What is it like to be the loved one of someone who comes out as transgender?
JENNY BROCKIE: Welcome everyone, good to have you here tonight. We've talked before on Insight about what it's like to be transgender. Tonight we're going to talk about what it's like to be the partner or the child or the parent of someone who comes out as transgender. Let's start with the partners first, Kerry, you've been with your husband Peta for twenty years when he told you a couple of years ago that he wanted to live as a woman?
KERRY HAYWOOD: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Where were you when you had that conversation?
KERRY HAYWOOD: In a car, Peta was driving and Peta knew that I couldn't jump at 100 kilometres an hour.
JENNY BROCKIE: So what did you say, how did you break the news?
PETA HAYWOOD: At that point I was struggling psychologically pretty much and Kerry was asking me what was wrong all the time and I'd basically reached a point where I was at rock bottom. I had to get it out.
JENNY BROCKIE: And Kerry, how did you react in that car going 100 Ks?
KERRY HAYWOOD: Oh, absolutely shocked, I had no idea what trans, transgender, I knew transvestites, I knew homosexuals, but I didn't realise there was transgender.
JENNY BROCKIE: Now here's a picture of you on your wedding day. Did you have any inkling at all that Peta was transgender when you got married?
KERRY HAYWOOD: Not at all, not at all.
JENNY BROCKIE: How long had you wanted to be a woman?
PETA HAYWOOD: I knew I was trans when I was 19, but I didn't realise I was transgender when I was 19, I just knew I was probably born in the wrong body. And I didn't, I didn't want to be a woman, I chose to stay as a male, I was going to live and die as a male and I made that decision. I didn't know the ramifications of dysphoria and how it would affect me psychologically.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you'd kept all that secret?
PETA HAYWOOD: I did, yep.
JENNY BROCKIE: In the marriage?
PETA HAYWOOD: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what was it like when you found out that it had been kept secret in the marriage?
KERRY HAYWOOD: It was like a relief when I found out what was bubbling under the surface. We were having trouble in our marriage and it wasn't clear to me. I thought it was me, I did go through the anger stage, I went and then I realised that I was losing my husband. As I explained to a psychologist the goal posts had been moved and I didn't know where I sort of sat.
PETA HAYWOOD: Kerry felt she'd lost control, in her life…
KERRY HAYWOOD: I had.
PETA HAYWOOD: She'd lost all sort of sense of control in her life. The rug was pulled out from underneath her.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tell me more about the loss of a husband, what was that like?
KERRY HAYWOOD: That was really hard because I loved men and I wanted to be in a marriage with a man and…
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you think about ending the marriage?
KERRY HAYWOOD: Probably fleetingly, but then I convinced myself well, what's most important in the marriage? And I'd found a partner that I was, I could be very open, I could be, I could be angry and you'd be, you know, you'd say calm down.
JENNY BROCKIE: What's that like for you in terms of your relationship with Kerry?
PETA HAYWOOD: I was the cook and the nurturer and I dealt with the customers in our business on a business sense and none of that has changed. I've basically just carried on but I was allowed to be the person that I really am in our relationship at long last.
JENNY BROCKIE: What's been the biggest adjustment for you Kerry, do you think?
PETA HAYWOOD: Sharing the bathroom.
KERRY HAYWOOD: Oh, yeah. Every day is a bit of a challenge, it's not coming completely naturally yet and I think it will. And this sort of situation is actually helping because it's an education to me. When people look at Peta and they're so accepting of Peta, it makes me feel like oh, that's okay, you know, you're not a freak, I'm not a freak.
JENNY BROCKIE: So I mean you make it sound like it's been relatively, not easy but it hasn't, has it?
KERRY HAYWOOD: Definitely not been easy but I'm a pretty tough chick and, yeah, I think it's a continual journey. But one that I'm hoping that, we're doing it together and it's more honest.
PETA HAYWOOD: Yeah, we are.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mandy, your husband of thirty years, Greg, came out at transgender fifteen years ago?
MANDY CROUCH: That's right.
JENNY BROCKIE: What's it been like for you?
MANDY CROUCH: It's been a rough journey only for the fact that a lot of it was done secretly.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, so this was a process that was going on without you knowing it?
MANDY CROUCH: Yes, to have the gender reassignment surgery which he's now had.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you have any idea your husband was transgender?
MANDY CROUCH: Yes, well, Cindy used to say that basically she was transvestite and would just be happy to dress in women's clothing but then over the years it progressed. So I guess I sort of maybe deluded myself into believing that that's how it was going to stay but certainly did not stay that way.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tell me about the transition, what did it involve?
MANDY CROUCH: The transition involved basically was like a progression of, we started off first of all just dressing in women's clothing, then in 2000 the breast implants, the throat shaved, the electrolysis began. Then was living 50/50, the top half was female, the bottom half was still male, and then eventually off to have the gender reassignment surgery.
JENNY BROCKIE: And at what point in that whole process were you, did you actually accept the idea of what was happening?
