David Conroy liked his footy, his mixed martial arts training and his R1000 motorcycle. He worked in construction, driving forklifts and helping electricians with the NBN rollout in Wagga Wagga.
In February this year, he posted a bombshell on Facebook.
Conroy was going to start living as the gender he identified with, and would be changing his name to Holly.
The next morning, Holly woke up and read more than 50 comments that left her in tears.
“I couldn’t believe it, not a single one was negative,” she says. Almost all of her friends were supportive.
“I was feeling guilty that I had kind of pre-judged them to be douches,” she says, “the macho of the machoest, they’ve been the most supportive.”
Her new Facebook account, as Holly Conroy, is filled with supportive messages.
“Who is anyone to judge another person's journey without in fact walking the steps it took to get them there,” one friend wrote on Facebook. “Love ya mate, we were brothers in training once, now we are brother and sister.”
“You have been to hell and back with a struggle you should not have had to do, and we will not let you do it alone any longer,” her father wrote.
“I have been struggling to come to terms with the loss of my son, because David is gone and I know that now,” he said. “I have and will always love you, that will never change.”
Holly told SBS that social media made it easier for her to tell people. She set her page to public and made the post knowing friends from work and sport would see.
For her, it was a way of gauging people’s reactions without being subject to them.
“If they did react badly it was just a matter of me closing the screen down,” she tells SBS.
Holly tells SBS that although it was the first time many of her friends heard about it, she felt she was in the wrong body since she was 11 years old.
As a young boy she would cut the crutch out of old shorts to turn them into a skirt. She would hide them in the top of the closet or the bottom of a sleeping bag to make sure no one found out.
Holly has now been on hormones for eight weeks, she travels three hours to Canberra for checkups and has seen numerous doctors.
“It’s not just as simple as changing your name and dressing different,” she says.
Health professionals have told SBS that many in rural or isolated metro areas can struggle to access trans health services.
Holly says it’s become easier to come out as a trans person in recent years. She should know – she attempted to come out ten years ago, when she was 27.
“My biggest supporters tried to talk me out of it,” she says. They were family and friend who said, “We love you but…”
“I was too afraid to be 100 percent honest with everyone because I wasn’t getting the support that I needed” she says.
“I didn’t have the confidence – I just didn’t know how to transition back then,” she says. “Eventually I just went back into my little shell.”
But now, ten years later, the world has changed.
“This time around, I think people are a lot different, I think times have changed a lot,” Holly says. People know and understand more about trans issues, and social media has also helped.
“It’s not as hard and not as bad as it has been, country people are not the narrow minded hillbillies they’re sometimes made out to be,” she says.
Her boss at the construction company she worked for, Lendlease, called her into his office – he wanted her to know she could come into work as Holly and had the company’s full support.
She's since changed jobs, and says her new employer, Suez Australia, has been just as supportive.
Holly has had open and honest discussions with her friends since beginning to transition. She’s been taking hormones for two months now and is documenting her progress on Facebook.
Some friends were surprised. “Oh, but you seemed so happy?” she recalls several saying.
She says hanging out with people distracted her, and when she was out she genuinely was happy.
“It wasn’t 'til I went home and actually sat down that the reality of it all kicked in,” she says, “lying in bed by myself, that’s when I found it the hardest.”
She says she felt pangs whenever she walked past shops selling female clothes, or saw the women’s clothing in her closet.
Some friends have connected the dots. “Oh, is that why you shaved your legs?” one asked.
Some friends used to make fun of the way she walked or stood. “Maybe we shouldn’t have been roasting you about that all those years ago,” they said.
Holly says she’d heard horror stories of people coming out, friends and family reacting badly, having trouble at work or losing their jobs.
“Sometimes I feel guilty I’ve had it so easy – I haven’t encountered any of that,” she says.
Every month or so Holly and 4 or 5 other nearby residents meet up as part of a Wagga Wagga trans support group. “We don’t meet as often as I’d probably like,” she says.
She still loves her R1000 motorcycle and still loves her footy. “I’m a fanatical roosters fan,” Holly says.
“I’ve always been a sporty person and I always will be a sporty person, and my gender’s not going to change that,” she says.
“I’ve never been so happy in my life.”