Transgender man on five-year waiting list takes on icy challenge in bid to take transition overseas

A Blackpool-born trans man is plunging into an icy pool every morning in front of hundreds of online spectators in an ongoing campaign to raise funds for life-changing surgery in Turkey.

By Wes Holmes
Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 12:30 pm

Colby McLeod, 22, needs to raise £3,500 to undergo top surgery – reconstructive surgery to remove breast tissue – at a private clinic overseas, as waiting lists for the operation on the NHS extend for up to two years.

The operation, within the UK, also requires a referral from a specialist at a Gender Identity Clinic, where patients can expect to wait for an average of five years before a single appointment, and must attend several appointments (often more than a year apart) before receiving an official diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

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Colby MacLeod

Colby, who has been on a waiting list for Leeds GIC since 2017 and has yet to receive his first appointment, said: “I just feel like I’m not living in the body of who I am. It’s not me. How I feel mentally in my head – my body doesn’t reflect that.

"I have constant hate for my body. Just being able to shower is hard. Before I started testosterone, I used to hate my voice, so I would never speak. You’re always scared of getting misjudged and misgendered.”

To raise money, Colby is taking on the challenge of diving into an icy pool each morning in front of hundreds of viewers on TikTok, which he uses to document his transition and share his support for other transgender people.

The former South Shore Academy pupil, who moved to South Ayrshire in Scotland last year, said: “I came out to my family in 2016, but from a young age I’d always felt different

Colby and his nephew Max

“When you’re in high school you try to fit in. I used to love football when I was a kid, but I dropped it all. You just go down the path expected of you, and I shut myself off to who I really was. I was really quiet because I didn’t want to get bullied. You’re just trying to fit in there. You don’t be yourself.

“When I was 16 I cut my hair and came out to my family, and in 2017 I went to the doctors and got referred to the gender clinic in Leeds. Ever since then, I’ve been on the waiting list.

"I dont understand why it takes so long. There's a five year wait. There are people that genuinely do need the help and are not getting it.

"This resulted in me having to take things into my own hands to get testosterone illegally.

Colby and his friend Caitlin McDowell

“If someone told me a year ago I’d be speaking openly about how I feel, I’d say there was no chance. Being on testosterone has given me the confidence to speak out.

“I’ve got to a point in my life where I don’t care what people think of me, and they’re not going to stop me being who I am.”

He added that the strong trans community on TikTok – a video-based social media service with more than 1bn monthly active users – helped him overcome his debilitating gender dysphoria, which almost proved fatal.

He said: “The waiting times are too long. I couldn’t see any way out, and tried to kill myself last year. I’m in a much better place now; I was so unhappy and taking things into my own hands and getting testosterone myself gave me that bit of hope, finally starting to be myself.

“I used to be scared about being open about being trans. I just wanted to be seen as a cis male for so much of my life. But there are other people in the trans community on TikTok who have inspired me to be me. You’ve got to stand up and be who you are, at the end of the day. If people are going to hate me for being me, that shows a true reflection of themselves. There’s something in their life they're not happy about. I want people to embrace who they are rather than shy away.

“I think it’s important to break the stigma. I think it’s about time the world opens it eyes and realises things have changed. The generations are changing. The stigma of being LGBTQ+ needs to be broken and people need to be allowed to be happy within themselves.”

He added: “Obviously there’s a risk, flying abroad to get surgery, but I want to take that risk because I feel like I haven’t started living my life. I’ve not been able to.

“My hope is, by the end of this year, to be able to fly out to Turkey to get top surgery. It’s a risk im willing to take to be happy and live as me. The only thing that scares me is the language barrier, though there will be a translator there. In the back of my mind I think if something goes wrong, at least I went out trying to make myself happy and comfortable in myself.”

“I couldn’t even put into words how euphoric I would be. It would feel surreal. If I can manage to do this, I know that I will be able to do anything, achieve anything.”

Colby’s online ‘freedom top surgery’ fundraiser has brought in £270 so far, adding to £175 raised by him previously, putting the current total at £445.

He said: “Once I hit the £500 mark I’ll shave my hair on video. I’m always looking for new ways to raise money.”