Last week, I was in the audience of the ABC program Q&A. The major topics discussed related to trans and gender diverse people, yet not one single trans person was given the opportunity to speak. Not one.
As a transgender person sitting in the audience, it was an incredibly frustrating and painful experience to be forced to listen to the titanic level of transphobia and pathologisation of trans and gender diverse people without having an opportunity to positively represent myself or my community.
The following day I woke to news that former prime minister Tony Abbott had called for the end of the Safe Schools Coalition by stating that, "it’s not an anti-bullying program, it’s a social engineering program". The irony of this comment is not lost on me, considering that the ABC’s Q&A program seemed clearly engineered to produce a heavier weighting to non-LGBTIQ voices, in particular to non-trans voices.
There I was, unheard and unseen by the world as the cameras did not scan my face. I was three rows behind Cella White, the mother from Frankston who removed her children from Frankston High School because she felt the Safe Schools program was inappropriate and had no relevance to her children.
I grew up in Frankston and I can tell you it is relevant to all children. I went to a Frankston Public High School, where I experienced endless amounts of bullying from other kids and even from their parents. I was a target for their abuse because I didn’t conform to society’s narrow definitions of what makes a boy or a girl. My experiences of growing up in Frankston were horrible and that is not because I am transgender, it is because of the way other kids and the wider school community treated me.
If the school environment had have been more inclusive, kind, accepting, compassionate, diverse and safe, then my experience would have been better. I did not need saving from myself, I had no "affliction" as Cella White stated on Q&A; I needed a school community that promoted a healthy culture of respect, safety and acceptance.
Tell me again how that is not relevant to your children, Cella? As a father of three-year-old twins, I think it’s relevant to my children when they start school. Don’t all parents want their children to grow up to be open-minded, kind and compassionate people?
"The key issue is that people don’t have adequate skills or the correct information or knowledge to be equipped to have these conversations in a constructive and respectful manner."
The key issue here is that people don’t have adequate skills or the required knowledge to be equipped to have these conversations in a constructive and respectful manner. This is why people like me should be included in the discussion. It is their lack of knowledge, their ill-informed views and fear that is driving this conversation, and the cost to our health and well-being is a matter of life or death.
It is certainly not helped by the views shared by Lyle Shelton, managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL). Lyle was really grasping at old worn-out straws, referencing the outdated views of academic Germaine Greer (who contests these "gender ideologies") and referencing a study that claims "after 10 years from [a transgender person's sex reassignment] surgery, that their suicide mortality rate was actually 20 times higher than the non-transgender population". Conveniently, Lyle did not quote a reference for this statistic, nor explain the methodology for the study, the year it was done or who conducted the study.
This is how simple it is for these right-wing religious extremist groups to warp facts and figures to support their agenda, an agenda which seeks to invalidate the lived reality and existence of people like me. It’s simple for this rhetoric to go unchallenged when there is no effort made to include a transgender voice. I am living proof of a transgender person who has been happily thriving in my affirmed gender for more than 10 years; people like me exist. I am a father of twins, I am in a happy long-term relationship with their mother, and our kids are connected to their biological donor. My partner and I provide a loving home to our children who are constantly bursting with happiness that sometimes we have to wear sunglasses to shade ourselves from their sunshine. We do a great job.
I’m quite possibly a poster boy who's able to debunk every point the ACL makes in attempt to erase and invalidate us, and I’d gladly accept the opportunity to do that. I was also in the Q&A audience, so having a chance to weigh-in on this harmful and heavily biased debate to represent myself seemed only fair.
It’s also the responsible and ethical thing to do: to include a voice of the people you are talking about, to create balance to a debate and to increase the level of positive representation for people who are so often demoralised and misrepresented. This is how you can create a healthier and more educated society Australia.