In recent years, acceptance of LGBTIQ people has dramatically increased. In 2016, research out of the United States found that 63% of Americans believed that homosexuality should be accepted by society, an increase of 12% from the decade before.
Despite this, many of the one in 25 Australians who have been estranged from their family at one point in their lives are still LGBTIQ people. Estrangement for trans people can in particular be very difficult as they confront often largely entrenched views about gender identity.
SBS Sexuality spoke with two trans Australians who have been estranged from friends or family about their experiences.
A few years ago, Simone came out to their parents as bisexual. Despite their father’s strong religious beliefs, it didn’t go as badly as they expected. When they told their father they were trans, however, it was a different story.
“In recent times we’ve had a few tense phone calls,” Simone explains, “in which he’s very much stood firm, saying that he will not change name, or pronouns, or how he refers to me. I did manage to overturn presentation at home, but in terms of referring to me, he has not done that.”
In one recent conversation this conflict came to a head.
“In my trying to talk to him, trying to get him to understand why I wanted that, he proceeded to deadname me, trying to get me to shut up,” they recall.
“That was the point where I decided, ‘I don't want to keep contact with you much’. Now he has agreed to leave home when I'm around, because I couldn't do that."
For Simone, this event was part of a distancing with their father that has been building for years.
"Dad and I have progressively fallen out more and more. We've had disagreements over marriage equality, and anything where religion plays any sort of part in making up beliefs tends to form some sort of argument between us."
"I feel like my coming out as trans was very much a tipping point on what had been starting to surface. I was getting far more involved with queer community and queer activism, and then coming out there, that very much was not congruent to his sort of belief system."
This estrangement is having a big impact on Simone, who feels less comfortable going back to their home town. When asked if they want to contact their father again soon, they say:
“I wouldn't contact my father at the moment because I'm largely still trying to process our relationship and not just in the most recent times. Over the time that I've known that Queer people exist, I’ve realised how queerphobic he is.”
“If I contacted Dad again, I would want both an apology and an affirmation. Maybe he didn't realise, but his views have done a lot of harm in terms of where I felt I stood to him and have consistently done this. I would also want an affirmation that he would actively be trying to respect me and my identity.”
*Not their real name
At 15, Benjamin’s family moved to a new town, and Benjamin to a new school, where he found an ally among bullies in one of his teachers.
“This woman was my English teacher, my homeroom teacher, and my drama teacher,” he recalls. “I was in a new town, new school, all girls at the time, and I was being bullied physically, but mostly psychologically. I spent many a lunch time in the sick room crying on her shoulder, and she took me to a couple of different theatrical events that she was involved with."
Benjamin’s teacher supported and inspired him throughout this time, and up until he was 35 they remained in contact. That was, until he told her that he was trans.
"When I contacted her in 2005 to let her know that I was transitioning to be a male, I wasn't sure how she would cope with it, because she's an evangelical Christian. She told me that she felt that if there was something, certainly if there was a blood test, that I could prove to her that I was really a man in a woman's body, then certainly she would believe me then, but that otherwise, I should not contact her again, and that she didn't want me around her family."
Losing such a close friend had a heavy impact on Benjamin, but it also impacted his process of coming out.
"This was one of the first people I told, and I'm fortunate that only a couple of people rejected me when I transitioned, but this was early in my telling people. So I really felt that all my fears had come to fruition, that I was going to be thrown away."
While Benjamin has thought about getting in touch with his friend again, he does not know if it would do any good.
"I'm not sure to what end, but certainly with the marriage equality argument at the moment, I'd like to know if her position has moved at all,” he muses. “We know a lot more transgender people who are in the public domain than we did 15 years, so I'd like to know if her position has changed.
“I doubt that it would, but I would be interested. My partner would be very protective of me, and wonder to what end, just for her to reject me all over again.”