MANDY CROUCH: I don't think I ever accepted it, I tried but I don't think I did.
JENNY BROCKIE: Had the relationship been stable, steady, good, before that?
MANDY CROUCH: It had started to deteriorate. Cindy drank, her temper was way, way out of control. So yeah, it had started to deteriorate.
JENNY BROCKIE: What was that like for you?
MANDY CROUCH: I tried to find people to talk to and I had nobody. There was nowhere that was willing to listen to how I felt, it was all for the transgender. Nobody was in on my side, not that there's a side but there was no one I could go to and say this is how I feel, this is what's happening to me. I tried to reach out to the transgender, to the Gender Centre but unfortunately it was all bring Cindy in.
JENNY BROCKIE: Now we've spoken to Cindy, you're still married but you've been giving apart for four years?
MANDY CROUCH: Correct.
JENNY BROCKIE: She didn't want to join us and be identified tonight but she did talk about how hard it's been for you. What is it like for you now that you're out of that relationship?
MANDY CROUCH: It's still very, very hard. I still care for Cindy greatly.
JENNY BROCKIE: So what has been hardest thing for you?
MANDY CROUCH: The hardest thing for me was losing the man I loved, my home, my lifestyle, all of that was the hardest thing and then Cindy was my confidante, the person that I told everything to and I don't have that any more either.
JENNY BROCKIE: Elizabeth, you've counseled hundreds of couples in these situations. We hear a lot about what the transgender person goes through but what happens to the partners?
DR ELIZABETH RILEY, COUNSELLOR AND CLINICAL SUPERVISOR: Look, I think it can take a lot of time for someone to begin to really get their head around what it means to them. Just that concept of being completely disoriented and having the goal posts move from what they were expecting, that feeling of betrayal. I think one of the real differences in counseling couples where a partner is transitioning is that the processes are so extraordinarily different, there's no way of expecting them to understand the position from the other person's point of view and I think that needs to be respected.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what about sexual identity, I mean what happens there because it's just completely thrown into disarray?
DR ELIZABETH RILEY: I think people can be really challenged by that especially if they didn't see themselves in a homosexual relationship and now they find that they are, or vice versa.
JENNY BROCKIE: How much did it mean to you Kerry? I mean what happened to your sexual relationship with Peter?
KERRY HAYWOOD: It hadn't really been very good for a long time because Peta was pretending to be a man and it wasn't coming from the heart. So I knew there was something sexually wasn't working in our relationship but I'd already been prepared in that case.
PETA HAYWOOD: I thought it was me, Kerry thought it was her, when finally it all came out, a lot of things were understood.
JENNY BROCKIE: How often do partners break up and how often do they stay together Elizabeth?
DR ELIZABETH RILEY: I don't know that there's any particular statistics around that. Probably more couples I've seen have separated than have stayed together.
JENNY BROCKIE: Kerry and Peta, what's it like for you now being perceived as a lesbian couple?
KERRY HAYWOOD: I knew the L word would come up.
PETA HAYWOOD: It's difficult for Kerry because she's the heterosexual woman. We, I don't know, it is difficult, we sort of come across as sisters, I think it's difficult for Kerry because she may be perceived as a lesbian and she's not.
KERRY HAYWOOD: I feel like wearing a tee-shirt, I really do like men.
JENNY BROCKIE: Danielle, your wife of eight years Erin, came out as transgender and became Max here beside you?
MAX MCKENZIE: Hi.
JENNY BROCKIE: You started out in a lesbian relationship with Erin, you decided you wanted to stay with Max as well, why?
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: I loved my wife and I wasn't about to let something like the gender dictate whether I was going to be with him or not.
JENNY BROCKIE: Here's a photo of you with Max when Max was Erin.
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: What's it like looking at that photo for you?
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: We weren't happy. It was a very sad, that particular time in that photo was a very sad time.
JENNY BROCKIE: And Max?
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: It was like battling the whole time.
MAX MCKENZIE: That's not me, okay, so I'm very clear that Erin is not the same person that I am today. So I have happy memories of Erin's memories, of the time that Dan and I were together. But it was a difficult time and I think, and I wasn't aware that I was trans until quite a lot older than a lot of people.
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: It made sense. As soon as you know, Max said I think I'm gender queer and I went oh, my God, that's cool, okay, alright, and does that mean you're going to be a bit butch and you know, I was excited.
JENNY BROCKIE: You were excited?
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: Oh, yeah, I was excited and some things started making sense for him. I'm like okay, cool, alright, and then about, it was an Easter weekend and he said ‘do you reckon I'm a man’ and I went, yeah, I do and that was it. That was it. After that it happened really quickly over a few months, it was only a few months later he was on testosterone, it was only, you know, like it all happened really quickly.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what was that like for you having it happen that quickly?
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: It was chaotic, it was traumatic.
JENNY BROCKIE: In what way?
