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A first-of-its-kind study has revealed a significant jump in transgender people in Wellington seeking hormone therapy.
The research paper, written by physicians and professors, has been published today in the NZ Medical Journal. They analysed the Capital & Coast District Health Board’s hospital records between 1990 and 2016.
This is the first formal time the prevalence of transgender people in New Zealand has been assessed.
The study also shows a particular increase in people under 30 visiting endocrinologists, and a narrowing in the gap between the number of people seeking female-to-male therapy and male-to-female.
The study shows in 2016, a total of 92 people had appointments at the Wellington endocrine service. Of those, 51 sought male-to-female hormone therapy, while 41 sought female-to-male therapy. The average age was below 25.
In 2015, 65 people sought therapy. The year before - 30.
The average age has been significantly dropping, too. Almost half of those seeking therapy last year were aged between 20 and 30. Since 2011, 15 people aged under 18 have sought therapy.
Claudia McKay, who has worked in transgender support with Agender NZ for more than 20 years, said the increases reflect well on society.
“When I transitioned 20 years ago, people were genuinely scared for me and worried that I was going to be attacked,” she said.
“There’s been a huge sea change in people’s attitudes and that makes it easier for those just wanting to be themselves today.”
The study predicts the number of people requesting advice or seeking therapy will continue to increase.
“[This] has significant implications for health providers involved in the care of these individuals, particularly with regard to expertise, experience and access to training,” it said.
McKay said there should be more clinical training for health professionals treating young people.
“For younger people, the whole process is different. Endocrinologists in our major centres are good, but I do think there is a lack of knowledge regarding young people.”
Waikato University lecturer Dr Jaimie Veale said overseas, an increasing number of people working in primary care, such as GPs, are receiving specialist training in this field and are able to prescribe hormones.
She said that is an option for reducing the stress on endocrinologists and those supporting transgender and non-binary people.
“I think there needs to be changes to our health system to accommodate this, and in doing so, I think it’s incredibly important to hear from transgender people and their own experiences and the barriers they face.”
In May last year, Dr Veale was awarded $238,000 by the Health Research Council to investigate just that. She is currently in the final stages of preparing the questionnaire.
Access to sex change surgery in New Zealand is particularly difficult.
There hasn't been a surgeon capable of doing the operation since 2014 and each District Health Board is responsible for finding overseas specialists.
As of last April, there were 90 people on a waiting list for surgeries. The current rate is three surgeries every two years. The Ministry of Health estimates the wait for just the 19th person on the list is 38 years. The process costs upwards of $20,000.
The Wireless asked the Ministry of Health if it was satisfied with its care and support services available to transgender people, and if there were any plans to increase those, but in response the Ministry simply listed its obligations.
“Gender reassignment surgery is funded by the Ministry of Health through its High-Cost Treatment Pool,” it said.
“An individual meeting the eligibility criteria for surgery, as outlined on the Ministry's website, can be referred by their District Health Board specialist to the waiting list for gender reassignment surgery.”
Number of people identifying as transgender presenting to endocrine services in the Wellington Region:
LOOKING FOR SUPPORT?
Tranzform - http://www.tranzform.org.nz/home
A support group for youth who identify as transgender, fa'afafine, whakawahine, tangata ira tane, intersex, two-spirit, genderqueer, non-gendered and questioning.
Evolve - http://evolveyouth.org.nz/
A health and social support centre for youth.
Naming NZ - http://www.naming.nz/
An organisation to help transgender, gender diverse and intersex youth with updating their identity documents to correctly reflect their sex and gender.