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The crisis in trans healthcare in the UK killed my daughter Synestra

A new book, Transition Denied, exposes 'system failures' to protect vulnerable trans teenagers in Britain. This excerpt is from its prelude, by Synestra de Courcy’s mother.

Synestra de Courcy (right). Photo: Amanda de Courcy/Transition Denied. Who was Synestra? If you live in North Herts [in England], and if you read the LGBT press, you might have come across her story a couple of years ago. At least, you may have read the bare bones of that story.

Synestra was a young trans woman who grew up in and around Stevenage, was educated in Letchworth and, in the last years of her life, went to London to make her fortune, before dying from an accidental drugs overdose at the unspeakably early age of 23.

So much promise, so much heartbreak. At school, she challenged rigid views of gender and sexuality head on, coming out first as gay, then agender. Rather than reject her, as some schools would, they celebrated her difference and in her final year, she was elected head ‘boy’. Online, she built a solid following with her personal vlog and a series of expert broadcasts on make-up.

Though that was only the beginning of her journey. By the age of 20 she identified very clearly as transgender and was desperately seeking help from the NHS with her transition. That help was not forthcoming. Instead, as many trans people before her, she got the runaround: she’d not followed the right pathway, ticked the right boxes. Vital letters went missing. Professional assessments were ignored.

So she did what she needed. She started to pay for the treatments and surgeries she so desperately sought through sex work. That, in turn, took her down the road to drugs: first as recreational habit; later, as dangerous addiction. Bad decisions? Yes.

But to Syn, there was an inevitable logic to her lifestyle. Besides, it wasn’t as though she wasn’t enjoying herself. Her story, as so many trans stories, was complicated. To suggest she played no part in her own downfall would be to erase one half of her. She was brilliant. She was lovely. She was also flawed.

None of which excuses the system failures that left her quite unsupported at key moments in her too short life. In 2015, just as her life seemed to be turning a corner, she went to one more party, diced with drugs one last time, and died.

She is missed by many. Her family. Her friends. Her partner. By the trans community, many of whom saw her as likely to play a strong and influential role in future.

For them, as well as for those who would have liked to know her better, this, warts and all, is Syn’s story.

“System failures left her quite unsupported at key moments in her too short life.”

Who was Synestra? She was my daughter, my first-born child, and, like all mothers, I cherished her. The utter horror of learning of her death takes my breath away and stops me in my tracks whenever I recollect it. She is never far from my thoughts.

To lose one’s child is the most unbearable pain one can suffer; it is not the order of things. It will never happen to me, we think. But sometimes it does...

Her name Synestra means ‘at one with the stars’. She chose it herself. This beautiful name seems now as if it were some sort of mysterious premonition.

Synestra made a profound impression on so many people. She was quiet, intelligent, and spoke with an eloquence that belied the stunning impact one felt when first setting eyes upon her. She was a dichotomy.

Synestra de Courcy. Photo: Amanda de Courcy/Transition Denied. Synestra did live her short life to the full, as she wanted to live it. She learned, and had the power to learn, like no other person I have ever met. Her father, brother and I found ourselves, like many people who knew her, in total awe, and she was way beyond us in terms of knowledge; in just about any subject one cares to mention.

We certainly had our ‘ups and downs’. Coping with such an extraordinarily bright child brings its own issues. But Syn lacked wisdom and experience, the worldly-wise things that as we age, we simply ‘know’. Being a very bright child gave Syn empowerment over others, and she became almost megalomaniac in her outlook; impossible to influence and certainly impossible to control.

As parents, we could see the devastating effect that drugs were having upon her during 2014, but we were helpless. We quickly realised that Syn of course, was an adult in the eyes of the law, and we had no influence in reporting her issues to the doctors, and had no real idea of where to seek help. Had we done so, would she have taken heed?

The simple answer is ‘no’. Synestra had to find her own path through her difficulties, and this she was finally doing. She was strong, wilful, and once she decided to put this episode behind her, as the clinics and the specialists noted with amazement, she ‘recovered’ with astonishing speed. Or did she...?

“Synestra touched a lot of people, helped a lot of lives, and the world is a lesser place without her in it.”

The tragedy was that she was ‘almost there’. She had come through the worst of her dark drug addiction and was following a programme to wellness. We all started to relax. And that is where it all fell apart.

I will never be able to forgive myself for not being there for her that last weekend, but in my heart, I know that the tragedy that unfolded was the accident that had been waiting to happen. No one could foresee the events that unravelled that fateful night, but that accident took away one of the brightest stars – someone who seemed destined for great things. Now we will never know what could have been.

Synestra touched a lot of people, helped a lot of lives, and the world is a lesser place without her in it.

I take this opportunity to mention a charity that I started following her death. Synestra’s Community Interest Company (Synestra’s CIC). The purpose of the CIC is to help schools, colleges, and universities become more aware of the transgender community.

Life is hard for us all at times, but being ‘different’ and not conforming with society’s view of Boys & Girls, has a damning impact on those that are unsure, or simply fall in between society’s ‘norm’. So let’s make all toilets just ‘toilets’ for example, let’s allow kids to wear skirts or trousers, short or long hair and remove this need to conform with an idealistic view of pink or blue children.

The most difficult ‘nut to crack’ is the parents themselves. Teachers are getting it, but parents, no, they’re not. All parents are proud of their children, but when we talk about non-conformity relating to gender, one can see the bristling effect immediately.

Being transgender is not a disease, not something one catches, it’s not a fashion, a fad, or any other such nonsense. People are all ‘people’ no matter what gender, colour or creed. As a society we manage reasonably well with most prejudices, and my aim is try to help eradicate this one.

* Transition Denied: Confronting the Crisis in Trans Healthcare by Jane Fae, with a foreward from Amanda de Courcy, was published on 21 May 2018 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

About the author

Amanda de Courcy, mother of Synestra de Courcy, wrote the foreward to Transition Denied - a shocking account of institutional discrimination faced by young trans people in the UK.


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