Transphobia is deeply embedded in YOUR friendship groups and it needs to be dragged out into the light

Trigger warning: ALL of the usual ill-informed transphobic bullshit rolled up into one ball for your convenience.

On Friday last week, the day before the Mardi Gras parade, I checked out a local Facebook group that declares itself to be “a true community page for the people of Lismore to connect and gain information” and that it has “no personal agendas, no grandstanding, no hate posts, no bullying or harassment” and is ”just a friendly community page so the people of Lismore can connect and share information.”

I was shocked, appalled and dismayed to see that the group administrator had posted this article along with the comment “Looks like some men have found a whole new way to screw over women ……thoughts?” Any suggestion that the group had any intention to keep hate posts or bullies in check was immediately dispelled. If the post wasn’t text book transphobia then we probably should take a whole new look at the English language. Also, presumably, the post by the administrator contravened several of his own rules for the group, which is kinda funny.

If you are unfamiliar with transgender issues, and you are the sort of person that prefers to jump to conclusions, then you may think that this is unfair. Like most things though, reality is much more complicated and has less actual embedded reasons to be angry. I set about preparing a response, but as I am wont to do, I intended to submit a thorough, well thought out, researched tome, in stark contrast to all of the other contributions. In the meantime, a bunch of people had either agreed with the premise of the article, the associated comment from the administrator, submitted juvenile memes or went off on various tangents. On Friday evening I made a complaint to the group administrator and he agreed to support my right of reply.

On Saturday evening I posted my following rebuttal to the collection of nonsense that had accumulated in the meantime:

