Transgender Australian Rights – an Unfinished Journey
25 January 2016 at 9:37 pm
Cate McGregor’s nomination for Australian of the Year was a shining moment for the transgender community in Australia. But discrimination against trans Australians is still commonplace, and even enshrined in law. Xavier Smerdon investigates.
Frustrated. Sick. Angry. That is how prominent transgender rights advocate Sally Goldner felt after several iconic Australians stated publicly that they didn’t think trans women could in fact call themselves women.
In October last year Germaine Greer sparked controversy when she told a UK news program that trans women “can’t be women”.
Following backlash from both within and outside of the trans community, Greer issued a crude statement defending her comments.
“Just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a f*****g woman,” Greer said.
“I’ve asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I’m going to wear a brown coat but that won’t turn me into a f*****g cocker spaniel.”
Greer found support from veteran Australian entertainer, Barry Humphries, who defended her by saying: “I agree with Germaine. You’re a mutilated man, that’s all. Self-mutilation, what’s all this carry-on?”
While both celebrities faced public criticism, for the trans community the comments had a real and lasting effect.
Goldner, the Executive Director of Transgender Victoria, said the comments, and follow up comments made by Sheila Jeffreys, a woman who shares many of Greer’s views on trans women, left her “trembling with emotion”.
“I’m someone who is experienced, has some supportive friends and self care techniques, but what if you’re someone who’s isolated in regional or remote Australia? What if you’re a young person who doesn’t have support? It does put people at risk,” Goldner said.
“If it’s going to put me at risk it’s going to put the even more vulnerable trans and gender diverse people, and to some extent their families, under greater stress. For me it was very stressful hearing those remarks and dealing with them, even in my role.
“To some extent it’s quite obvious that people like Germaine Greer and Barry Humphries see transgender people as a bit of free publicity. Well sorry, we’re not publicity fodder for them. These are our lives and we’re not just here for them.”
Perhaps even more damaging than Greer’s and Humphries’s comments is the very tangible discrimination that Goldner and people like her experience on a daily basis.
From dealing with endocrinologists who still consider trans surgeries experimental, to having your marriage cancelled if one member of the couple changes their gender, to not having your birth certificate amended to reflect the gender you identify with, discrimination is commonplace for trans men and women.
Even organisations that advocate for trans people face a barrage of obstacles.
“Apart from NSW, and to some extent the ACT, there is no funding for transgender specific organisations,” Goldner said.
“That leads to a lower level of service that people would like to give and burn-out for volunteers.”
“If trans organisations were funded we could be more proactive in some of our work to get some of the legal things fixed. There needs to be that investment in the community.”
But despite all this, Goldner said she believed the tide was turning.
In the same month that Greer made her polarising comments, Goldner received the GLBTI Person of the Year award as part of the annual GLOBE (Gay and Lesbian Organisation of Business and Enterprise) community awards.
“It was pretty amazing to be honest. There was a very long ovation when it was announced, which was very cathartic,” she said.
“It’s been a long journey both personally and in terms of what I’ve done. It hasn’t always been easy but to get an award like that is a really good thing.”
And while she was hesitant to speak for Cate McGregor, formerly the highest ranking trans military professional in the world, she said she thought her nomination for Australian of the Year would be a similarly cathartic experience.
McGregor may have missed out on being named Australian of the Year, but her close friend and former boss, retired army chief, David Morrison, was given the accolade.
In an interview Pro Bono Australia News late last year, Morrison heaped praise on McGregor – his former speech writer.
With almost two million trans or gender diverse people in Australia making up 8.4 per cent of the population, Goldner said their rights were becoming a mainstream issue.
“I think attitudes are turning a corner. I keep having the image in my mind of a semi-trailer turning a corner, part of it’s turned the corner and is on the right road but part of it is not quite there,” she said.
“We’ve got to keep moving forward and I think we now have a lot of momentum. I think if we keep pushing we’ll get there.
“It’s unfortunate, as we mentioned, that there’s a bit of a dying backlash from people like Barry Humphries and Germaine Greer, but the thing that’s shifted in the last three years that I’ve noticed is that there’s more and more people… both trans and non-trans, saying ‘hey cut that out’, and that’s really encouraging for a lot of trans people, particularly the older ones.”