• "Feeling safe nowadays depends on where I am in the city and what part of it." (iStockphoto)Source: iStockphoto
Simple daily necessities like going to the supermarket has resulted in verbal comments of: ‘f**k you’re ugly’ and when using a public toilet, I’ve been told, ‘a woman with a dick shouldn’t be allowed in here.’
By
Melissa Griffiths as told to Elli Jacobs

5 May 2020 - 10:01 AM  UPDATED 7 May 2020 - 4:03 PM

Transgender people often face violence and harassment behaviour because of their gender-identity and expression (gender-based harassment). Melbourne-based Melissa Griffiths, 49, knows this all too well and wants to change the narrative.   

I moved to Australia in 1999, age 29, for both personal and work-related reasons. In 2015 I began my transition which is still an ongoing process. 

As a transgender person I live day to day with people abusing me in public or staring at me as if I’m an alien.
But it didn’t only start as an adult.

As a kid growing up in Auckland in the 80’s I wanted to be around the girls and in those days trans wasn’t a word.

I remember the first time I experienced harassment was at Brigade Camp when the team leader encouraged the boys to tip me under water.  It shocked me.

At high school I also didn’t fit in with the kids. I always felt different to them.

As an adult and a transgender woman, I’ve encountered a mixed bag of reactions from people.  

What’s most common is passive aggressive looks from both men and women when I go about my day to day life, walking down the street or in public transport.

What’s most common is passive aggressive looks from both men and women when I go about my day to day life, walking down the street or in public transport.

In other instances, like walking into a bar wearing a wig and a dress it’s not unusual that people will begin laughing and yelling out things in the nature of, ‘It’s a man in a dress’ to embarrass me. On such occasions I’ll have a panic attack and get very anxious.

Simple daily necessities like going to the supermarket has resulted in verbal comments of: ‘f**k you’re ugly’ and when using a public toilet, I’ve been told, ‘a woman with a dick shouldn’t be allowed in here.’

Being dressed a female I’ve also been kicked out of a cab and going into a lingerie store I’ve been ignored or reluctantly served but in certain instances it’s also been fine. The type of treatment I get depends. Some people can be nice and smile while others will treat me indifferently.  

Overall, I don’t want a group of people to stop me from living my life, but certain reactions do affect me mentally.

I have reported incidents a few times. It is uncomfortable complaining about someone’s behaviour, but I’ve felt compelled to do so on certain occasions. I had a protective services officer stare at me and give me a nasty glare. The sergeant at the police station was really good about it and they handled it really well. I ended up getting an apology so that was a positive thing. I recognise that it’s just someone’s attitude and not a reflection of the police or protective services.

Sexual harassment isn’t uncommon in the trans community and thankfully I’ve only once had a guy touch me up my skirt. I’ve also sensed that I’ve been followed down the street. In such cases I will change direction to lose them or walk into a busier street, but it’s still creepy to have to deal with.   

As result of all these incidences I don’t go out as much as I use to.

As result of all these incidences I don’t go out as much as I use to. Whenever I’m in a venue I follow my intuition as to whether it’s safe or not and I act accordingly. If I’m stared at and I begin to feel uncomfortable, then I’ll probably leave.

The reality is I don’t want to always have to go to a gay bar to feel safe. It’s 2020 and I feel here in Australia we’re still a very conservative society. We like to think it’s modern and progressive and in a lot of way it is but in a lot of ways it’s still very timid.

Feeling safe nowadays depends on where I am in the city and what part of it. At night I have to be more cautious what streets I go down.

A time when I did feel safe was when I visited Sydney when the lockout laws existed. I felt confident to walk down the street alone and back to my hotel. I thought it was a great idea.

My mental health practice involves me remembering a sense of dignity when in public, so I don’t react to peoples looks and comments and just keep going. Also remaining calm when dealing with the people online that troll me or may make untoward comments.

I take time alone and do positive things like writing to educate people on trans issues and modelling which helps me feel beautiful with my own mind-body image.

I take time alone and do positive things like writing to educate people on trans issues and modelling which helps me feel beautiful with my own mind-body image.

It’s important to maintain a healthy balance and having a sense of humour helps me deal with my mental health challenges as well as being able to have a mentor to debrief with when these challenges arise. I take all the necessary precautions as best I can to protect myself.  

If you’re in need of support contact HeadspaceBeyond Blue or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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