Edi, 27, is from Essex. They work part-time at a non-profit, which trains people in social justice organising. They also used to be a freelance photographer, before falling ill with long Covid during the pandemic. Edi is a transgender non-binary person and is currently self-fundraising for top surgery, an operation to remove their breasts. This is their story…
Top surgery had been on my mind for a long time, but it was something I didn’t know how to talk about. I managed to keep myself busy and file the thought away in my head as something I would deal with another day.
Like many others, the periods of lockdown gave me the time and space to think about what I wanted to prioritise in my life. In a similar timeframe, I got sick with Covid-19, which turned into long Covid. It prompted two years of deep reflection about my body and how I want to live, helping me realise that top surgery is something that’s very much in my control and would make me feel comfortable in my body.
I plucked up the courage to see my GP for a referral to a Gender Identity Clinic (GIC). By the time the GIC confirmed receipt of it months later, I’d seen calculations that the waitlist was likely much longer than I thought: if GICs continue seeing patients at their current rate, it will be over 20 years before new patients get seen.
I’d already grappled with what I considered an ‘invisible’ waitlist – the time it takes trans people to navigate internalised transphobia and give themselves permission to seek gender-affirming care.
I didn’t think I could wait any longer than I absolutely needed to. I knew private care was an option many trans people had to seek, so I went deep into the online forums to find out how much top surgery costs, what the process is and how I might navigate it all.
Before I got sick, I naively thought if I needed to pay for any care myself, I could overwork to earn enough money to do so, but now I’m too ill to even work full time. I had to admit that I couldn’t get there alone. So I eventually decided to set up a fundraiser that went public on my birthday.
Private top surgery procedures can cost anything from £6 – 11.5k, and that’s without the cost of diagnosis and referral from a private doctor and consultations with surgeons.
If you’re a non-binary person, you often have to get that initial diagnosis done twice because it’s seen as something that needs extra validation. Rather than operating on an ‘informed consent’ model, gender-affirming surgery in the UK requires a diagnosis from mental health specialists.
This often results in someone gatekeeping whether or not you’re deemed to be experiencing “enough” of the “right kind” of distress for treatment; this is worse for Black people and people of colour who are twice as likely as white people to experience transphobia when accessing trans-specific healthcare.