"I feel disgusted," was the headline in Inews on the 13th of April 2021. And Jasmine Andersson's article then briefly explained why a British Army veteran was sending back her medal to Boris Johnson because of the sickening way transgender people are treated in the UK just now.
The story would have got much more national coverage had the veteran allowed a picture of herself and, more to the point, agreed to her a name and location being published - but very wisely, she refused to do that. Had she done so, she would have likely be targeted by the terf extremist's - not to mention the right-wing press and former colleagues in the army. The letter read:
10 Downing Street,
Dear Prime Minister Johnson,
I am writing to you to return my medal I received for my service in Afghanistan as a member of the British Armed Forces. Though admittedly I was naïve enough to serve in a futile conflict, I nevertheless felt a degree of pride for having, in my own small way, served the United Kingdom. However, having come out as transgender within the last five years, I have felt increasingly disgusted by my treatment by your government, your party and the NHS. I am no longer proud to have served a country that cares so little for people such as myself when we need help.
The Conservative Party prides itself on creating a property-owning democracy. I have lost the chance to own my own home, because instead of using my savings for a mortgage deposit I have had to spend tens of thousands of pounds funding my own healthcare, due to the obscenely long waits I, and other transgender people, face on the NHS. Individuals are now waiting over four years in the UK just for an initial appointment at a Gender Identity Clinic, when we should be seen within 18 weeks, according to the NHS England constitution. This is a health inequality which existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic and has worsened since the Conservatives came to power in 2010.
Your government has forced me to save constantly, and I feel like I have nothing to show for it, in order to fund healthcare which is more accessible in most comparable Western nations. I am, however, one of the lucky ones, and many people in my situation go without any healthcare at all.
I have not yet applied for a Gender Recognition Certificate, despite being eligible, as I was told by your predecessor, Theresa May MP, that the Gender Recognition Act 2004 would be reformed. Your government broke this promise. I refuse to subject myself to a system where strangers can tell me, without oversight, my own input, or even meeting me, what my legal gender is. For a party which talks the talk on liberty, the freedoms of the individual and rolling back red tape, your decision not to remove this imposition upon my legal identity is rank hypocrisy.
I feel no loyalty to a government, or country, that treats transgender people as you have. I have tried to work hard all my life, pay my taxes and do the right thing, but when I need help, this country has done nothing for me. Instead, I and many other transgender people feel under siege from a culture war your government appears to perpetuate, which results in near constant negative stories in the press. This has real world implications not just for me, but transgender children, who are now denied healthcare in the UK.
But Jasmine Andersson's article did not really tell us much more detail than what was in the letter.
The trans community wanted to know much more about the ex-solder who returned her medal.
One great thing about our community is we are a very close bunch, and a quick tweet requesting more info resulted in Charlotte* - the veteran at the centre of the story - messaging me and agreeing to a full interview. So, one-day last week, we caught up for a long and very charming chat. The first thing that I noticed was her soft, natural feminine voice.
Charlotte, now in her thirties, left the army around six years ago and started to transition about six months later. She told me, "For as long as I can remember, I knew I was a woman but did not realise I was trans until I got access to the internet. It must have been so difficult for the older generation of trans people who could not get information or help." Charlotte who hails from the north of England, has a supportive family, including a supporting brother who she describes as ‘macho’. "Our family is very laid back," said Charlotte, "and we are all working class; we live life."
Currently, a mature student Charlotte likes to keep fit and, most days runs around 5k in training to aid both physical and mental fitness. A slim size 12, she is into fashion, but do not have a favourite clothes shop or brand, preferring retro 50's styles to the more modern designs.
She joined the army in her twenties and developed specialist skills meaning she was a prime candidate for an assignment in Afghanistan, but once there quickly realised the 'war' was a complete waste of life. Charlotte also acknowledged that ‘man conditioning’ in the army was not working for her. So many trans women join the military to 'man up' invariably though it fails.
We are who we are.
Charlotte said "Whilst being trans is officially accepted in the British army, the fact is at ground level, it is deeply frowned on - I just wanted to get out. The army is not a safe environment for an everyday trans soldier; it may be ok for officers but not for people in the ranks. Going to Afghanistan taught me a lot, I have now become a pacifist - I wear a white poppy".
But army life did bring one benefit for Charlotte. "I learnt not to engage with the enemy on their terms," said Charlotte, "and for this reason, I will not partake in the Twitter gender war. The terfs are invariably middle-class white women just stirring up hate, and my advice for the trans folk would be not to engage. It would drive the terfs absolutely mad, and in any case, Twitter is not real life”.
“I am not in any LGBT groups but, of course, have LGBT+ friends. I have ID in my new identity but am not that bothered by a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). Anyhow, I refuse to apply for a GRC because the procedure is so unfair. I fundamentally object to applying to a panel with who I do not know the names of the people who would 'judge me'. It is a matter of integrity, of natural justice, so no, I will not apply for a GRC until the procedure is changed.”
"All politicians frustrate me, and I have given up on them. I just want to live my life as Charlotte, and that is what I am doing. I do not advertise that I am trans, a few people know I am trans, but no one has ever been particularly negative to me since I transitioned because I am trans.”
I then asked Charlotte what annoyed her most about being trans - " healthcare", she replied.
"Trans healthcare in the UK via the NHS is an utter disgrace; in the end, I had to go private, as do so many other trans people. I have spent many thousands of pounds which should have been spent on getting on the property ladder. I hope my letter drives that home, but I suspect I will not even get a reply. They do not care about trans people. Transition is the best thing I ever did - trans people can win - just by going out and enjoying life."
And the long term? "I want to marry and adopt kids - hopefully, help others and just be happy. It is that simple, really," said Charlotte.
As we said our goodbyes, I was left in admiration of her. Here was a level-headed woman who had learned from life's experiences that wars are foolish irrespective of being in the middle east or on Twitter.
Every day is a school day.
And life is for enjoying.
*Name has been changed for anonymity and security reasons.