My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 24 September 2019

by ray goodlass

Despite the success of Wagga’s first Mardi Gras the situation for trans people in Australia is worrying

2019 saw Wagga’s first LGBTIQ Mardi Gras and its very existence, let alone its success, was due entirely to the efforts of Holly Conroy, a brave and inspiring trans woman. Holly featured in SBS’s recent ‘Untold Story’ episode and the Daily Advertiser’s extensive coverage of what was truly a milestone of acceptance in what has traditionally been seen as a hetero-binary society.

Yet at the same time we have seen a barrage of negative stories about trans people, ranging from safe schools arguments to debates about gender free toilets and what sex should be listed on birth certificates. To say that these narratives are both damaging and dangerous is more than an understatement. There is a staggering amount of disinformation about trans people loudly parroted around by those who should know better.

This dichotomy got me thinking, and my musings were greatly helped by last week’s release of the 2018 Australian Trans and Gender Diverse Sexual Health Survey. It was an online survey hosted by the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales and conducted in collaboration with community advocates, clinicians and researchers from around Australia (courtesy of the Guardian Australia).

The survey asked 1,613 trans and gender-diverse people what they thought.

As the private lives of trans people are dragged into public debate, it’s time for facts, and so it feels good to have more data than previously available while fighting damaging untruths at work, in courtrooms and parliaments around Australia

A key statistic arising from this survey is that even though most participants reported realising in their mid-teens that their gender was different from what had been presumed for them at birth, it took an average of eight years for them to tell anyone else about that experience. That means that most trans and gender-diverse people may be negotiating the confusion that often comes with a lack of disclosure for upwards of a decade. Trans and gender-diverse people deserve to feel seen, supported and able to exist on their own terms and in a form that affirms them, without fear of violence or judgment. Hopefully the findings of this research will contribute to that work and help to break down barriers.

The survey also included a brief and optional section asking about sexual violence. It was found that 53% of participants had experienced sexual violence or coercion, compared with 13% of the general Australian population, with over 60% of them having experienced it more than once. These findings are corroborated by similar findings from North America and Europe, and corroborates the largely unaddressed issue of sexual violence being perpetrated against transgender people around the world.

The research also found that a majority of participants who’d accessed medical gender affirmation processes were satisfied or very satisfied with the results, with a minority reporting being unsatisfied or very unsatisfied, and with a number of participants reporting they had been able to alter their hormonal regimens as they required, often to positive effect.

This research has illuminated the issues that need to be addressed in order to improve the sexual health and wellbeing of trans and gender-diverse people across Australia. It is to be hoped that the survey findings will increase clinical, academic and public literacy about trans and gender-diverse lives, but also increase awareness within the community.

There couldn’t be a more important time for this research to be published. The political and media storm of transphobia and misinformation has swept the world in recent years. The private lives of trans and gender-diverse people have been interrogated, dragged into public debate and positioned as shameful and perverse.

Of course, these ideas could not be further from the truth, so it is good to have more data than ever in place while fighting these narratives at home and at work, in doctors’ offices and courtrooms, and in parliaments around the country.

The report is a call for policymakers, health promoters and service providers to take note of these findings, and to take action. An education campaign to correct all the misinformation about trans people would be a good place to start.