I’ve spent the past two years supporting my 15-year-old son as he has transitioned into the brave young man he is now.
I’ve sat beside him in hospital for two weeks after he tried to take his own life, I’ve spent countless hours in psychologist and psychiatrist offices, I’ve negotiated with his school about how to handle relentless bullies, I’ve assessed dosages of anti-depressants desperate to find the right dose to balance out his anxiety and depression, and I continue to stand beside him as we navigate his affirmation – both social and medical – from female to male.
I see many who help to smooth the way before my son: loving friends, accepting extended family, thriving support groups, and an engaged and proactive school. But even the most supportive school can only offer staff toilets for its handful of trans kids so they don’t have to feel awkward about their choice in front of other students.
My son refuses to use public toilets in shopping centres or wherever large groups of people congregate. He dresses and identifies as male, but is well aware that his feminine features will continue to give him away until he can progress further into his transition. It’s a tough time, living in limbo, and not knowing when you will encounter someone who decides to take exception to where you’ve chosen to relieve yourself.
Last week I read reports of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s objection to gender-inclusive toilet signs in the offices of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet with a heavy heart.
The signs, which sit under the “women” and “men” signs, invite staff to “please use the bathroom that best fits your gender identity”.
It says, “we see you and you are welcome here” in a world where transgender and gender-diverse people often don’t feel that way
Which seems benign at worst, but at best is a quietly inclusive nod to those who may not feel like they fit in, or worry that they will be judged for their choice of gendered toilet. It says, “we see you and you are welcome here” in a world where transgender and gender-diverse people often don’t feel that way.
Amount of people hurt by this sign: zero.
Within two hours of political reporter Chris Uhlmann sharing a picture of the sign on Twitter, Morrison was on the phone to 2GB’s Ben Fordham.
“You don’t need to do this stuff,” he said. “It’s just political correctness over the top. It’s just not necessary. I’ve got a clear view about this and I’m sure this will be sorted.”
Well, I’ve got a clear view too, and it’s somewhat different from his.
When my son first told me two years ago that he identified as male, it took me a while to come to terms with it. It’s a big change for a parent who spent those early years reading fairy books and sewing sequins on tutus – but what I realised early on is that my primary job as a parent is to love and accept my child.
Doing that costs me nothing.
Trans and gender diverse people are hearing opinions on what their rights should and shouldn’t be every day
Just as leaving those signs alone and keeping personal opinions to himself would also have cost the Prime Minister nothing, but he chose a different – more damaging – path.
Instead, transgender and gender-diverse people all over the country have heard our leader say he doesn’t care about ensuring they feel included in Australian society. And those who would seek to discriminate against transgender and gender-diverse people have heard the him give them a big thumbs up to carry on doing what they’re doing.
Trans and gender diverse people are hearing opinions on what their rights should and shouldn’t be every day – often from people who have no direct knowledge of their experience.
Last week we heard Victorian MP Bernie Finn claim that allowing people to change sex on their birth certificate would “inevitably” lead to women being molested, and the Victorian Women’s Guild claiming that women escaping domestic violence will be traumatised by having to share space with trans women.
“Honestly, this is why we call it the Canberra bubble,” Morrison told Fordham. “It’s ridiculous…I think people can work out which bathroom to use.”
Gender diversity isn’t just happening in Canberra, it’s all over this country. Making small efforts to ensure those who are most marginalised feel included would cost him nothing, but could achieve so much.
For support, contact Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Q Life on 1800 184 527
Carolyn Tate is a freelance writer.