Speaking with a deepened voice and a stubbled face, Keira Bell expressed anger toward the London gender clinic that prescribed her puberty blockers at age 16. She went on to take cross-sex hormones and had a double mastectomy in an attempt to become a man.
“I should have been challenged more,” Bell, now 23 and identifying as a woman, told the BBC. “No one was there to say anything different.”
Bell joined a lawsuit against the Tavistock and Portman National Health Service Foundation Trust, which operates the U.K.’s only “gender identity development” center, saying it puts emotionally and mentally vulnerable youth on a “torturous and unnecessary path that is permanent and life-changing.”
The lawsuit argues against the legality of providing puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to children under the age of 18 since they cannot give informed consent. Other claimants include Susan Evans, a former psychiatric nurse at the Tavistock center, and an anonymous mother of a 15-year-old autistic and gender dysphoric girl who is on the waiting list for treatment at the facility. They have raised more than $85,000 through a crowdfunding site to fund the lawsuit.
As a nurse, Evans said she witnessed the center fast-tracking children––including those with autism, mental health issues, or a history of past trauma or sexual abuse––into experimental and invasive medical treatments. Doctors referred some children for treatment after “only an hour or two” of observation, and most of the children had no access to therapy, she told The Telegraph.
Advocates argue that puberty blockers, which are prescribed to children as young as age 8, are harmless, reversible, and could save the lives of suicidal gender-dysphoric youth.
But Bell said at age 16 she needed intensive therapy—not puberty blockers. As a child, she said she was a tomboy and learned about transitioning online. After three one-hour appointments at the Tavistock center, doctors prescribed puberty blockers.
Bell initially felt relief from her gender dysphoria and mental health conditions. “But I think as the years go on you start to feel less and less enthusiastic or even happy about it,” she told the BBC. “It’s up to these institutions, like the Tavistock, to step in and make children reconsider what they’re saying because it is a life-altering path that you’re going down.”
The number of children referred to the Tavistock center has soared in recent years, from 94 in 2010 to 2,519 in 2018. Last year, five former clinical psychologists resigned from the facility, telling The Times of London their bosses pressured them to refer children for puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones even if they believed the treatment would not help the patients.
Michael Briggs, an Oxford University associate professor in sociology, found that the Tavistock patients, especially girls, exhibited a significant increase in self-harm and behavioral and emotional problems while taking puberty suppressors. Endocrinologist Michael K. Laidlaw has warned that the puberty-blocking drug Lupron inhibits normal brain and bone development and causes sexual dysfunction, early menopause, and infertility.
Simon Calvert, deputy director for public affairs at the U.K.-based Christian Institute, expects more people like Bell will take legal action against the Tavistock center.
“We have been warning for years that young people undergoing these treatments will come to regret it,” he said. “They will be asking doctors and parents, ‘Why did you let me go through with this?’”
The U.K. is already experiencing a “detransition movement,” Calvert said. In November, 200 people attended a sold-out detransitioning conference in Manchester led by Charlie Evans, a 28-year-old woman who identified as a man for a decade. The event included a panel with medical and psychological health experts along with young women who detransitioned and expressed regret about their treatments.
Calvert said the public square largely ignored or silenced those voices, “but if there is any justice in the world, we’re going to see cases like Bell’s succeeding.”