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Mishcon Academy: Digital Sessions – In conversation with Bobbi Pickard, Founder of Trans in the City

Posted on 29 June 2020

Mishcon Academy: Digital Sessions are a series of online events, videos and podcasts looking at the biggest issues faced by businesses and individuals today.

This live session was held on 24 June 2020.

Bobbi spoke with Partner Emma Woollcott about her life and her campaigning work around trans awareness, including an introduction to trans-inclusive and gender-neutral language, and the importance of allies to the trans and non-binary communities.

Emma Woollcott
Hello thank you for coming I'm Emma Woollcott.  I am a partner at Mishcon de Reya and on behalf of the Academy and of Mishcon's Pride Network, I am delighted to invite you to this digital event to celebrate LGBTQ Pride month.

I am delighted to introduce you to Bobbi Pickard, who is a senior project manager at BP and also the founder of Trans in the City.  As co-chair of BP Prides Transgender Group, Bobbi has been instrumental in changing the way that BP's level of awareness and education around transgender and non-binary issues is explored globally.   She runs training and awareness sessions in schools and organisations up and down the country and since lock down has been delivering her training virtually.  Bobbi, thank you for giving up the time.  Can you tell me then what Trans in the City is and what its objectives are and what motivated you to set it up?

Bobbi Pickard
So Trans in the City is an open collaboration between 80 organisations now and those organisations range from Microsoft to Amazon and BP through all of the armed services.  Some of our organisations have 10s of employees, other organisations have 100, 000s of employees and the whole goal of the organisation was to stop what I saw as a competition almost in terms of LGBT and especially transgender events and really just make everybody collaborate. 

One of the main challenges I think for organisations is only 20% have gender transition guidelines or really any view of what to do with transgender people when they appear in their organisation and of those 20%, it is very few that actually have a role model that they can use to really trigger trans awareness.  So the whole idea was that we just put everybody together and we share all of our gender transition guidelines, we share all of our role models, we share all of our training and we just give it all for free, just because it is so important to raise that underlying awareness.

Emma Woollcott
It's really clear that you have done your reading, you have absorbed yourself in the research and the data.  Could you just talk about for a couple of seconds then about what makes people transgender?

Bobbi Pickard
Like lots of people, I've been driven by the why am I like this? What's really plain is it's actually just a natural variation in human development and the way it happens is in exactly the way our bodies are influenced in the womb and during puberty with oestrogen and testosterone; as our brains develop different areas of our brains are more or less receptive to oestrogen and testosterone and depending on the amount of the those two hormones that we get as those areas of our brains develop, gives us different feelings and there are about five different areas of our brain that we have identified now that  generate our feelings of gender and we can see when we inspect transgender individuals brains; in those individuals that those areas of the brain that deal with their feelings of gender have developed in the way that they feel their gender, not in the way that they were assigned of their biological sex.

Emma Woollcott
When we polled our community at Mishcon we had a sizeable response from people who identified as trans, non-binary and rather not say, which actually matched I think somewhere close to the stats that you found across the general population, perhaps slightly higher.

Bobbi Pickard
So this slide is really an amalgamation and average really of lots of different surveys from around the world and they really come out round about 5% of the population.  That is a growing percentage just because people are talking about it more people are seeing transgender people out more and being a success and that gives people confidence to come out.

Emma Woollcott
Bobbi I wonder if we can get a bit personal and talk a bit about your story.  Tell me a little bit about your gender dysphoria and the tipping point for transitioning.

Bobbi Pickard
In as far as my brain is concerned, I'm female.  So whenever I used to look in the mirror, my brain used to expect to see a female version of me and it never did and I could never recognise myself in the mirror.  It creates a huge amount of disassociation in the world.  When I was 14 was a really, really difficult time and that was the first time that I really I came close to taking my own life and really after that was a real rollercoaster.  So I decided that I would try transitioning and almost immediately it was the best thing that I had ever done.  It just felt that like the hugest weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It is such a privilege just to be me.

Emma Woollcott
I have something in my eye…sorry! What do you think held you back from transitioning earlier in life?

Bobbi Pickard
It was an incredibly, incredibly difficult thing to do in the 80s and 90s and I think even the early 2000s.  I think that by the time we got to sort of 2014, 2015 and 2016, I kind of felt actually that people were understanding transgender more and the stonewall had stopped the big anti trans rhetoric and actually come on board and actually I felt that lots of people were tolerant towards transgender people and I guess that I was just lucky actually that both of those things corresponded in the same place.  