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: Well, like Mandy, I'd lost my wife, I wasn't allowed to talk about her, I wasn't allowed to use her name, I wasn't allowed to discuss my grief. Max was so, and rightly so, so concentrating on himself, very inward, trying to deal with everything that was going on and the changes and he was also excited.
MAX MCKENZIE: Dan vacillated between being incredibly supportive and incredibly angry.
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: Oh, yeah, and I've got a voice that's like a weapon of mass destruction.
MAX MCKENZIE: She's not kidding.
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: You know, and I…
JENNY BROCKIE: So what sort of things would you do, when you're angry what were you like?
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: Oh, anything to punish him possible, you know. So many times I want to stab you in the eye with a fork, you know, but never did of course. But you know, we'd be fighting a lot because I wasn't allowed to express my grief.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you felt you didn't have a voice and that was why you were angry?
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: No, I didn't.
MAX MCKENZIE: Dan didn't have a voice.
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: I didn't have a voice and we lived in regional Queensland and so I was away from my family. You know, I'd be screaming like I hate your guts to oh, my God, I'm not allowed to talk about my wife. Why is it not about me as well. I had no support, we were in regional Queensland, there was no support for me, we lost our friends, I lost Max's family, in particular his siblings I never spoke to again once Max came out and you know, I'd been part of that family…
JENNY BROCKIE: And you lost them too Max?
MAX MCKENZIE: Yes, my relationships with my family changed fundamentally at that point.
JENNY BROCKIE: But it's interesting that was such a big thing for you Danielle?
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: Absolutely, because they were my family, I didn't have a very close tie to my siblings and I was treated by Max's parents as one of the girls and I loved them, I loved them all and I lost them all.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you think about how, what sort of reaction you might get from Danielle before you told her?
MAX MCKENZIE: No and I know that sounds incredibly selfish. But, I think to put a context around that Erin operated as half a person for most of her life and when it was that I finally figured out what it was for me that I knew who I was, that I knew then, I had to grab that because it was all I had.
JENNY BROCKIE: What happened to sexual attraction?
MAX MCKENZIE: I'm gay, I'm a gay man.
JENNY BROCKIE: So where does that leave you Danielle?
MAX MCKENZIE: Divorced.
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: Sexually, sex was much better after he came out as a man.
JENNY BROCKIE: Your sexual relationship?
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: Our sexual relationship.
MAX MCKENZIE: Before I came out, yeah.
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: Before he came out of gay.
MAX MCKENZIE: There was a couple of coming outs.
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: There's a couple of coming outs.
JENNY BROCKIE: Yes, I'm keeping track, I think I'm doing quite okay at the moment. Yep.
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: He identified as gender queer man, it was like he was a man. So the sex was much more frequent and really good and I couldn't keep up because that's what happens when you go on testosterone and they have this new adolescence and it's all they think about. But also at the same time I saw Max going on social apps for sexual encounters with men. But after a while I really thought no, this is not okay, I really think Max is gay. He was open about it and I saw him interact with the gay man in the community group up where we were from and it was magic. You know, he was, he lit up, he was witty and charming and...
JENNY BROCKIE: But where does that leave you?
MAX MCKENZIE: Angry.
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: That leaves me really betrayed and isolated and bereft because I would have stayed till the end with him.
MAX MCKENZIE: Yeah.
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: But he was gay and I sort of said Max, you're gay. Oh, no but I love you. I said yeah, I'm leaving and it was the darkest time of my life. There were suicide attempts, there was, I was diagnosed with PTSD, I was isolated, there was no support for me as the partner or as now the ex-partner.
JENNY BROCKIE: So where are you up to now?
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: Now, two years later I don't want to stab him in the eye with a fork.
MAX MCKENZIE: Good friends.
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: We're really good friends. It took a lot of time, we had to be separate.
MAX MCKENZIE: We had, you know, Dan's happily re partnered.
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: Yeah, I have, I have a beautiful partner who, and we have a three year old.
JENNY BROCKIE: Lauren, you stayed with your partner, now you fell in love with Toby next to you two years ago?
LAUREN BIRCH: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: When you were both living as women?
LAUREN BIRCH: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: As well. Toby's been taking testosterone and been transitioning from female to male in the past seven months. What's that's been like for you and what's it like listening to that story?
LAUREN BIRCH: It's really intense listening to everyone's stories actually because I look, I often go wow, we're really boring. Like I, I met Toby when he was Megan and we worked together at a cafe and oh, God.
JENNY BROCKIE: There you are.
LAUREN BIRCH: And you know, the first time we got on really well at work and the first time we actually hung out outside of work he said to me look, I actually think I'm transgender and I was like oh, my God, that's so exciting, tell me more, I need to know all of the things about it.
JENNY BROCKIE: What happens to sexual attraction in that situation and how did you wrap your head around Toby's new identity?
LAUREN BIRCH: For me it just wasn't an issue. I love Toby for who he is, not the gender that he is.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, so you make it sound like there's been no adjustment, but I mean you must have had to change something around the way that you relate to one another. No?
