• 2018 was a tough year for many trans people. (Getty Images, Twitter )Source: Getty Images, Twitter
For members of the trans community, 2018 was full of trials, tribulations and triumphs. Charles O'Grady takes a look back on the year that was.
Charles O'Grady

10 Dec 2018 - 12:41 PM  UPDATED 10 Dec 2018 - 12:41 PM


I won’t be nearly the first person to say it: this year has been long.

When a scandal-of-the-month hits the globe every other day, any given week could end in nuclear apocalypse, and the planet careens ever faster towards a dramatic heat death, many of us have never been as switched on to current events and politics as we are now - and it’s utterly exhausting. Can you believe that the Kavanaugh hearings happened just three months ago? That the midterms were only last month? That Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson started dating, got engaged, and broke up, all this year?

For many minority groups, in particular, 2018 has been an interminable slog. As a transgender person, I don’t think I’ve stopped feeling stressed since April. So I thought we might take a moment to process the year as it impacted the trans community - the highs, the lows, and what we might take from that into the coming year.

Trans people won't be erased, we can't be
The US government's proposal for stricter definitions of gender is not about biology, it's about creating the conditions for individuals and institutions to entrench transphobic bigotry.

The most obvious place to start would, unfortunately, be all the vicious attacks made on trans people’s human rights by bigoted institutions. We saw the ongoing attempts by the Trump administration to ban trans people from the military; the far more terrifying threat of trans people being defined out of existence by the US government; TERFs lying in front of Pride parades in the UK, and the ever constant rising numbers of trans people lost to violence and discrimination.

Also, JK Rowling is transphobic? We can’t even rely on fictional fantasy allegories for post-war sociopolitical climates for trans positivity now! (NB: because we never could.)

On our own soil, we all changed our Twitter bios to “professional gender whisperer” when Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Daily Telegraph decided that the increasing rate of children who come out as trans is not, in fact, due to more readily available information online and more and healthier media representation, but actually caused by evil pro-trans school teachers performing inception on impressionable cis minds. What’s more, in a twist that shocked seemingly every cis gay activist, the anti-marriage equality campaign rebranded itself “Binary Australia”. Those homophobes were transphobic this whole time? We never suspected this would happen while we were calmly reassuring them that ‘no, of course we won’t send boys to school in dresses, that’s ridiculous’. Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!

But it’s important not to get too bogged down in the negatives - it’s been a rough year in many ways, but there’s always reasons to be optimistic. For instance, Caitlyn Jenner apologised for supporting Donald Trump, which was… well, two years too late and ultimately a symbolic gesture with little impact on the horrifying state of trans rights in the US. 

Caitlyn Jenner on backing Trump: 'Sadly, I was wrong'
“Believing that I could work with Trump and his administration to support our community was a mistake,” she wrote for the Washington Post.

Something I didn’t know about until doing research for this piece is that apparently at some point this year the planet Jupiter became a trans icon. Upon seeing the gas giant looking distinctly blue and pink, photographed in near ultraviolet light from NASA’s Juno spacecraft, many on social media decided that, rather than looking for a trans role model in the Caitlyn Jenners and Jill Soloways of the terrestrial sphere, we should look to Jupiter for inspiration. For me, that inspiration entailed: being a fierce and imposing huge ball of whirling energy, having the shortest days possible, and being orbited by 79 men - I mean, moons.

If I sound facetious at all, it’s only because I, like many trans people, am unspeakably tired. As I’ve written about for SBS in the past, the global climate of animosity towards trans and gender diverse people creates an all-encompassing feeling that it’s hopeless. It’s hard to see the good things when they happen, and even harder to remember them looking back. In trying to find a positive spin to this summation of the year, the only thing I feel able to say is that we survived it.

In truth, there’s been a lot to take pride, hope, or relief in over the past 12 months. We’ve seen trans people become members of the US senate, and win Oscars - oh, wait, sorry, I mean present Oscars (we’ll get there). However, we did see A Fantastic Woman, a film starring a trans woman playing a trans woman, win best foreign language film at the Oscars. When Scarlett Johansson announced she would play a transmasculine character, the subsequent protest and activism from trans communities resulted in her stepping down from the role, making it possibly the first time Hollywood has listened to trans people telling them we don’t want cis people telling our stories on our behalf. We showed in that moment that we can no longer be silenced or appeased, and that from here on Hollywood needs to work harder.

Dear Scarlett Johansson, please stop
"It is safe to say that a fat, queer, butch, possibly transmasculine person, is not a role for Scarlett Johansson."

Also in 2018, British trans EDM artist SOPHIE released her hyperkinetic debut album, The Oil of Every Pearl’s Uninsides, and German singer-songwriter Kim Petras released her delightful Halloween pop EP Turn off the Light, Vol. 1. Both of these and the work of many more trans musicians were met with great enthusiasm and acclaim - everyday trans artists in all different arenas stretch the limits of what is possible in stunning ways.

Meanwhile, Tasmania just became the first Australian state to make gender optional on birth certificates, and the Northern Territory parliament has passed laws allowing trans people to change their gender without gender reassignment surgeries - a law that also removes the requirement for a person to be unmarried in order to legally change their sex.

If anything, this cluster headache of a year has shown us that can and will endure anything, and always come out of it determined to survive. We’ve always been able to make beautiful things out of our collective trauma, and I hope we can all continue to do that in 2019. But not before we all take a well-earned break.

If there’s anything I hope for in 2019, it’s that we’ll see more and more engagement and involvement in trans activism from cis people. Let’s be real: after the calamitous mess of the postal survey, and the year that’s just been, you owe us.

Charles O'Grady is a queer playwright an director, and a proud trans man.

Meet the first trans Miss Universe contestant determined to send Donald Trump a message
Miss Spain, Angela Ponce, is not only the first trans contestant in the Miss Universe competition - she's the odds-on favourite to win.
Gollum actor chimes in on Scarlett Johansson trans role debate
Andy Serkis says he "vehemently disagrees" with the notion that trans roles should be reserved for trans people.
An American trans activist is seeking asylum in Sweden
"I am a Trump refugee."
'We won't be erased': British Vogue launches trans campaign
"I’d like people to remember we’re not an ideology or an agenda ... we’re just trying to get on with our lives."