Interview: Sabine Sharp discusses Trans Healthcare

SALC recently sat down with Sabine Sharp, a former PhD student and organiser of the annual Sexuality Summer School. We asked them to reflect on the recent Trans Healthcare series, why it was important at this time, and whether there will be more events like the series. 

Sabine Sharp completed their PhD at the University of Manchester in 2021. Their doctoral project examined what feminist science fiction novels and films might offer to contemporary debates on trans issues. In addition to working as a Research Assistant on the Trans Healthcare and Creativity project, they have helped organise the Sexuality Summer School, a week of postgraduate workshops and public events taking place each summer. For the past five years, they have taught on gender, sexuality, race, and class in the English and American Studies department. Sabine now works as an Information Support Assistant at the University of Salford's library. 

Why are we holding these events and what are their objectives?

The Trans Healthcare and Creativity project aims to facilitate conversations between members of Greater Manchester’s trans community and academics, activists, creative practitioners, and healthcare professionals. Our four events in April and June 2022 have examined the present, past, and future of trans healthcare provision in the UK. 

These events have comprised of two roundtable events featuring a panel of experts from a range of backgrounds, each followed by a creative writing workshop led by a trans writer. With this format, we have sought to emphasise both the need for creative thinking in navigating current issues with trans healthcare provision and access, as well as the importance of spotlighting trans voices on this topic. 

Greater Manchester and the surrounding areas boast a rich history of trans political and community organising, something we wanted to showcase through our events. Our panels have highlighted the incredible work of organisations such as the Proud Trust and LGBT foundation, as well as trans and queer mutual aid initiatives and relevant research projects.

Why now?

In recent years, debates on trans issues have become increasingly fraught, with hostile and sensationalist media coverage and political scaremongering about trans inclusive policies. Through our events, we hope to contribute to a shift in the conversation, focusing on exploring creative responses to trans healthcare. 

Discussions in the media have tended to overlook or misrepresent this aspect of trans experience. Our roundtable events have foregrounded the exorbitantly lengthy waiting times for affirming treatment, stories of bias and gatekeeping, and the entanglement of transphobia with racism and ableism in some medical settings. 

Our events, as well as providing a much-needed space to articulate these experiences, seek to generate new approaches to thinking about transition healthcare. Our discussions so far have traced connections between the healthcare needs of various groups, underscoring the important overlaps between transition care and reproductive medicine, sexual health, cancer care, diabetes, mental health, and paediatrics. 

Adopting a broader conception of ‘healthcare’ than is usually considered in conversations on gender transition, we have sought to include the perspectives of those engaged in mutual aid organising, community support, academic research, and social work. Reimagining what trans healthcare might mean is a vital project in the current context. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has shone a spotlight on the pressures on our National Health Service. Meanwhile, many of the most marginalised members of our society face financial hardship due to the current cost of living crisis and the chronic underfunding of crucial public services. Discussing alternatives to the current system also requires reflection on a range of intersecting issues and a more expansive understanding of the range of services this might encompass. 

Why does writing possess such a crucial role in the subject of Trans Healthcare?

By pairing trans healthcare with creativity, we posit that we need to innovate in order to tackle the problems many trans people experience in medical and therapeutic contexts. Further, we argue that creative writing offers one way to develop the kind of radical thinking required to improve the current framework of provision.  

Through the writing workshops that were paired with our roundtable events, we have offered local trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people a space to develop their creative writing skills. Our two creative writing workshops have been led by trans author and journalist Juliet Jacques and trans poet Nat Raha. 

These workshops not only model career possibilities for trans people in the arts and creative industries, but also enable attendees to intervene in current debates on trans issues themselves. In trans scholar Grace Lavery’s experimental memoir Please Miss (2022), she draws attention to the restriction of genres available to trans people, historically allowed only certain forms of life-writing. Juliet Jacques’ journalism and historical fiction and Nat Raha’s poetry and zines allow our attendees to imagine the possibilities that might be offered by alternative modes of writing. 

Is this just the start for more events on the subject, or Trans-centred events in general?

We are keen to hold more events in the near future, and we are also investigating the possibilities of running short courses on trans and non-binary healthcare experiences for medical professionals. 

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