TOBY HARRAP: Well, it wasn't so, because what people don't realise is I told her I was transgender before anything happened between us, we were just friends. So she had to make that decision, am I going to date a trans man? And I had already said to her oh, but I don't think I'll do anything about it, it's a bit too intense, yada yada, and she turned around and went no, get in the car, we're going to Adelaide and didn't give me a choice and it's the best thing that ever happened to me because …
JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah, it probably does make a big difference that it was part of the deal?
TOBY HARRAP: Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: From the very beginning?
TOBY HARRAP: But get go, she knew what was getting and I knew what I was getting from her. There was no, there was no, none of that exploring and intenseness that you guys had in having to learn.
MAX MCKENZIE: It's a different time.
JENNY BROCKIE: Lauren, what about your identity as a lesbian, part of a lesbian couple, how did you feel about that changing?
LAUREN BIRCH: It was actually, sorry, it sounds so stupid but it was fascinating for me. I loved watching how the brain works and just watching myself kind of evolve and watching me and Toby evolve into a heterosexual couple because that's how we get seen now.
JENNY BROCKIE: And you had the baby?
LAUREN BIRCH: Yes, yes we do, we have a five month old.
JENNY BROCKIE: And you had the baby?
LAUREN BIRCH: Yes.
TOBY HARRAP; Oh yeah!
JENNY BROCKIE: Goes without saying?
TOBY HARRAP: Pregnant and transgender, that would be full on, anyone who can do it.
JENNY BROCKIE: No, I was not suggesting that it's a good idea. But the baby has your genetic material though?
TOBY HARRAP: Yeah, that's actually a bit of a funny story. My brother's my best friend and I said to him hey Nick, would it be weird if I borrowed your stuff to have a baby with Lauren and he said oh, let me think about it, alright? He rang me like two days later and he goes I don't know really why I had to thought about it but I don't want to go near Lauren but yeah, we can do it and I was like cool, thanks Nick.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how old's the baby?
TOBY HARRAP: She's five months.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you think your relationship's surviving so well?
LAUREN BIRCH: I think because we have a very open line of communication because you have to.
TOBY HARRAP: To the nittiest, grittiest detail, like I've got rules about terminology to do with my sexual body parts, she's not allowed to touch my breasts ever because I haven't had surgery and they're still there and she's never got it wrong. Or if she has got it wrong, straight away, oh, sorry, just and we laugh. That's the other thing too, we laugh about everything.
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: Just clean it up mostly.
NAIL ARTIAST: You want me to make it all even?
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: Make it all even, yeah.
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: You guys want to get some sushi after this?
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: You want to make it or buy it?
DAUGHTER: Buy it.
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: I thought we were going to make it?
DAUGHTER: Make it.
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: You like my sushi better? Yeah. This is all the girls know. They don't know any different now. If I ever go back to a day being masculine then they actually get uncomfortable.
REPORTER: What about when drink drive comes to school in that.
DAUGHTER: I don't mind, but mum doesn't like it.
DAUGHTER: I think at school, at school daddy is a boy because I don't want anyone to tease me.
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: Has anyone teased you yet?
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: That is OK then.
DAUGHTER: Because dad is a girl they think that dad is my mum. The questions are like, "Why is your dad a girl?" I just say, "It is none of your business. Just leave me alone."
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: You go shopping with me and buy stuff together?
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: Yeah.
DAUGHTER: A fragile piece of art.
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: Show it to me. Do you like that? What do you think? Look good?
DAUGHTER: That is pretty.
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: I'll take a photo of you. OK. I want a photo of you, too, sweetie. You can wear it. How is that?
JENNY BROCKIE: Michelle, you started taking female hormones two years ago?
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: Almost, yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: And you were Daniel then?
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Now those girls, your daughters, are six and nine?
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: Correct.
JENNY BROCKIE: So, um, how have you explained it to them? What have you said to them?
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: Oh, I really, it just developed. It wasn't anything I sat down and had a conversation. We just had a bit of fun, daddy just likes feeling pretty, I just kept it simple language.
JENNY BROCKIE: How do you think they have coped over those two years?
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: They have done really well, actually. One of the things that I am really passionate about with transition is going really slow. Not really slow, but letting people go along with you and transition with you.
JENNY BROCKIE: They talked about school and about the idea of being teased at school. How do you feel about that and how do you manage that?
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: That's actually a very sore point. My ex has actually banned me from going to the school since coming out. Unfortunately recently I went to a school fete and the compromise was I had to de-transition for a day and go as a bloke and it was the only way I could walk around the school yard.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how did the girls deal with that?
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: They weren't happy.
JENNY BROCKIE: What's their relationship like, what's your relationship like with their mum?
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: Touch and go. One minute we're great mates, the next minute I'm, I'm, I ruined her life and she's got to deal with it all and…
JENNY BROCKIE: And do you have sympathy for that?
