• Dean was one of the first loud and proud Brotherboys. (Photo by Laura Murphy-Oates) (r)Source: r
What's it like to change your gender when your culture is divided into men's business and women's business? Living Black's Laura Murphy-Oates reports.
Laura Murphy-Oates

Living Black
8 Jun 2015 - 4:45 PM  UPDATED 25 Jun 2015 - 2:31 PM

Kai Clancy's first memory of feeling trapped in the wrong body is from when he was only four years old. 

Then known as Kaitlyn, he was watching a story on television about Tony Briffa - a person born with a mix of female and male physical characteristics, often referred to as 'intersex'.

"I identified with that," Kai says. Seeing someone with mixed gender triggered something, even at such a young age. 

Growing up, Kai identified as gay. He began questioning his gender in his late teens. He saw many transgender women- on television, on the street and even in the Indigenous community, with a large 'Sistergirl' population situated on Palm Island near his hometown of Townsville. But he didn't see any other Brotherboys.

Kai says that he thought he was the only Brotherboy in the world.

"When I was looking up Sistergirls I saw all these wonderful resources on Sistergirls but I tried to find something on Brotherboys - there was none, not even one."

"I went into the deep end just knowing no other Brotherboys."

LGBTI advocate Starlady has been working in Indigenous communities for more than 15 years. She says the Brotherboy community is following in the footsteps of Sistergirls in terms of recognition and acceptance.

"It's only been in the last few years that prominent members of the Brotherboy community have stepped up and become really strong advocates." says Starlady.

"In standing up strong and proud, going 'I'm a Brotherboy', all these other people all across the country are connecting with that and feeling that, and being proud of it too."

Coming out and Culture

Kai, now 19, has been on hormone replacement therapy for two years. This involves taking testosterone to create male physical features. He is happy and confident. But getting to this point wasn't easy.

"The gap between finding out you are transgender, then letting everyone else know that you are, the period of, you know, consultation within yourself - it's a really deep and dark moment because, you know, it's a big decision to come out. Some of the stuff that you're going to do can be irreversible and people are going to be harsh."

Kai worried how his family and friends would react to him deciding to live as a boy.

On top of that was another concern.

"One thing I weighed up... how would this go down in my culture?" Kai says.

"How would this go down in my culture?"

As a young Indigenous activist, working at Dreamworld teaching Indigenous culture, he worried he might be alienated from participating in dance, and be shunned by his community.

Kai's father, Troy Clancy, a Wulli Wulli man, remembers the moment Kai told him he had been taking testosterone.

"I wasn't angry... I was saddened in a sense, you know, coz I wasn't educated on it," he says.

"He told me that he is very sad, he is trapped, he is a man trapped in a girl's body and that he just hated being like that and hated living like that. It saddened me to hear my child talk about that."

To Kai's surprise- his family and his community rallied behind him.

"I've got a son now instead of a daughter as the head of my clan, my family and I'm quite happy with that."

"I've got a son now instead of a daughter as the head of my clan, my family and I'm quite happy with that," says Troy.

"It was a big weight off his shoulders that this side of his family, his Indigenous side, really gathered and took together… that's our tribe; if we got some in the flock that are like that we must nurture them too."

Transgender Online

Kai has been documenting his transition online in a series of YouTube clips and even crowdfunded some of his gender reassignment surgery via Pozible. It’s part of a wider trend of LGBTI youth connecting and expressing their gender identities online.

For Kai, finding other Brotherboys online was essential to his coming out process. He met 52-year-old Wiradjuri Brotherboy Dean on a Brotherboy and Sistergirl support group over a year ago. It's a friendship that led to a collaboration on the first ever Brotherboy educational video 'Brotherboys Yarnin' Up'.

Dean was one of the first loud and proud Brotherboys, and the first Indigenous transgender man to get married in Australia. He grew up in a very different time from Kai - without the internet - so it wasn't until he was 42, living as 'Debbie' with a partner and child, that he discovered his real identity as a Brotherboy.

"I'm very proud of Kai", says Dean. "I'm very happy that he has joined us, he is going to be a young man of the future, he is paving the way for the youth, he is just a great young man."

Brotherboys and mental health

Whilst mental health concerns for Indigenous youth are well known, there are currently little to no published studies focusing on transgender Indigenous people.

What we do know is alarming - the last national survey of LGBTI youth in Australia showed that gender queer people were at increased risk of self-harm and suicide attempts.

Almost half had self harmed and 28 per cent had attempted suicide. Combined with an Indigenous youth suicide rate, that is the highest in the world outside of Greenland. Advocates like Starlady are concerned about the unknown number of transgender Indigenous suicides.

"Every community is different," Starlady says. "In some places young people are being supported, in other places young people are having an incredibly hard time and in those places where transgender identity is not accepted, or perhaps it's just not accepted within their family, there have been young people recently who've committed suicide."

Learn more about gender diversity here:

Lifeline 13 11 14 | Kids helpline 1800 55 1800

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