A publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

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Beyond the pink and blue: The rainbow hues of gender

Difficult conversations, big decisions and feeling more confident in their own skin are common elements of the trans experience. But each journey is individual and brings a unique set of rewards and challenges. On Saturday 31 March, Trans Visibility Day, Charlotte Grieve shares some of those stories.  

Words and Pictures by Charlotte Grieve
 

Jonathan, 17

Jonathan grew up in regional Victoria. When he started high school, he noticed his gender felt like a performance – it wasn’t quite right. One day after rowing practice, one girl jokingly asked the group “what would you do if you woke up a boy?”. The question hit Jonathan a little more deeply than his other teammates. In his final year of school, he decided to transition.

“A real inconvenience to my studies,” he laughs.

He cut his long hair short and stopped wearing dresses. Slowly, he had conversations with close family members. When he moved to Melbourne this year to start university, he decided to start fresh. He made a post on Facebook “coming out” to the world. He had to take the day off work to respond to all the messages of support.

“Some people unfriended me, but I expected that,” he says.

In three weeks, he will be 18 – the age you can independently begin hormone therapy. Jonathan is most looking forward to the calmness that comes with feeling at ease with your identity. Having a lower voice will also help with confused looks from strangers, he says.

Elinor, 21

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Elinor is passionate about maths, gin and gender. They* were one of the handful of Australians who jumped through the bureaucratic hoops to tick the “other” gender box in the 2016 Census. As an aspiring data scientist, Elinor understands more than most about the power of  reliable data, and its potential usefulness to the trans community.

“You can’t really do effective policy making when you don’t really know anything about the community in question,” they say.

Like many others, Elinor first discovered the concept of being non-binary on the internet when they was 13. “As soon as I saw it, I was like—that’s me,” they say.

In year 11 of high school, they started wearing a breast binder most days of the week. But one stinking hot summer day, walking down Elizabeth Street unbound,  “I had to put on a heavy jacket because it felt so wrong. I remember thinking in that moment that this was a point of no return – either I wear binders for the rest of my life or I get top surgery”.

Four years later, Elinor still describes the surgery as the best decision they ever made.

This Trans Visibility Day, they say the main misconception they would change about the trans community is “that we all hate ourselves.”

“There’s always this big transgender suffering narrative. That they’re trapped in the wrong body, all of that kind of stuff,” they say. “There needs to be more room to be able to play around with gender, see what feels right for you.”

*Some people prefer to be described with their first name only or a non-binary pronoun such as ‘they’ rather than a gendered pronoun. Others prefer no pronoun at all. For more information, go to https://www.vic.gov.au/equality/inclusive-language-guide.html

Luca, 24

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Luca grew up in Perth. They have always been into long-distance running and recently took up circus training.  Now at university, they are passionate about food sustainability, advocating for better practice both on and off campus.

Luca identified as a boy throughout their early childhood. While they only heard about the transgender community in their early teenage years, they say they do not regret the time spent as a woman. “In many ways, that experience is as much a part of me as this experience is now,” they say.

They don’t want to be called “mate” or “dude” but Luca is more confident, calm and themself, having just begun hormone therapy.

“I identify with a masculine body but when I think about my gender, I feel like I’m a mix of both masculine and feminine attributes. I don’t really define my inner sense of self by a gender necessarily. I feel like I’m me, I’m made up of lots of different parts and I don’t relate to the social construct of being a man or a woman. When I explain that to people, a lot of the time people are like ‘oh yeah that’s how I feel too’.”

For Luca, Trans Day of Visibility should be about telling society that trans people aren’t just on the fringes.

“Rather, we’re normal people, and that being trans isn’t necessarily the only thing about someone.”

Kim, 33

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Kim was born in Malaysia, a place he has mixed feelings about.

“Malaysia is a familiarity, similar to a comforting nostalgia you get when you walk into an old home filled with fond memories growing up,” he says. “But I also associate Malaysia with a lot of strife with family, and the general negative perception and treatment towards the LGBTQI+ community.”