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: I do, and I've tried helping finding her some support like others have found but I found even some of the support areas I went to on Facebook were actually kept by transgender people as well and wouldn't let me come in to actually help find the right places to help her.
JENNY BROCKIE: Your daughters had quite a while with you as a male dad?
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: Yeah, they did.
JENNY BROCKIE: Didn't they?
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: I said to them are you happy with daddy being this way or do you prefer daddy being a boy before like daddy was before? They said no, I prefer you this way daddy. I said why? Well you were grumpier, I didn't see you as much and I can hug you so much more now than what I could.
JENNY BROCKIE: And they call you dad?
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: Yeah, still daddy, yeah, I'm very adamant on that one. My ex really pushed to have me do, come up with a whole other name but I said no, I earned that. I stood there when they were born, I'm still their dad and I'll be their dad till the day I die.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Elizabeth, does the age of a child make a difference to how the child reacts to the parent being transgender?
DR ELIZABETH RILEY: I think the age makes a big difference. If the child is young, very young, like pre-puberty, and the adults around them are supportive and confident and coping comfortably with the transition, then the children will just take it in their stride, just as young kids do with lots of change. But if the child's post pubertal then there's a whole lot more around needing to be seen as cool and they extend to separate somewhat from their parents anyway so there's a lot more fear about what that's going to mean for their status as an individual with their peers.
JENNY BROCKIE: Josh, you are rolling your eyes as you are listening to this. Your father came out as transgender twenty years ago when you were 17?
JOSHUA HEWITT: Yeah. So I was in my final year of high school, right at the beginning of final year of high school and the first conversation was about the separation. My parents were separating and I don't remember asking too many questions about it at that point but about three months later I was brought back together and at that point I was told why they had separated and that was because my father had thought for his entire life that he should have been a woman.
JENNY BROCKIE: What did that do to you as a 17 year old boy?
JOSHUA HEWITT: I think what it did is the thing that it continues to do right through to now and that is a kind of search of understanding of what it is to be a man. When that person, your masculine figure is lost to you at the most pertinent age and suddenly it's three women in front of you, what are you supposed to do? And that's the search I continue to have, what is it to be a man? Now I don't mean in the sense of you know, questioning my own gender, I did that, but I don't mean it in that way. I mean it just in that sense of men, what do you do? I don't know how to see myself.
JENNY BROCKIE: And is that because you feel a sense of loss of your father at a critical age?
JOSHUA HEWITT: Massive, huge, huge loss. You know, I have a five year old and that was a devastating moment for me when I found out that I was having a son because I thought to myself I don't know what to do.
JENNY BROCKIE: Were you close to your father?
JOSHUA HEWITT: I think so, and I say I think so because I actually don't - the more time goes on the harder it is to remember what our relationship was.
JENNY BROCKIE: Karen, you're listening to all of this, what's it like for you listening to all of this?
KAREN HEWITT: It's hard. We've talked through a lot of things, a lot of issues and my timing wasn't exactly perfect, but when you hit rock bottom the choice was either my family got Karen or they got nobody. That's how low it was.
JENNY BROCKIE: You were suicidal?
KAREN HEWITT: I tried to commit suicide, I was lucky I didn't and in answer to what Josh just said we were very close. I took him everywhere, all the sports, whatever he wanted, I was there with him. It's hard when I hear him say I don't remember but there are some things I don't want him to remember either.
JOSHUA HEWITT: But I think the thing is that the person that sits here today is entirely different to the person that I grew up with. They are not the same people.
JENNY BROCKIE: This is very different to what people have said earlier tonight.
JOSHUA HEWITT: Correct.
JENNY BROCKIE: Your experience?
JOSHUA HEWITT: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: So what's it like when you look at this photo of you with your dad?
JOSHUA HEWITT: I think the thing about it is that I look at it and I can obviously pick up the tenderness that there was between us but I still, I look at him and I don't know.
JENNY BROCKIE: What's it like for you looking at that photo?
KAREN HEWITT: I can't relate to it. When I was that person I didn't like to look in the mirror. I can look in the mirror today and I say I love you so much easier, I can do it all the time. My ex and I are still friends. But it was a lie, there's no other way to put it, I fought it for a long time. I knew most of my life.
JENNY BROCKIE: Josh, with Karen sitting beside you, do you still think of Karen as in any way your father?
JOSHUA HEWITT: No.
JENNY BROCKIE: Not at all?
JOSHUA HEWITT: No.
JENNY BROCKIE: So what do you think of her as?
JOSHUA HEWITT: To me this is a friend of mine, you know, we're very good friends but, but that's it. I don't have a father any more.
JENNY BROCKIE: How do you feel though when he says that? That he doesn't feel like, do you feel like his father?
KAREN HEWITT: I can't deny I was his father, I'm proud of it.
JENNY BROCKIE: But past tense?
KAREN HEWITT: Past tense, it is past tense.
JENNY BROCKIE: See this is interesting too because different to the way Michelle feels?
