'I'm a Trans Doctor Fighting for Better LGBTQ Health. J.K. Rowling's Comments Were Very Hurtful'

I am a General Practitioner (GP) working in East London, and have worked as a GP for the past 15 years. I also happen to be a trans woman who advocates for better healthcare for trans people.

I'm one of the members of the LGBT+ Steering Group within the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP). We do a lot of work to improve LGBTQ health and last year we marched in London Pride. It really felt that our colleagues had embraced us and recognized our contribution and the need to improve LGBT health.

As far back as when I was six years old I knew I wanted to become a woman. I was at kindergarten back in Malaysia where I grew up, and the school was organizing a concert for the end of year. Because it was an all-boys school they asked for volunteers to play female roles. I put my hand up, because it just felt the most natural thing to do. I knew from a very young age that I was different but I didn't know how to express it. I come from Malaysia where state Sharia laws prohibit gender expression that is not normative, so it was very difficult for me to explain what I wanted to become.

When I was 11 I was sent to an all-male boarding school. It wasn't a place where I could express myself; I was sort of role playing myself, being what people expected me to be, and sleepwalking through secondary education. I left Malaysia at 18 to study medicine in Belgium, but even during that time I didn't know how to reach out for help. After medical school I went back to Malaysia, and that was when my depression set in, because I felt much more suffocated in Malaysia. I left in 1996 and moved to the UK.

But it was only in 2008 that I first went to a Gender Identity Clinic and started my journey to transition. Before I transitioned, I was living a double life. I was working as a male doctor, but in the evening I was in my female identity. Because for a long time it was difficult, even as a doctor, to change your identity. But then in 2010, The Equality Act was passed which made it illegal to discriminate against transgender people, so I could confidently become a female GP in 2015.

Doctor, Transgender, Health
Dr. Kamilla Kamaruddin is a trans woman who is part of the LGBT+ Steering Group within the Royal College of General Practitioners. She practises as a GP in London. DR. KAMILLA KAMARUDDIN

I was very worried about the reaction from my patients. Because I practice in East London and many of my patients are quite conservative. When I announced my decision to transition to my practice, all of the staff were very happy for me and gave me a round of applause. They only asked me what, and how, we would tell our patients. I told them that I would tell them myself, I wanted to carry that burden.

So my first day at work after I had transitioned, I came in with a big smile and a bright dress. One of my colleagues didn't recognize me at first, but patients who knew me, it didn't matter to them. They were happy for me, congratulated me and some gave me nice little presents and cards. The more conservative patients surprised me the most because they embraced me very, very easily. Female patients no longer wanted a chaperone when I had to examine them.

I feel like it's a duty for me to help other trans people. For example, trans men who want to have cervical screenings. I've had to explain that we cannot expect those trans men to go to reception and ask for one. We must think of other ways to help them, how we can provide this service to trans people, and how we can raise awareness about having cancer screenings within the trans community. With the RCGP LGBT+ Steering Group we have launched e-learning modules, podcasts and screencasts for GPs to create awareness and understanding.

It took many years to be where I am now. My parents have both passed away, but my siblings are quite conservative and religious—my sisters wear the hijab.

I returned to Malaysia, sent them a message to tell them I'm a trans person and invited them for dinner. Every one of them turned up, and they embraced it. They asked me just one question, how would I reconcile being trans with my religious beliefs? I told them that God would accept me. I am a Muslim, and I'm still a Muslim and I still believe in the doctrines of being a Muslim.

The term transgender is an umbrella; including trans men, trans women, gender non-conforming, non-binary and asexual people. So gender is very varied, and I think that concept is quite difficult for some people to understand.

Transgender, Doctor, Health
Dr. Kamilla Kamaruddin celebrating London Pride with the Royal College of General Practitioners in 2019. DR. KAMILLA KAMARUDDIN

For J.K. Rowling to tweet, "'People who menstruate.' I'm sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?" it seems as if the definition of womanhood is through menstruation. I think it's very hurtful for her to say that, and it's really not useful. A lot of women do not menstruate. As a doctor I see a lot of women who suffer from medical conditions that make them unable to menstruate—people with eating disorders, people suffering with stress and depression or those who have infertility issues. She is shaming them, and they already suffer from medical conditions that may be very shameful for them to admit.

We trans women and cisgender women share a lot of common things. We share the struggle to be accepted, in terms of equal pay and equality. And I think we should try and concentrate on those common things that we share. This concept of "trans women are women", we know ourselves that it is very much more complex than that. But if you say trans women are not women then you push us into a debate, and it's just not helpful. I think we must do more to embrace LGBTQ people, and we must ask our allies, what more can you do to embrace LGBTQ people?

A male cisgender heterosexual colleague once said to me "I've always looked at trans people as a patient or from what I've read from the news or social media. And only after I met you, did you seem to normalize what trans people are like."

And it suddenly dawned on me that when trans people are fighting for the right to have hormone treatment, if the waiting list is long, and that causes a lot of distress—we may be classed as noisy or problematic.

But we are not a problem, the problem is not us. I believe the problem lies in other people's inability and refusal to accept trans people. All we want is to be who we are. If we are allowed to be who we are, we can thrive and function well and we can contribute to society. It's like cisgender women fighting for equality and rights, some people would just say that they were noisy and a problem. Black people are having to fight not to be killed, and some look at them as a problem. No they're not. It's not us, it's others.

My advice to young people is; don't be afraid to be who you are. Reach out for help, there are a lot of organizations that can help you, like the LGBT Foundation and the Albert Kennedy Trust.

You should be able to become who you are, and there is a lot of help out there. And, more often than not, there will be a lot more people who will embrace you with love and kindness than who will be against you.

Dr. Kamilla Kamaruddin is a Principal GP and Primary Care Network Clinical Director working in London. She is a trans woman who champions better healthcare for trans people. She received the award for Member of the year, and is part of the LGBT+ Steering Group that received the award for Outstanding contribution to a GP community, both at the RCGP Inspire Awards 2019.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.