  1. I have gone to a lot of time and effort putting this together because trans folk are discriminated against in so many ways that most people are not these days. We also appear to be significantly misunderstood and, more bizarrely, feared. Please read this with the care that I took to put it together.
  2. I am so very disappointed that this is the standard of discourse surrounding a minority group in the Lismore region … so much for it being welcoming and open-minded around here.
  3. I won’t use the word transphobic in my response because “good” people don’t seem to like being told that their opinions are ill-informed, but you probably should all know that most of the responses here are equivalent to “I’m not racist but …”
  4. Trans women are not men. To suggest otherwise is offensive and hate-mongering.
  5. You either believe that trans women are women or you don’t. If you don’t believe that trans women should be allowed to play women’s sport, then this opinion should dispel any doubt that you may have had lingering.
  6. If you believe that trans women shouldn’t be playing women’s sport, please remember that most people either disagree with you or simply don’t care. Those that do agree with you include the likes of Donald Trump and Scott Morrison.
  7. The Australian government’s policy is that trans and gender diverse folk SHOULD be playing sport in the gender that they live their life as. The Federal Sports Minister last year launched a program to encourage this very thing.
  8. The publication that the article was lifted from is The Daily Mail … one of the most conservative, fear mongering publications in the UK. Our equivalent is probably the Daily Telegraph. Piers Morgan, whose opinion was loudly re-broadcast in the article, is one of the most provocative, fear-mongering TV hosts in the UK. Our equivalent is probably Andrew Bolt.
  9. Laurel Hubbard’s results at the competition referred to in the article were snatch 126kg and clean & jerk 144kg with a total of 270kg. The second place getter was Anastasiia Lysenko, a cis woman, with results of 124kg for the snatch and 142kg for the clean & jerk for a total of 266kg. Yes third & fourth were a long way behind, but the gap between first and second was much closer than the article suggested. As an aside, the results for the men in the weight range that Laurel Hubbard would have competed in if she competed in the men’s division were at least 100kg greater.
  10. In every collection with natural variation there are extremes on both ends of the spectrum. Using one example from one extreme on that spectrum to attempt to extrapolate to the whole demonstrates an innate prejudice, whether obvious or not. It makes no sense to say that I shouldn’t be allowed to play women’s softball because another trans woman can lift heavy things. Yes some trans women have advantages in some respects. The sporting world is currently working through this and will come up with better guidelines in the next few years, but each sportsperson has different qualities and each sport requires different talents. Laurel Hubbard. for example, would probably be a terrible softball player.
  11. To say that trans women will always be better at sport than cis women is simply not true. Last year Fiona Kolbinger, a cis woman from Germany, beat 264 other female AND male riders in the 4000km Transcontinental cycle race from Burgas in Bulgaria to Brest in France. Yes I am aware that is cherry-picking, but so is the example of using Laurel Hubbard to attempt to prove a point.
  12. Using the example of Laurel Hubbard to declare that ALL trans women shouldn’t play sport as the gender they live their life as because they have too many innate advantages makes no sense at all. I went to uni with a very tall cis woman. She didn’t like sport. She didn’t want to play sport. But she was over 6 foot tall and she liked spending time with her friends … friends that liked playing basketball. So she played basketball to spend time with her friends. Should she have been prevented from playing basketball because of her significant natural advantage and because she didn’t actually want to be there? If your initial reaction is to think that is different because she already WAS a woman then I refer you back to point 5.
  13. Please make a list of the trans sportspeople that back up your arguments. If you get past 10 I would be surprised. I suggest that you will be able to come up with a far longer list of cis sportspeople with extraordinary natural advantages.
  14. Most trans women don’t care about winning. We just want to play sport with our friends … to experience camaraderie and friendship in the same way that cis folk are already permitted to. This has significant effects on our levels of depression, loneliness and anxiety … levels that are far above those of the background population. 
  15. In many communities sport is one of the major, or only, social meeting places. If you don’t play sport then you are often on the outer. Preventing trans folk from playing sport in a team as the gender they live is cruel.
  16. Most comments surrounding trans sportspeople talk about how we are going to take over women’s sport. Trans men “taking over” male sport is rarely mentioned. If around 1% of the population experience gender dysphoria to the extent that they have to transition, often to save their lives, then we are talking about maybe 0.5% of the population. Then how many people actually play sport … 50%? Less? The number of trans people that are going to play sport is minuscule. Hardly an army to take over women’s sport that some allege.
  17. Last year I played softball in the Lismore Masters Games and was made overwhelmingly welcome by the Masters Games, Lismore City Council and ALL OF THE PLAYERS, especially my teammates. Dozens and dozens and dozens of women. By the end of the weekend so many people knew my name it made my head spin. As far as I could tell I think I was the only trans woman there that weekend. So to those that think there should be separate competitions for trans folk, who would I have played against? An entire softball competition with just myself sounds pretty boring. It would be physically impossible for me to pitch to myself when I was trying to bat at the same time.
  18. Those of you that continue to espouse the argument that trans women were born male, testosterone, skeleton size blah blah blah arguments, please know that in nearly every case you are wrong. Last year I trained to get ready for the Lismore Masters Games so I could play softball. I did SO MUCH exercise that I lost 17.5kg in 8 months. I was able to lose that much weight in the first place because I had been overweight or obese my whole life … hardly the sporting superstar that you all seem to be picturing. By the end of the year I was fitter and lighter than I had ever been in my entire life … yet I was our only player that literally could not play the last game. Picture that … the trans woman superstar was the only player to not be able to play the entire weekend. My legs literally shook for hours afterwards. I limped for days. I cried because I felt like I let my team-mates down. I cried because for the first time in my ENTIRE LIFE I felt like I belonged on a sporting field. 
  19. I can’t tell you the exact bio-mechanics of what happens, but essentially I have ended up with the same heavy skeleton that I had 4 years ago before I started blocking my testosterone and adding oestrogen and progesterone to my system, with muscles that have maybe two thirds of their previous strength. I was FAR from the fastest runner or the best hitter that Masters weekend. I was somewhere in the middle … exactly where I want to be. I have heard it described as putting the engine of a Mini Minor into the body of a Commodore. That rings true to me.
  20. Most counter-arguments quote “facts” that compare cis men to cis women. This is not helpful or relevant. Hormonal transition radically changes our bodies to the point where these “facts” are meaningless. See points 18 and 19.
  21. If I could make my skeleton shrink I would. It is difficult to carry myself around with less strength and agility than before. If I could choose I would pick a body that was exactly in the middle of the cis female spectrum in terms of strength, agility and talent. I am so sick of standing out. I am so very sick of people jumping to conclusions about who I am, what I can do and what my intentions and motives are. Unfortunately I transitioned too late in life for me to ever not stand out in terms of appearance.
  22. If you still disagree with me by now, it doesn’t actually matter what you think anyway. Trans women ARE playing women’s sport and they ARE being welcomed with open arms by most sporting teams, bodies and competitions. If you don’t believe that this should be allowed, then of course you are free to start lobbying the government to attempt to make it illegal or whatever, but please stop telling trans people that they are not welcome to participate in our society in ways that you have always taken for granted.
  23. The comments posted here suggest that most of you don’t know any trans people, or if you do, you haven’t ever actually listened to what they have to say. We just want to be like everybody else. If you have trans friends please talk to them about this … you might learn something. 

