To celebrate National Youth Week, SBS launched a competition inviting 14- to 20-year-olds to submit a video pitch about their identity, the prize, a chance to have their short film on air. The response was overwhelming with many inspiring entries from across the nation. Five finalists were invited to attend a residential storytelling workshop in Melbourne, and with the help of SBS and the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) produced a short film about their story.

Winner, Taz Clay, 17, a young Indigenous brotherboy shares his difficult journey to affirming his gender and the importance of speaking out about gender identity.

When we asked Taz to tell us about his childhood he said with a dry chuckle, “Well, that depends. Do you want the simple version or the complicated version?”

Whichever version you hear, Taz’s story will most likely leave you feeling respect and admiration for him. For such a young person, he’s been through a lot.

Taz identifies as a ‘brotherboy’. Being a brotherboy means different things to different people, but a brotherboy is generally a person from an Indigenous culture who was assigned female at birth yet has a male spirit. Taz talks about himself as being a female-to-male transgender person.

“I had gender dysphoria feelings since grade 2. When I was younger all I wanted to do was be a boy.”

“It was such a hard time; I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It really got to the point where I thought I’d be better off dead so I wouldn’t have to deal with it.”

Living with gender dysphoria wasn’t the only thing that made Taz’s childhood and teen years more complicated than most people’s.

From when he was a baby until the time he was 12, Taz lived in a type of kinship care with a couple his family knew through church.

“I don’t really know if I was taken away or given away.”

He was kicked out of that home in his early teens after coming out as a lesbian. He spent the next short while sleeping rough on the street, on friends’ couches and in youth homelessness shelters. He moved between Brisbane, Toowoomba and Townsville, never quite settling down or finding his place in the world.

Taz finally met his birth mother in 2013, when he was 14. He describes the time as “intense”, which seems to be a bit of an understatement. A tendency Taz is known for.

Sadly, Taz’s mum passed away just a few months after they re-connected. As a result, Taz says he spiralled out of control and experienced drug and alcohol addictions. His mental health suffered and he was hospitalised.

Taz received ongoing counselling at Headspace and, slowly but surely, started to turn his life around. He studied carpentry at TAFE for two years, moved in with a family he loves and made contact with another brotherboy named Kai, who is now his friend and mentor.

Headspace helped Taz make an appointment at a gender clinic in Brisbane, where he officially started his transition to living as a man. A big moment in this transition was when Taz was finally able to change the gender listed on his driver’s licence from female to male.

“Made life a lot less awkward,” he says.

Now Taz spends lots of his time educating people about the importance of mental health and wellbeing.

Taz isn’t afraid of sharing his experiences if it means helping others. He’s appeared in an episode of SBS TV’s Living Black highlighting the experiences of brotherboys and contributes a lot of time as a member of Headspace’s national youth reference group.

The same passion that drove that work, drove Taz to participate in SBS and FYA’s Youth Week filmmaking competition where he made this incredible film about being a brotherboy.

“You can go many ways in educating people, but for me, and where I’m living now, I don’t think it would be safe to stand in front of people and talk about mental health, gender identity and sexuality.

“Film lets me talk to people and share my experiences from the safety of my own bedroom, without having to stand directly in front of someone who might be angry or want to harm me.”

Next semester he wants to study psychology and become a youth worker.

“It’s my dream job. I just want to travel around and help people and always fight for something that’s right.”

Words by: Brianna Davidson
Mentor Director: Elle Marsh
Mentor Cinematographer: Daniel Hartley-Allen
Mentor Producers: Nayuka Gorrie and Tom Gardner

If you need support contact Headspace on 1800 650 890 or headspace.org.au