The T Is Not Silent

transgender
Being the G in the LGBT acronym can feel like being a straight, white guy. Gay guys are the most visible and well catered to group within the diverse LGBT community.

From social to sexual, educational to medical, there are services available to meet pretty much all of our needs (in most major cities, at least).

On the one hand, this is great. After all, we are still a minority group with a lot of work ahead of us until we achieve full equality (in every sense of the word). On the other hand, I wonder if some of the other groups within our community receive the attention they deserve.

And I have to confess, that my own personal level of knowledge about the other groups within our ‘rainbow family’ is somewhat limited.

As I was having these thoughts and conversations with friends recently, I came across an amazing episode of ABC’s One Plus One where the interviewee was Lieutenant Colonel Cate McGregor. The interview was one of the best I have ever seen on the show. It was incredibly moving. Cate has spent most of her life as a male. She has recently begun a transition process to reflect her true nature. Her high level of public visibility (being in the Australian army) makes her actions all the more amazing and brave.


READ – I Am Cait – Privilege, Politics And The Personal


transgender
After watching the interview, I wanted to know more about the issues facing transgender people. I was fortunate to interview Transgender Victoria spokesperson Sally Goldner recently.

I consider myself to be a typical, pretty well informed gay male, yet I have to admit that I know very little about transgender issues. Do you find that this lack of knowledge/awareness is common not only within the broader community, but within the LGB community as well?

Certainly there has been rapid positive change regarding awareness in the last 15 years. In particular, in the last 9 months there has been more demand for training in Victoria on trans issues, thereby increasing awareness, then possibly the last 9 years – and from a range of services such as aged care and housing.

I’d say there are variations in awareness across G, L, B and mainstream communities. Biased as I may be as someone who identifies as bisexual regarding my own sexual orientation, I can easily say I have never heard one transphobic comment in 15 years from a bi person and have only found total support from bi people.

There is a “pink elephant in the room” at times regarding some elements of the gay and lesbian community. In the mid-1990’s, an Australian research piece asked trans people “from which group across all of society have you faced discrimination?” 40.1% said gay men, sadly making gay men the most discriminatory group across all of society (more than police and religion). 13% mentioned lesbians.

While there has been improvement in this area, there has been no systemic approach to deal with it. So for some gay men, and to a lesser extent lesbians, of earlier eras where there was little mixing of the “tribes”, that misunderstanding may still be there. The positive on this is young people are definitely far more fluid in themselves regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. They’re also more accepting and more aware of trans issues so attitudes will definitely keep improving.

Do we know how many people make up the transgender community in Australia?

Figures from The Netherlands and UK put transsexuals (those making a permanent affirmation of their gender identity, regardless of hormones and/or surgery) as 1.4-1.5% of the population. A recent New York State survey put this at 2.4%. Add in those who don’t make a permanent transition (often but not always referred to as cross-dressers) and the increasing number of those identifying as neither male nor female (genderqueer, non-binary and other similar terms), the figure could be conservatively at least 5%.

That’s 1.15 million Aussies or over 11 Melbourne Cricket Grounds filled to capacity on Grand Final day! And that’s conservative. It begs the question of course: where are we?

Watching the interview with Lieutenant Colonel Cate McGregor, I was struck by her descriptions of the internal anguish she felt throughout her life. In her life, she turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism. Is alcoholism and drug use common within the transgender community as a way of dealing with their often difficult life situation? 

Sadly yes. Research such as “Private Lives II and Tranznation” (glhv.org.au) put the figures on substance abuse as being worse than for gays and lesbians. Even worse, the attempted suicide rate for trans people from research around the world is 41-50%. I wish I could say something more positive, but that’s the reality. Increasing acceptance and education will turn this in a better direction.

The other thing that really struck me during the interview is the level of hatred that is often directed at transgender people. On the whole, is society becoming more accepting of transgender people, or is there still a long way to go?

There is an definitely an improvement. I have seen it shift from where I couldn’t walk anywhere in Melbourne 18 years ago (when I came out) without copping verbal abuse and even threats of violence, to where in at least 2-3 of the suburbs it’s “whatever.”

Some regional areas in Victoria are as good as some Melbourne suburbs. The anecdotal evidence from trans friends confirms that. I have lived in a conservative suburb (Bulleen) to the east of Melbourne for just over 3 years and have only had friendliness and respect. I acknowledge for sure there are local and regional variations.

The media is also far more positive, including trans young people such as the 60 Minutes report on Emma’s story. This is even compared to 5 years ago when that aspect was still treated in a somewhat sensationalist way.

I’m doing a course on social inclusion myself at the moment and my experiences are valued as much as everyone’s from, say, varied religious and cultural backgrounds. I’m willing to say anywhere up to 85% of federal politicians are understanding and supportive of trans issues as evidenced by the Parliamentary friends of GLBTI group. Trans was totally NOT an issue during the lead-up to getting federal equal opportunity law (which passed Parliament in June and is awaiting a specific commencement date).

I strongly believe there is reason for optimism overall.

Transgender Victoria was founded in the late 1990s. How have transgender issues changed during that time and what are some of the biggest issues facing the transgender community at the moment? 

We are on a cusp where society is more positive, but the social and legal policy is lagging behind. A good summary of what we want, which we would consider “basics”, can be found in Diversity in Health released in November 2012.

The 5 overall areas (in no particular order) are legal protection, documentation, support and education, health care and trans-specific research. We’ve had 3 big gains since that report with the federal law, the federal sex and gender guidelines and only on Friday 19 July a Family Court judgement that makes accessing puberty delaying medication easier for young trans people and their family. We have reason to believe there will be more items “ticked off the list.”

One big issue which we would really, really ask Little Gay Blog readers to help us with is getting more trans supportive health professionals of all sorts – GPs, counsellors, psychologists. There are still relatively few we can recommend and most are in inner Melbourne and inner Sydney – which is of little help to anyone in, say, Broome or Burnie. So if people can recommend anyone who they know or reasonably think would be willing to learn about trans issues – and we’re just talking basics at first such as a trans-friendly practice and helping someone on the point of initial self-acceptance – please please contact us (see below).

There have been some important legal victories lately, in particular with the passing of the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013. What effect do you think increasing legal recognition and protection has for the transgender community?

These are definitely a big bonus. It means individual situations can be resolved by conciliation and gives us more muscle to make systemic change. Also, the federal law fills gaps in state and territory laws. Some states didn’t previously cover all of the trans “kaleidoscope”, but as soon as the law comes into force that will be fixed

How can people get involved with Transgender Victoria? Are you looking for volunteers? How can people donate and what does that money go towards?

Simply contact us by visiting the Transgender Victoria website.

To volunteer – you just have to be supportive of our aims, and a sense of humour is welcome. To donate – in those immortal words –  “Donations of $2 or more are tax deductible.”

To see what the money goes to, please visit http://transgendervictoria.com/get-involved/donate

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

I know it can be isolating at times when coming out (at any age). I honestly believe we at least have a foundation of support now. I’d really urge people who are struggling to find the connection to that foundation. For all the difficulties, lots more trans people are able to have some sort of life where even 10 years ago, it didn’t seem possible.

Remember – it’s not gender dysphoria – it’s gender euphoria!

** UPDATE: In the short time since I conducted this interview, the Australian government has announced that transgender discrimination is to be removed from Medicare. Another win, and hopefully one of many more to come until all transgender people achieve full equality.

To stay connected with Transgender Victoria, you can follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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