MICHELLE SHEPPARD: Yeah, I still do Father's Day and daddy and, yeah.
JOSHUA HEWITT: Yeah, we are who we are. This thing happened to us and I think that I'm just on this journey of trying to work out how I live the rest of my life with it. As I've said to Karen time and time again, the day that she said I want to live the rest of my life as a woman, she exploded an enormous bomb and the carnage from that will exist forever. It will go on, it won't stop. The next gen, you know, because the thing is my son, suddenly it becomes his thing as well. You know, he has to carry it on and think about it and how is he going to deal with it?
JENNY BROCKIE: It is 20 years ago that it started.
JOSHUA HEWITT: Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: So it is still very much a live issue for you in terms of something that you struggle with?
JOSHUA HEWITT: Yeah. Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think you have accepted it?
JOSHUA HEWITT: Look, that is a great question because I think that there are moments where I would say absolutely fundamentally, yes, and then there would be moments when I say to you, I would waiver with a question about it. But the thing is that I do know…
KAREN HEWITT: Don't tell me about the times you waiver, OK.
JOSHUA HEWITT: The thing I do know is that I want this person around, I don't not want them around. I want them around. It is just about how to negotiate that relationship sometimes.
JENNY BROCKIE: And you are still working that out.
JOSHUA HEWITT: Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: What sort of support did you have during this?
JOSHUA HEWITT: None.
JENNY BROCKIE: How do you two relate to one another now? How do you talk to one another?
JOSHUA HEWITT: Yeah. Well, I think that shifted and chained ultimately when we sat down opposite - we went and locked ourselves in a house down the coast for three days and picked apart our life.
JENNY BROCKIE: How long ago?
JOSHUA HEWITT: Two years ago.
JENNY BROCKIE: Only two years ago?
JOSHUA HEWITT: Yeah. Only two years ago. There was no question that was off limits. We could ask anything of each other and we did that over three days and I think that fundamentally changed the relationship and then the next shift, and the biggest shift, really, was just over 12 months ago I had a massive mental health breakdown and Karen was the first person I turned to, aside from my wife and Karen called me every day for five months to say, "Are you OK? Right, good."
KAREN HEWITT: I still see Josh totally as my son. But I see myself as his parent and not his father. That is the way I handle it. That is what I am comfortable with.
JENNY BROCKIE: Have you met another child in this situation before?
JOSHUA HEWITT: Ah, no.
JENNY BROCKIE: Ever?
JOSHUA HEWITT: No.
JENNY BROCKIE: I would like to introduce you to Greg.
JOSHUA HEWITT: Hi, Greg. That is one of the things that, for 20 years I felt isolated. Now I have got someone sitting beside me.
JENNY BROCKIE: So your dad, Tina, on the end over here came out as transgender when you were 25, so a bit older than Josh.
GREG HEALY: Yep.
JENNY BROCKIE: We've got a photo here, you're in the middle. Tina is on the right and your brother's on the left. How did you react at first when you were told?
GREG HEALY: I definitely wasn't expecting it. So I thought we might be losing the house or losing the business or it was going…
JENNY BROCKIE: It was going to be big?
GREG HEALY: The main thing I thought was that dad was sick so we'd had cancer in the family before so I thought maybe this was the talk that dad was really unwell.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what was it like when you found out what it was about, that dad was wanting to be a woman?
GREG HEALY: Well probably the very first thought was okay, it's not the big bad things that I thought it could be. First of all I needed to ask or clarify what transgender was.
JENNY BROCKIE: But then, once it sank in?
GREG HEALY: It was a bit of a bomb shell in the effect it was going to have on everything and we definitely didn't, everything that I thought was going to go off with this bomb probably wasn't everything that did go off. I think my sisters put it as ripples, like you know, something happens and then other people react because as we've heard today everyone reacts differently. So everything just sort of shifts a bit. But it hasn't made me sort of question who I am, it's more just about the fact that my dad's more who she wants to be. And I've realised that's more important than gender or, you know, saying hey, I still have a male dad and a female mum like all the books and movies. But I think it's just more important, dad's happier now and that's more important than, than any of these things.
JENNY BROCKIE: Ally, you were the only child who was still living at home when this happened?
ALLY HEALY: I was.
JENNY BROCKIE: When this was announced. How did it affect you? How did you react?
ALLY HEALY: I actually laughed when she first told me. I just went ah ah, oh, and then I think it was kind of that thing of, the same as Greg, it was relief, shock, a definite shock but mostly relief. I mean we were raised to be pretty progressive anyway, we were, you know, we talked about the news around the dinner table and we were always encouraged to inform and self-aware and self-reflective and I think that really helped having that foundation as a kid. So kind of say that my morals say that I would accept anyone that's going to come out so it doesn't really matter that it's my dad. It changed it in terms of it might affect me more but the principle is still the same.
JENNY BROCKIE: Has your relationship with your dad changed? I notice you call Tina dad, yes, both of you?