Only a few hours after I submitted my rebuttal the whole shebang was taken down. I guess the group, and the group’s administrator, aren’t much into facts.

Oh … and for the record, this article describes how Laurel Hubbard bombed out on the weekend.

So much for trans supremacy. I guess the Facebook group won’t be posting that article?

Trans Twins

I have long lost count of the number of blood tests I have had to have over the past few years. On average I think I have probably had my blood tested every 6 or 7 weeks. Not only do I need to regularly monitor my levels of testosterone, estradiol and luteinizing hormone, amongst others, but I also need to closely watch my liver and kidney function as cross sex hormones may place undue pressure on them. Every change in hormone, dose or application method has required a before and after test to monitor the effect.

Most visits to the phlebotomist have passed without note. If I was lucky, I received a friendly smile or a concerned frown to break the utilitarian nature of the visit, but most visits consisted of a 15 to 20 minute wait followed by 5 or 10 minutes of friendly chit chat as my blood was being withdrawn.

One visit in July 2018, though, was a little more pivotal. It provided a lovely random moment that was hilarious at the time, but ultimately introduced a lovely new human into my life. 

I was 2 years post Epiphany. I had been taking cross sex hormones for 16 months. I had been known as Roxy socially for about 6 or 7 months. I had only received my new birth certificate 5 or 6 weeks earlier. Medicare had been my second name change (after the Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages update). More significantly, though, it had been my first gender marker update. My shiny new Medicare card had only arrived a week or two earlier, so I was pretty keen, though also quite nervous, to show it off.

My 15 to 20 minute wait passed without note. My name was called out. I followed the phlebotomist into their room and sat down. The phlebotomist looked startled when he saw my Medicare card, which made me a little uneasy. The following exchange then unfolded:

Phlebotomist (with a quizzical look on his face): did you have that Medicare card yesterday?

Me (slightly puzzled): Um … I have had it for about two weeks I think?

Phlebotomist (very puzzled): you didn’t use it yesterday though?

Me: um … no … I didn’t … use it yesterday…

Phlebotomist: I meant … did you use it HERE yesterday?

Me (very puzzled): I wasn’t here yesterday. 

Phlebotomist (now very confused): …

Phlebotomist (becoming less puzzled): Then you must have a twin out there!

Me (shocked and surprised): a twin! Cool!

Me: …

Me (now even more shocked and surprised): um … a trans twin?

Phlebotomist (relieved we had finally sorted that out): it appears so!

Me (laughing): what are the chances of that? I would really like to meet them!

Me: (reconsidering): actually maybe that’s not a great idea … maybe the universe will fold in on itself if we meet?

Both of us chuckle.

Over the next 6 months I occasionally thought back to that morning, wondering if I would ever meet my Trans Twin. Our town isn’t that large, so it was fairly likely, but maybe the phlebotomist got it wrong? Maybe we weren’t similar in appearance? Maybe they weren’t trans? Maybe I would never meet them? Or if I did, maybe I wouldn’t realise it was them? That thought made me a little sad, so I tried not to dwell on it. I really wanted to meet my Trans Twin.

Six months passed. I found myself another new friend on Facebook. She was also transitioning . I looked forward to having a close friend that understood intimately the emotional, social, familial and physical upheaval that I was experiencing. A day or two after becoming Facebook friends, my new friend mentioned how many people had been addressing her in her daily life as Roxy. I was briefly puzzled … then it suddenly dawned on me …  I had found my Trans Twin! Or more accurately, she had found me. And the universe hadn’t folded in on itself. Winning!

Nearly a year has passed since our first online meeting. She is now firmly embedded in my life as one of my dearest friends. It is an absolute privilege, and the utmost honour, to watch her blossom to become the woman she was always destined to be, sans any filters sometimes employed for conversations about transitioning with less intimate friends. I simply can’t imagine walking this journey without her and I am so very happy that we are able to be there for each other through this most difficult and easiest of journeys.

