such a struggle knowing that the solutions to my problems are right in front of me but just out of reach.
“When it comes to trans youth, healthcare is so important and puberty blockers are a life saver.
“The NHS is brilliant but lacking in funding to be able to properly support trans people and especially trans youth.”
The money raised from the GoFundMe will be enable Matthew to receive a full range of testosterone treatment including prescriptions, assessments and admin fees at the London Transgender Clinic.
As is a common story for those in the LGBTQ+ community, much of the support Matthew has received so far has come from the wider LGBTQ+ community, included the leftist queer collective he is a part of.
He said: “I have been able to form a supportive network of queer people and it is such a lovely community to be part of, there’s a brilliant pop up (LGBTQ+ Community centre on Southbank )and they have been brilliant, it’s just such a lovely environment.
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“One of the most important things is acceptance from family and friends.”
The GoFundMe Matthew has set up is almost half-way to his target and when he turns 18 he will be able to attain the help he needs from London’s private clinic, London Transgender Clinic.
One person who donated to Matthew’s GoFundMe said: “I donated because everyone deserves to have the right body.”
Matthew shared: “The reception that I have received on this post is INSANE. I had very low expectations to start with, but every donation that comes through puts so much hope in me. I never expected so many people to be willing to support me, especially so quickly, but I am truly, truly grateful.”
MyLondon has contacted the NHS for comment.
If you would like to hear more of Matthew’s story or donate to his GoFundMe, you can do so here.
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Trainee Reporter – LGBT+ Specialist. Previously worked for Daily Star, The Sun, Brixton Blog and South West Londoner.
Three stories written this month include a in depth interview with LGBTQ+ activist Peter Tatchell ahead of the 50th anniversary of Gay Pride in the UK, an interview with an ex-Lieutenant Commander who had to keep his sexuality a secret in the Armed Forces for 20 years who lost his partner to AIDS two days before he left the Navy and a chat with the founder of The Gay Men’s Dance Company who offer professional training, pole dancing and a dance class in heels.
Got a story? You can reach me at [email protected] or DM me on Twitter @mattlspivey.