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Vanessa Lacey, who has lived most of her life as a man, is the health and education officer for the support group Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI).

Irish transgender teens sent to the UK for treatment by desperate parents

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Vanessa Lacey, who has lived most of her life as a man, is the health and education officer for the support group Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI).

Irish teenagers with trans identities, who may at a later date want to change their sex, are being referred to a UK clinic for hormone blocking treatment to slow the progression of puberty.

The treatment helps them to reduce the amount of surgery they may need later in life if they decide to opt for a sex-change operation as adults.

According to the Independent, three Irish adolescents have recently been sent by the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) to the Tavistock Clinic in London for the kind of treatment that can help them cope by slowing the development of their sexual organs.

But many Irish parents are being forced to pay for the costly overseas treatment for their teenagers themselves, often having to buy the prescribed drugs via the internet, the paper claims.

Vanessa Lacey, the health and education officer for the support group Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), told the Independent that some parents were often just trying to keep their child - trapped in the wrong body and traumatised by the onset of puberty – alive.

Lacey, 49, was born male and raised in Waterford city, but says her 'gender identity for as long as I can remember was female.'

Lacey went to a Catholic boys school and married a woman with whom she had two children. Six years ago, she came out as transgender and now lives as a woman.

The tranquillity she feels now has been hard-won she says. 'I seriously considered taking my life because I was afraid of the shame I would bring on my family. I left school at 14 after failing every exam because I could not concentrate. My children have supported me. My mother died two-and-a-half years ago, and prior to that did not talk to me.'

Lacey says that some desperate Irish parents are now being forced to take drastic measures because their transgendered children are suicidal and can not access hormone treatment in Ireland until they are 16.

To address this disparity discussions are reportedly under way in Ireland to try to offer the same treatment, which is reversible, in one of Dublin's main children's hospitals.

The move comes as the HSE says it is expanding the services available to adults and teenagers who are transgender.

It's estimated there are around 50,000 people who feel they were born the wrong sex in Ireland. The rate of attempted suicide among them is as high as 40 percent which can be attributed to lack of treatment, understanding, social stigma, loss of employment and the experience of family rejection.

Gender re-assignment surgery is not available in Ireland, and patients have had to travel to Britain or Belgium. A spokeswoman for the HSE said it had paid for around 27 sex-change operations for Irish people in the past five years.

'We can confirm an average cost of an assessment and the associated surgical procedure of a transgender case abroad is circa $40,000,' she said.

HSE director Philip Crowley said the executive was in the process of designing a proper treatment system.

Lacey acknowledged Doctor Crowley's positive steps, but spoke of the need to improve services and pointed out that people were waiting several months to get hormone treatment in Saint Columcille's Hospital in Dublin. 160 transgender people were receiving hormone therapy there she said, three times the 2006 figure.

'Hormone treatments have been proven to alleviate stress and anxiety and are a medical necessity. It is vital that individuals can access these services in a safe and timely manner.'

Transgender people in Ireland frequently encounter serious legal complications because they cannot change their birth certificates, a ban that the High Court said five years ago was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This inability to change their birth certificates has huge practical implications critics say, citing the recent cases of transgender Leaving Certificate Exam students who sat the exam under their new identity and have not been able to get into college because it conflicts with the name on their birth certificate.

'Education is the key to ending transphobia,' says Lacey. 'I would like to see age-appropriate books not just in second - and third -level but in primary schools. That will ensure that children are aware of their gender identity.'

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