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In England, the Tavistock hospital center at the heart of the debate on trans teenagers

The statue of Freud outside Tavistock Hospital in London on March 13, 2023.

In front of the concrete building from the 1960s sits a statue of Sigmund Freud. The father of psychoanalysis spent his last years in exile a few streets away. A found patronage for the Tavistock & Portman Center, renowned for its psychotherapeutic treatments. In this chic area of ​​north-west London, close to the Swiss Cottage underground and its beautiful villas, the “Tavi”, as clinicians and patients call it, is renowned for housing one of the oldest departments in the world. world for the care of transgender children and adolescents: the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS).

But, for four and a half years, this national hospital center has been at the heart of a controversy that concentrates all the heated debates around the trans issue in the United Kingdom. The “Tavi” is suspected of having endangered the health of certain patients, by hastily and without enough vigilance prescribing “puberty blockers” (hormonal treatments that stop puberty). These accusations led the National Health Service (NHS) England, the authority which administers public health establishments in England, to announce, in July 2022, the imminent closure of its specialist service. A rare decision.

Tavistock is the only public institution in Britain to care for minors with gender dysphoria, young people who experience a feeling of inadequacy between their gender and their biological sex. Since the creation of the GIDS in 1989 by an Italian psychiatrist, Domenico Di Ceglie (retired since 2009), some 12,000 children and adolescents have been treated there. This pioneering center should be replaced by decentralized services across England. However, these will not be ready for months. In the meantime, the Tavi service is no longer accepting new patients.

An incendiary report

On February 23, Hannah Barnes, journalist for the prestigious television program “BBC Newsnight”, reignited the controversy over the GIDS record with the publication of a critical work, Time to Think (“it’s time to think”, Swift Press, untranslated). A number of young people have been affected by their time in the service, it’s a fact, I’ve met some, but we don’t yet know to what extent », explains Hannah Barnes, interviewed shortly before the publication of her book.

So what happened at Tavi? To try to answer it is to venture into one of the most divisive areas of the British political and media field: questions of transidentity. In the United Kingdom, there are pressure groups with such different points of view that they make any contradictory debate complicated. On the one hand, “protrans” associations, such as Mermaids, defend the self-determination » – or the right of everyone to freely choose their gender identity – and equate any criticism with transphobia. On the other hand, the Conservative Party exploits the trans issue to better embarrass the Labor Party, which is more inclined to protect the rights of minorities.

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