GREG HEALY: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: In any way at all?
GREG HEALY: It's just dad does different things now and, but yeah, not that much actually but except that now I feel it's more honest and…
ALLY HEALY: Yeah, I think we understand her better but in terms of who she is, I mean you're talking about Karen becoming a completely different person and I really don't feel like dad is. I really still recognised her and she's, she's still her.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tina, do you…
GREG HEALY: I think I had certain things that weren't so big but maybe to do with my male identity. So we used to watch the footy together and our family are like half Swans and half Hawks and there was a point at least in the transition where Tina I think you were identifying less with that football thing and I actually kind of liked that thing.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tina, do you still feel like their dad?
TINA HEALY: I never stopped feeling like their dad. I mean it was interesting, it just shows how everyone's transition is different.
JENNY BROCKIE: Your mother has dementia, how has she reacted?
TINA HEALY: Oh, wow, that's a great story. My mum had, about two years ago she had early stage dementia. I just sort of told her and she listened and when I was finished she said: "Well what do you know", she said, "I've got a beautiful new daughter." And I started cry and then mum said: "Come here love", and she gave me a big hug and I tried on her shoulder. She's just beautiful. Anyway, I knew she'd forget and she did. So each time I see her every few weeks I'd remind her and every time the reaction was exactly the same. She'd say: "Well", she said, "you're beautiful", she said, "you know, are you happy love?" I go yep. She'd say good.
JENNY BROCKIE: Ally, is there any loss for you in all this?
ALLY HEALY: It's a strange thing to miss, I miss dad's smell. Dad always wore woollen jumpers and they just had this very particular smell, and I found her jumper in the cupboard and I smelt it and it seriously knocked me to the floor. It was such a nostalgic smell and now she smells like flowers and perfume and make-up and cream. I think that's one of the things.
JENNY BROCKIE: That's a very childhood thing though, that sense of smell?
ALLY HEALY: Yeah, I mean dad and I have always been really close, really close and lots of hugging, there's photos of us, you know, just lying on the couch under doonas and watching TV, but physical closeness was always really important and I think that's something that I had to get used to because when she came out and she'd had, you know, reassignment surgery and then you know, breast implants it was like I'm hugging something that feels much squishier than it used to and that was, it kind of freaked me out to be honest to begin with. It was like this is a very different kind of feeling and, you know, a very physical way to understand someone whose transitioned and I've gotten used to it now. We hug all the time and it's fine.
JENNY BROCKIE: Sharon, tell me about this photo.
SHARON SWIATLO: This was my child when he was, mmm, I'd say about 13 or 14 before he came out as a lesbian at the age of 14 and then subsequently at the age of 17 told me he was transgender.
JENNY BROCKIE: When did you first become really aware of this?
SHARON SWIATLO: About the male business, in 2013, only two years ago when he was 17 years old.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how did you react when you were told?
SHARON SWIATLO: Not well, not well. I was in denial. I did not react well at all when he told, he didn't actually tell me. What he did was he gave me a documentary to watch which was about, you know, a trans man who had a family, et cetera, and I said to a friend of mine in these words: "Oh, my God, I have a horrible feeling that Nevo wants to become a man."
JENNY BROCKIE: How did you get from that position of being shocked and reacting badly to the position you're at now? I mean what has gone on in that two years?
SHARON SWIATLO: Okay, I think it's education really, being educated about what I didn't understand.
JENNY BROCKIE: Now I should mention why Nevo who is now male isn't here tonight, because he's just had surgery to remove his breasts?
SHARON SWIATLO: Correct.
NEVO SWIATIO: I am really excited to get rid of this. It has been limiting my breath and movement for enough time now.
SHARON SWIATLO: You know what, I think that is what I am focusing on. I am focusing on the fact, trying not to think about the surgical part of it. I am trying to focus on the fact that you have been wearing a binder for 2.5 years, not only does it constrict you in your breathing, but also the fact that it is a constant reminder.
NEVO SWIATIO: I am so excited to just feel the material of my shirt on my skin.
SHARON SWIATLO: Yeah, yeah.
NEVO SWIATIO: And you know, to wear that out and to feel the wind on my chest. Like, it is something - it is just minor, but it is a big deal.
SHARON SWIATLO: I can imagine. It is quite amazing that the hospital where you are having this surgery is the same hospital that you were born in.
NEVO SWIATIO: Yeah. Especially because I have never been to hospital, aside from my birth, so my second visit to hospital is at the same place, just 19 years later.
SHARON SWIATLO: Just like being reborn.
NEVO SWIATIO: Yeah.
SHARON SWIATLO: But it is.
NEVO SWIATIO: Yes, yes. A lot of people have said that.
SHARON SWIATLO: How would you describe it then, if it is not a rebirth, how would you correlate that?
NEVO SWIATIO: Evolution.
SHARON SWIATLO: OK.