Emma Woollcott
I want to talk a little bit about media representation of trans and non-binary people.  There was a consultation about amending the Gender Recognition Act and it was leaked last week that the government are dropping the proposed changes or a minder to drop the proposed changes.  I wonder if you could talk to us a little bit about what the process of transitioning involves now and what the reforms are aimed to do.

Bobbi Pickard
So transitioning is widely misunderstood.   So, lots of people assume that transitioning is gender confirmation surgery and it's not.  It is anything that a trans person does to alleviate their feelings of gender dysphoria and the way you do that is to make yourself match your internal view.  So only about 25% of transgender people actually go as far as gender confirmation surgery.  So there is a wide spectrum of transitioning as you kind of expect, as there is a wide spectrum of transgender people.

The Gender Recognition Act as it is, really only gives legal protection to those people that have a Gender Recognition Certificate and the process of getting the Gender Recognition Certificate is incredibly long-winded and difficult. 

Really the changes to the GRA were to extend protection to non-binary people and to make the process of the Gender Recognition Certificate easier.  But you know, it was blown up as well we are going to allow trans women into women only spaces.  There was a lot of noise around self-identification.  You know, all of a sudden transgender people would just be able to say that I'm female and their female and then that's all that needs to be done.  That's all really the case. I don't have a Gender Recognition Certificate. I have a female passport, I have a female NHS number, I have a female Drivers Licence. My whole life is female.

Emma Woollcott
One of the instances where people are most concerned about self-identification, or the risk that people might identify as trans and later change their mind is in young people.  Now you are a trustee at Mermaid, which is a charity that supports the families of young people who are transitioning or questioning their gender identity. Talk to us a little bit then about Mermaid and what is has done to ensure that young people and that their interest in the round are safeguarded.

Bobbi Pickard
In terms of treatment of young children, it is very limited.  Before a child reaches puberty there is no treatment other than counselling and allowing that child to express as their chosen gender.  All we are doing is letting children that consistently say that they are trans that they consistently identify as being trans, express themselves how they want to express.  So if we don't, if parents don't support children, if organisations don't support children, if schools don't support children, then 50% of those children will attempt suicide.  If we do support them then the suicide rate is 4% just for letting children express how they want to express.

When children do reach puberty there is the option, if the child and family and the consultant think it is appropriate, to go on puberty blocking drugs and that gives those trans children that are still identifying as trans at that point, just a break from imminent puberty.  I can tell you if you are trans and you go through puberty it is catastrophic.  It is not about getting a young child that identifies as trans at two or three to transition.  It is to get the right outcome for that child whether that is to transition or not.

Emma Woollcott
Can you talk to us a little bit about Covid-19 and the lock-down and the kind of impact on the trans and non-binary community.  How you personally and the trans community have experienced lock down and what it has meant for you both personally and professionally?

Bobbi Pickard
It has been incredibly difficult I know for lots of trans people and the obvious thing is in terms of medical transitioning then obviously all of that stopped.  I know the waiting list currently for NHS treatment before Covid was around about three years and it is probably significantly more now and that's for the first appointment.  But it is more subtle than that really for trans people, especially for trans women for instance.  Hair removal, facial hair it is something that’s an accumulative effect, if you are having electrolysis, then it starts off extremely hard because the hair is well rooted and matured so it is extremely painful and there is a hell of a lot of it..  Then as you go on it becomes easier and easier and having a 6-month gap now means that all of that is back to square one again so everybody that is going through that will be going through excruciating pain again.  

It has been incredibly difficult for me personally in lock down because the more I found that I was isolated, then the more I found myself doubting that I was doing as well as I was.  But I did realise that actually lots of people know so little about transgender, that they don't even want to be seen associated with it or seen going along to a trans course and the lockdown has given us that great opportunity to do the course on-line so people can view it in complete privacy in their own homes.  I am a firm believer if you can just tell one person the truth then that person if they tell two or three people, then that has to make an impact.  Giving transgender rights don't take rights away from everywhere else.  It just makes the world a bigger and better place.  That is where we need to be in lots of things not just transgender.

Emma Woollcott
You're completely right, that is beautiful.  We have come up against time and I'm afraid we haven’t got time for any more questions.  I am so grateful that you have shared your story, some of your insights and your time with us. Thank you very much.

Bobbi Pickard
Thank you so much it has been great talking with you.

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