The service director's view – Dr Polly Carmichael on 'The Gender Clinic'

I was recently reminded that it was nearly five years ago that Liesel from Century Films first approached the Gender Identity Development Service to see if we would consider taking part in a documentary. This was not the first time we had been asked and we had always concluded that it just felt too difficult and risky. We worried about young people regretting their involvement in the future, their safety, and if the process would ultimately be unhelpful. While we have always been keen to support and contribute to a better understanding of gender dysphoria, in the past we felt uncomfortable about directly involving service users.

There has been a huge amount of media coverage about gender diversity and trans identities, particularly in the last year. There have been many positive aspects to this, including greater awareness and acceptance. However, it is also perhaps fair to say that the portrayal of younger trans people and what constitutes the best care for them is sometimes presented in a simplified way and as a foregone conclusion. The real challenges young people and their families face in everyday life and the complexity of the decisions young people make around their gender can easily be lost.

kids on the edge gender both participants

A lot has changed in the last five years and Century Films patiently kept in touch. We were still unsure, but it was also increasingly obvious that taking part could really make a difference. It became clear that the people we should be asking were the young people and their families who attended the service. I went to our stakeholders group, which consists of adolescents attending the service, and they were unanimous in their strong view that the film should be undertaken. They wanted people to understand more about gender and their experiences. A number commented that it had been through representation on television that they had first begun to make sense of their own feelings about their gender.

So with a deep breath we agreed to take part. Our faith in the integrity of Century Films was well placed. We all feel proud to have been involved in the process and that we could not have wished for more in the way that they approached and conducted the whole process. The film has been a long time in the making. Century Films became an everyday fixture and made supreme efforts to speak with any family or young person who was generous enough to share their story and experiences. Clinical considerations have remained at the forefront and I have been so impressed by how much thought has been put into ensuring the families and young people who took part feel comfortable with the process and output. In essence, time was taken to build strong trusting relationships with the young people, their families and clinicians. So thank you to Liesel, Pete, Emily and Alice.

I think the result is a visually beautiful and sensitive film. It shows that each young person attending the service is an individual, and it demonstrates the resilience and family support required to carve a path that feels right to them. I think Matt and Ash and their families were brave to take part. ‘The Gender Clinic’ is a documentary that has been a privilege to be involved in, and I believe it will make a real difference.

Kids on the Edge: The Gender Clinic

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