IT is not so long ago that the experiences of Eleanor Matthews and Becky Kaufmann would have been almost entirely hidden away. Gender reassignment was a mysterious and taboo subject, but the men and women who experience it are now much more visible than they were. Slowly, public confusion and prejudice is being turned into empathy and understanding.

However, the stories of Eleanor Matthews and Becky Kaufmann also demonstrate how much progress is still to be made. Both women have faced considerable obstacles. Eleanor, who is from Edinburgh, says that, had she not received hormone treatment, she would be “on the railway tracks or off the Forth Bridge”.

There is also continuing concern about how long transgender people are being forced to wait for support and treatment due to the lack of specialist consultants, although it does appear that we are heading in the right direction. Figures obtained by The Herald show that the health service funded 386 referrals for surgery between April 2013 and July this year, a considerable increase on the position before 2012.

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There are a number of possible explanations for the increase. Partly, it has happened because referrals for surgery are now the responsibility of the National Services Division rather than health boards, some of which were seen by the transgender community as obstructive and unhelpful. A change in public awareness and understanding has also led to more people feeling able to transition, even though hate crime against trans people is still a problem.

It has also helped that transgender people have become much more visible and accepted in public life. The Scottish actress Annie Wallace has become a regular on the soap Hollyoaks for example; the sitcom Boy Meets Girl also recently centred on the relationship between a man and a trans woman. All of it helps to de-stigmatise trans people and hopefully make them feel more comfortable and confident.

However, Scotland still has some way to go before we can honestly say it is truly supportive and inclusive for trans people. The fact that more people are being referred for surgery is good news but the length of time people have to wait is still troubling. The Scottish Government must also fulfill its promise to change the law on gender recognition. Under the current system, a trans person must appear before a recognition panel, a process that can be intrusive and upsetting; the Government has said it will change the law so trans people themselves can determine their gender and it should get on and do that as soon as possible.

The hope in the long term is that changing the law in this way and helping more trans people to get the support they need will accelerate the change in public attitudes. The stories of Eleanor Matthews and Becky Kaufmann demonstrate how difficult it can be to transition. The responsibility of the health service and the government - of all of us - is to make it easier.