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Opinion

Beyond Caitlyn Jenner: Diversity in the trans community

Trans and gender diverse people are slowly becoming more recognised by the wider community, and it’s a double-edged sword.

I wrote a column almost four years ago bemoaning that the only trans figure the average person knew was Caitlyn Jenner, and that most people thought all of us were trans women.

Reflecting now, with Trans Day of Visibility on 31 March, a little has changed.

The ordeal of the marriage equality debate, which became a de facto vote on the acceptability of gay people and then of trans people, led more Australians to have some awareness of sex and gender diversity.

Most people have now heard the terms ‘gender fluidity’ and ‘intersex’, even if they are still commonly misunderstood.

‘People struggle to understand’

When I wrote that column in 2016, I was a year into transition.

I quickly found that people outside of the LGBTIQ community had no idea that trans men even existed.

I think this has improved but still persists as an issue.

We are perceived initially as butch women, then after a point in medical transition, typically as cis men.

The idea that one can be transmasculine (or ‘female to male’, to use a somewhat outdated term) is widely unknown, and many people struggle to understand even after it’s explained.

A year into transition, I looked rather androgynous with my clothes on.

Whether people read me as male or female varied, but those who recognised I was trans always took me for a trans woman.

I once had trouble with hospital staff (in an admission unrelated to transition) continually calling me ‘she’ despite the Mr in my name and male marker on my chart.

When I asked them to call me ‘he’, they became very confused, obviously thinking they were doing the right thing by addressing a trans person as a woman.

Prior to transition, I had done very well for a few years as a sex worker, and I kept working as a woman for a while.

As my body changed, a few clients remarked about my sexy husky voice and slightly unusual junk, but with a wig and makeup on I had no problem ‘passing’ as female.

After some months of testosterone therapy and undergoing chest surgery, I started advertising and working as a man.

Even with short hair, a flat chest, a hairy body, and a deep voice – not to mention a male name – almost every client believed I was a trans woman.

I was constantly asked about whether I was circumcised and when I was getting breast implants (who knows what they thought the mastectomy scars were).

Some clients showed up expecting a woman but went with it when they realised; others never understood, even after sex.

‘Invisible in society’

While things have improved somewhat, trans men and non-binary people have long been unrepresented in the media and invisible in society.

We are still often a foreign concept, notwithstanding conservatives with their knickers in a twist about the 83 official new genders the left wants.

When singer Sam Smith came out as non-binary, mainstream newspapers printed statements like “he uses ‘they’ pronouns” – is it really that hard?

We need to start talking about gender diversity properly, without assuming everyone is a trans woman or taking the piss with tedious ‘attack helicopter’ jokes.

We need to stop making forms that give gender options of male/female/trans as though they were mutually exclusive.

I still want to see more popular media including trans characters, especially trans men and non-binary people.

Let’s keep working for visibility and acceptance of all trans and gender diverse people.

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