Much More Than A Safety Net

A few weeks ago, I received a message from the super lovely dynamo that is Jyllie Jackson, CEO & Creative Director of the Lismore Lantern Parade. There was, apparently, “something” in their new(ish) shed that Jyllie was sure that I would be interested in seeing. Her message was so super vague that I was of course super intrigued. I had only ever been in their shed once before … the old shed that is … I had spent a few hours there with many others that had laboured for entire days after ex-Cyclone Debbie had heartlessly attempted to drown all of the lanterns. We swept filthy contaminated floodwater from the shed floor with push brooms and tap water. We gingerly lifted paper lanterns, upending them to rid them of their toxic edemas that had collected after being submerged by metres of flood water.  We triaged sometimes sodden, sometimes disintegrating, lanterns onto various piles outside, ranging from the surprisingly healthy to the sadly irrecoverable. It was heart breaking work … countless hours had been invested by countless community members in birthing these once gorgeous lanterns. When Jyllie invited me on a tour of the new shed that weekend, I eagerly accepted. 

Jyllie bounded up from her desk to meet me at the front door before I had even had a chance to open it. She was clearly very busy, but also clearly very keen to show me everything … and something. The shed is a fascinating place … a community within a community. Jyllie danced me slowly through the shed whilst recounting stories of the lanterns and of her incredibly committed volunteers. She showed me the open plan administration zone and the wheelchair accessible bathroom. The ethos of the shed was clearly to be as inclusive as possible. I was shown the technical area where all of the batteries and cables are maintained and stored. I was shown where the constituent lantern parts were stored. There were lanterns crammed everywhere in various stages of health and recuperation.  I was impressed at how neat and tidy the shed was, but I also sadly realised that I had been comparing it to the old shed where I had seen dozens of sodden lanterns washed off shelves onto the ground. I was super impressed with their recovery, and awed at how much work must have gone into that recovery.

I was led past the more-carefully-than-was-expected sorted and stacked collections of lanterns, weaving backwards and forwards across the shed, all the while edging gingerly towards the rear of the shed. It was clear by now, if it hadn’t been already, that I was being led towards … something. As we moved closer to the rear of the shed, Jyllie began recounting the story of a local CBD shop owner that had created two rooster bust lanterns and one heart lantern that lived for a time in his shop window during the Enchanted Windows program. The shop owner and his friend had asked Jyllie if she could make the roosters “paradeworthy”, by adding bottom halves to them, including a pair of legs each, and adding carrying frames. Jyllie agreed, but shortly afterwards realised that two roosters simply wouldn’t be able to cohabit the shed, as they would be constantly fighting. Jyllie broached this subject, first with the roosters themselves, and later on with the shop owner and his friend. Everybody was in agreement: one of the roosters needed to transition to become a hen. Right on cue we came to an abrupt halt in front of a towering handsome avian couple … a rooster and a hen … just as Jyllie, whilst beaming as only Jyllie can beam, said “I would like you to meet Rene and Roxana … Roxana the rooster that needed to become a hen”. I was quite stunned and utterly lost for words. I felt like I needed to cry, but tears weren’t to flow just yet. My mind was still grappling with the inter-connecting layers of Jyllie’s story, and what those layers meant for each of the story’s characters.

I have lived in 17 towns and suburbs in my (so far) 49 years. It took me 34 years to get to number 16. All but 1 of my subsequent 15 years have been spent in my 17th town, and if I have any say in the matter, I am pretty sure that there won’t be an 18th. I live in a town where everything that can possibly be named after someone, is named after someone … streets, bridges, carparks, buildings, parks and playgrounds … all named after those that have contributed somehow to our community. Of course I had never expected anything to be named after me. I had spent my whole life until my transition commenced remaining as inconspicuous as it was humanly possible to be. Yet I now have the honour of having a beautiful lantern named for me … a much more auspicious naming than a carpark, I reckon.

Jyllie and I went back to her open plan office and talked for hours about life and love and volunteering. Walking out of the shed heading home afterwards, it became clearer to me than ever that my community was so much more to me than a safety net … a safety net only protects you if you fall … after you fall … what we have here in Lismore is more like a community-sized 3D bamboo, cane & wire support structure, covered with paper for a modicum of privacy and containing an internal light for illumination, providing support at every turn and wobble for many who need it. When I arrived home I sat quietly to consider, and attempt to place into perspective, what had just unfolded. Tears finally flowed.