• Lieutenant Colonel Cate McGregor AM transitioned at a later stage in life. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Having a trans woman in the running for 'Australian of the Year' is vitally important for Australia's transgender and gender diverse community, writes Sally Goldner.
Sally Goldner

25 Jan 2016 - 9:32 AM  UPDATED 26 Jan 2016 - 10:10 AM

People who face prejudice in society benefit from hearing the personal stories of those similar to them. There's an increased sense of connectedness and hope that arises from this visibility. In the past two years, Australian of the Year nominee Cate McGregor has been helping to achieve that increased connectedness for trans and gender diverse (TGD) people.

While we are turning a corner regarding attitudes towards TGD people, we clearly have much to do. By speaking at events at the National Press Club and being profiled on Australian Story, Cate McGregor raises the profile and understanding of our issues by a very large degree.

Often this work is done under great pressure: there's transphobia, general abuse, and the anxiety of being completely rejected for making one slip on the public stage. That Cate has made it into the final eight Australian of the Year nominees (as Queenslander of the Year) while facing all the odds is a huge credit to her. It also gives strength and hope to those TGD people wanting to move forward in their own (usually more private) lives.

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Cate’s diverse range of skills enables her to reach corners of Australian society that were largely untapped previously. Her achievements in the military (believed to be the world’s highest ranking trans military officer), her eloquence and sense of humour as a cricket commentator with the ABC, skills as an author and her authenticity and strength in coming out on Australian Story are all great examples of how much TGD people can offer society. They also point to how much more could be offered if TGD people did not face discrimination in the first place.

It’s also good to see other recent TGD award winners and nominees such as Margot Fink, a finalist in Victoria for Young Australian of the Year, and Jacob Thomas, a Queen’s young leader winner. This sort of visibility at such high levels for TGD people offers greater connectedness for TGD people who may be struggling, particularly for those identifying as non-binary young people and those of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

Margot also recently shared her experiences at Melbourne’s Pride Shabbat service, an event for the LGBTI Jewish community. Every bit, big or small, helps to break down these walls and build bridges.

All of these leaders are speaking out with authenticity, passion, assertiveness, eloquence and, on occasions, with their own unique sense of humour that clarifies the TGD experience for those who previously had less awareness of gender identity issues. The wider public realise that while the TGD experience may not be their own, it is still a human experience. This resonates. Some of the misunderstanding reduces and is replaced with positivity and inclusiveness.

"While it's great we are seeing increased awareness for trans women... it is of concern that there are still relatively low levels of visibility for trans men."

One concern is that while it's great we are seeing increased awareness for trans women and the non-binary (Jacob Thomas identifies as genderqueer), it is of concern that there are still relatively low levels of visibility for trans men. When presenting education sessions, I and others find we can mention trans women such as Cate McGregor and Laverne Cox, and people nod in understanding pretty quickly. Sadly, to ask the wider public about well-known trans men, particularly on a world scale, there’s usually silence, some head-scratching and then, “Sonny and Cher’s child” (correctly referring to Chaz Bono) – and then more silence.

Hopefully the impetus from trans women and non-binary will flow over to our trans brothers soon too. Many trans men around the world are already doing great work, but it sadly gets less visibility.

The mental health issues faced by TGD people are well documented in research such as Curtin University’s report on trans mental health (for 18+ TGD Australians), From Blues to Rainbows (14-25 years) and comparable research from the UK, USA, New Zealand, Ireland and other countries. Visibility, positive role models and connectedness improve mental health and other benefits flow on from that for TGD people, their families, our economy and society as a whole.

So let’s have more positive TGD people from all cultures, backgrounds, occupations, places and parts of the gender kaleidoscope speaking up. It can only help to connect us further.

Sally Goldner is a Victorian trans and gender diverse advocate.

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