NEVO SWIATIO: I think an evolution. Maybe revisiting, rather than a rebirth, it’s like I am going back to make amends on something that you know - I would love to be able to say to the doctor who announced I was a girl that actually, no. You shouldn't have said that.
SHARON SWIATLO: I have had the best of both worlds.
NEVO SWIATIO: You've had a daughter and a son, I suppose.
SHARON SWIATLO: Exactly.
JENNY BROCKIE: I just wonder what it's like as a mother to have your daughter go in to have breasts removed as a male?
SHARON SWIATLO: I was really focusing on the result as opposed to thinking about that loss. When we went to the endocrinologist when he was being prescribed with testosterone the doctor said to me: "You seem to be taking this remarkably well." And I said: "Well, what choice do I have?" And he said: "Do you know how many people I see, transgender people who come here without the support of their parents?" And I said: "Well this is my child and I love him unconditionally."
JENNY BROCKIE: What about the name change?
SHARON SWIATLO: That was hard, that was very hard for me. In fact when Nevo chose his name that was when I was in denial and I had no input there. Whereas the name that my ex-husband and I chose, Liat, is Hebrew and it means you're mine. And we struggled to get her, I mean, sorry, there you go, you see, struggled to get him. It was IVF, so I knew I was only going to have one child, I had three step children and there was going to be four in the family and I wanted a daughter. Life throws us curved balls.
JENNY BROCKIE: Has it changed your expectations as a parent?
SHARON SWIATLO: Yes, very much so. I mean it's not going to be what I imagined for my child, you know, growing up, getting married, having children, blah, blah, blah, although he says that these things still will come but it's not going to be in the traditional sense that I've been brought up in and I'm just going to have to get used to that change as well. I'm not going to have the same as what my friends have, but, you know, I accept it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Janet, you're Toby's mum, you've also experienced your only daughter becoming a son in the past year, what's it been like for you?
JANET HARRAP: A little bit different in the fact that Toby's path had got quite, he was heading down a path of destruction at the time when Toby was Meg back then, to the point that it was separating us as a family as well. We had got to a point where the little contact that we had was volatile or, not abusive in a physical but sometimes in a verbal and whatever sense, or an emotional sense. So when Toby actually finally decided because it was about a four year process or three year process of him going backwards and forwards between being gay, being female, to going to the male that he is now, in that time having also met Lauren who has been our saviour, we, we now have a relationship like I wasn't going to have this relationship with my daughter. So I don't feel like I've actually lost anything. I have got my child back and that's my important thing. I've basically got the perfect son. So you know, I can't feel sad about that. That's a good thing.
JENNY BROCKIE: Kerry, what about the sense of loss that I've talked to other people about tonight?
KERRY HAYWOOD: The grieving, yes, we all go through a form of grieving but I explained it to a psychologist that I had at the time that with a death it's final and then you sort of wane off and happy memories, but in this case you're living with that partner that's …
PETA HAYWOOD: The corpse is still walking around the house.
KERRY HAYWOOD: Yes, in high heels.
JENNY BROCKIE: That's not a pretty picture either. But a lot of nodding, a lot of nodding over that, yeah?
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: It's like they're dead but not dead. You know, the person that you knew isn't there but there's no gravestone, there's no service, like a funeral service where you can honor them or there's none of that and seeing Max was a constant reminder.
MAX MCKENZIE: Like she was a really cool woman and you know, I wouldn't change the decision to transition but I didn't know that I would lose so much of that person.
DANIELLE MCKENZIE: Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Where did all the parents and the children and the partners in this room of transgender people find support?
MANDY CROUCH: I didn't get support anywhere. Nowhere at all. No matter how much or where I ever reached out to, dead end.
LAUREN BIRCH: I think I've been to a couple of counselors and you do, you have to explain what transgender is to them and that takes up most of your time.
JENNY BROCKIE: Would anything have made it easier Josh?
JOSHUA HEWITT: Probably not to be honest. And that's okay because ultimately I am a better person for having gone through this experience and I wouldn't take that back for a second at all.
LAUREN BIRCH: When I look at myself and I've had such an easy journey. I went out and said ‘Right, there is no group in Mt Gambia where we are from, let's create that, let’s make it open to friends and family so they can come and get support and they can talk about it because you don't have a space to do that.
JENNY BROCKIE: Ally, would anything have made it easier for you, do you think?
ALLY HEALY: It helped having three siblings and we're all born within five years of each other and so I think I drew on my family for support. I did talk to counselors but…
GREG HEALY: I think we were our own support for the most part so at least we knew we had that and then we got what we could outside. But I was amazed and shocked at the time that there was not more support from like medical services or government services. So as with many other communities, it's looking after itself and it's doing the best it can, but that that's nowhere near acceptable levels. Like it's just, it's just trying to survive in a lot of ways.
JENNY BROCKIE: We're going to have to leave it there, thank you all so much for joining us tonight, I'm so glad you all got a chance to talk to one another and share your stories and that is all we have time for here but let's keep talking on Twitter and on Facebook. Thanks everybody.