Published by the Faculty of Business, Government and Law, University of Canberra

BroadAgenda

Research and Stories through a Gendered Lens

Lack of trans visibility leads to misrepresentation

Apr 26, 2023 | Diversity, Commentary, Leadership, Equality, LGBTIAQ+, Gender, Safety, First Person, Health, Activism, Feature

Written by Jeremy Wiggins

As the patron of Transcend, transgender activist Georgie Stone OAM, noted in her recent National Press Club address, the last month or so has been rather horrendous for the trans community.

Intensified transphobia and attacks take a toll personally and professionally. The anti-trans events which occurred during March around Australia, but especially alongside Neo-Nazis in Victoria, just a few weeks after World Pride hurt my community.

It was fortunate that we had already been working hard at advocating to amplify the voices of trans people and had been given an opportunity to use an incredible platform to take control of the narrative and speak to the Australian public.

Georgie was invited to address the National Press Club of Australia around Trans Day of Visibility, and the timing seemed particularly relevant.

So, on the 4th of April 2023, the youngest woman ever, and only the second transgender person to speak at the National Press Club took the stage to set the record straight and talk about what the previous few weeks had been like for her and for us in the wider trans community.

The powerful speech that Georgie delivered is publicly available (link above!) and I highly encourage you to watch it in full as it details her personal journey to become who she is and the extreme obstacles her family faced along the way.

But I would like to bring up a couple of key points that she made and expand on why they were chosen to be included in the speech:

Access to gender affirming care is a right often denied to trans people

Contrary to what many might think, gender affirming care comprises of a range of actions that supports the process of affirming one’s gender identity. Not all of those actions are medical interventions, and not all medical interventions are irreversible.

According to Trans Pathways, only 4.7% of the participants in their survey were using or had previously used puberty blockers. 28.3% have previously used or are currently using hormones that have the effect of masculinising or feminising (e.g. testosterone, oestrogen, progesterone) and an additional 34% want to use these hormones in the future.

Gender affirming care can include actions such as: using a person’s chosen name and pronouns, allowing a person to choose the clothes and use the bathrooms that align with their gender identity, or ensuring access to a gender affirming health practitioner.

As Georgie highlighted, trans kids are still facing barriers and discrimination such as being told that they can’t go on school camp or share a cabin with their peers. Families and carers are accused of asking for unreasonable things when they just want their kids to be able to enjoy what other kids enjoy. How is this ok?

Anti-trans narratives want you to believe that trans kids are being robbed of their childhood, that they are not old enough to make decisions about their identity and their bodies, that their parents and medical professionals are misguiding them. But Georgie made it clear to all of those listening, “having the freedom to affirm my gender didn’t remove me from a childhood in which I could ‘just be a kid’… it actually unlocked it for me. I was finally able to enjoy school. My head wasn’t plagued by self-doubt and fear anymore. There was finally space to learn, dream, make friends and at last get excited about my future. To just live. Just be.”

Georgie Stone speaking at the National Press Club. Picture: NPC/Hilary Wardhaugh

Georgie Stone got a standing ovation after speaking at the National Press Club. Picture: NPC/Hilary Wardhaugh

Public narratives and misinformation have a devastating effect 

There is a lack of trans voices and trans visibility that feeds into the misrepresentation and misunderstanding about trans experiences. This allows trans kids to be used a political footballs by anti trans people who present themselves as ‘experts’ without actually having any credible qualifications, experience, connections or without submitting themselves to the same ethical standards as the trans affirming health professionals do.

Trans people are dragged through unfair systems to affirm who we are and if we speak out about the active threats against our right to live our authentic lives, we are expected to name and shame those who are behind the transphobic attacks with complete disregard for the implications to our safety.

This is irresponsible and the kind of bully behaviour that makes it possible for hate groups and anti-trans groups to weaponise their language and present trans people as the problem and as the threat.

Georgie put it beautifully: “When we are painted as dangerous and deceptive and liars, that is how the world sees us.

“When trans women are portrayed by cis men in films and television, that is how the world sees us – men pretending to be women.

“When the media spreads false narratives about gender affirming care and bathroom access to generate mass hysteria in order to sell papers – it has devastating real world consequences.”

Some of these real-world consequences result in the trans community experiencing disproportionate levels of harassment and violence, poor mental health outcomes, poverty, discrimination and systemic oppression that continues to plague our community.

As Georgie said, “We know from the evidence that those more likely to experience sexual assault are transgender people. We are at higher risk of being sexually assaulted, in fact 1 in 2 trans people have reported that they have been sexually assaulted, yet most of them have not reported this to authorities as they do not have trust in the system and do not feel safe to.”

Everyone deserves to live with dignity and respect, no matter who they are or whom they love. Nobody likes to have their lives and their right to exist being publicly debated or questioned. Everyone wants to live free from oppression and persecution. Including trans people.

We know that Australia can do better. It does not take much to create the right conditions to allow trans young people to achieve their full potential. If they have access to gender affirming healthcare, a supportive family, a positive peer group and a safe educational environment, trans young people do better in life and our future generations of trans adults will have better health outcomes.

We have come a long way, but it is time for decision makers to invest in our healthcare and family support services. Australia needs legal protections in place to stop hate speech and vilification on the basis of gender identity.

We need to celebrate and uplift the voices of trans people so that we don’t just survive but thrive. It’s time for trans people to be treated like valued members of society and respected as human beings. We deserve nothing less.

  • Photo at top: Georgie Stone speaking at the National Press Club. Picture: NPC/Hilary Wardhaugh

Jeremy Wiggins (he/him) is CEO of Transcend Australia, the largest national charity working to support families and carers of transgender children and young people. Jeremy is a 2016 Churchill Fellow in transgender health and has worked for over 15 years to enable better health outcomes for marginalised communities.

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