Kim was three years old when he first became self-aware of his gender identity. His first brother had just been born and Kim was one day with the nannies while he was getting bathed.

“I remember using that simplistic language that I had at that age and asking my mum when was I going to catch up to my brother,” he says. “I just tried to tell her how I felt different but I must be a late bloomer. I looked at my brother and I knew confidently that’s what I should have been.”

Growing up, he loathed wearing dresses and hated dolls. He says there was a lot of cultural pressure expecting him to act in certain ways. As for his understanding of transgender while growing up, “in Malaysia, all you hear about are male-to-female transgender so it never crossed my mind that transitioning female-to-male was even a possibility,” he says.

“I grew up in an environment that sent a message that being transgender was a really, really bad thing and where any positive outcome in life was not possible.”

Fast forward to now, Kim works at NAB and lives in an apartment in Southbank with his fiancé, July. They are saving up to buy a house, and plan to have children in the coming years.

“I want people to connect and to realise that we are all the same – we’re really just functioning, loving, empathetic human beings who are not threatening at all.”

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Tyler, 19

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Being non-binary is just another part of Tyler’s bio. They also review non-fiction books, write poetry, hold movie nights and enjoy studying “because I’m a nerd”, they say.

Born in a female body, Tyler’s favourite outfit growing up was their matching pink tracksuit.

“I didn’t know I was trans until I was 16. I didn’t have that whole childhood thing of crying when I put a dress on. I loved dresses,” they say.

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It wasn’t until Tyler was attending an all girls’ high school, where classes were referred to as “ladies” and wearing skirts was compulsory, that Tyler started feeling uncomfortable with their gender identity.

“I always thought that I wanted to look like other girls but then I realised I didn’t, I actually want to look less like other girls.”

Like many trans people, a lack of available information saw Tyler take to the internet. After trawling through forums, trans was the one that fit the best. “Being a girl or being a boy both felt really alien. Even though I guess I had the girl body, in my mind and my body I didn’t feel like either. So whatever is in the middle there must be where I fit.”

Since leaving school last year, Tyler says a weight has been lifted off their shoulders. “Finally I can wear what I want and seek out other people like me.” They experiment with both aspects of masculinity and femineity, but medically transitioning is off the table. “I have no interest in going on hormones at all. I don’t want any of the changes that come from that.”

“The thing that brings trans people down is not the fact that they’re trans it’s that other people don’t like it.”

 

Claire, 26

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Writing, gaming and politics are three main causes of both fun and frustration for Claire. “It’s a great way to remain angry about a lot of things all the time,” she laughs.

When Claire was 12, she was attending an all-boys Catholic School in suburban Adelaide. It was here that she discovered the concept of transgender.

“My school was of course very insular, very masculine and very hetero-normative so there was absolutely no chance I could pursue it at that point. So I pushed it back,” she says.

It wasn’t until she moved to Melbourne in 2016 that transitioning was something she felt as though she could pursue. “In private I was dressing differently, I was too terrified to go outside my apartment for most of that time.”

The first time Claire left the house as a woman was for Melbourne’s Pride Parade in 2017. At first, it was “terrifying,” she says. “But when I got to the first main road, and realised that everybody else has their own day going on, nobody cares enough about you to even notice if you don’t pass. For me, that was a big moment where I realised I didn’t have to worry about random Joe’s because random Joe’s don’t worry about me.”

A year later, Claire is a lot more confident in her looks and her mind. Her clothes fit better and her skin is amazing, thanks to the hormone therapy. The biggest misconception about the trans community that Claire would change?

“It’s not as weird as you think,” she says.

“People who transition are totally normal people that are just a little different and are doing a thing. I fully admit, I do kind of look like one of the weird ones, but that’s fine. I just like the hair.”

For more information on Trans Visibility Day, click here.

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