March 04, 2014

The Right To Be Gender Neutral

When I was an early twentysomething living in inner-city Sydney in the 90s, cautiously venturing out of the closet, the sight of androgynous Norrie May-Welby striding through the streets, wearing a rainbow coloured top hat and tails would fill me with dread. Here was someone who was Queer with all the ambiguity and complexity that entailed. To be honest, I was terrified of being identified as someone like Norrie. How could someone be so maverick and parade their divergent identity? So much easier to go with the herd. With a ways to go before claiming my own gender identity I found it extremely uncomfortable to have real diversity in my face. Decades later I understand a little better how fear and prejudice shapes us and how regimented gender identity is no accident.

And I still run into Norrie around my neighborhood. Still agitating. Still getting up people’s noses. Still rocking the closets, but now internationally recognised as a human rights pioneer.

Today Norrie is at the High Court of Australia as the NSW Government attempts to overturn per historic win last year in the NSW Court of Appeals to be recognised as neither male or female. The NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages is fighting to preserve the status quo and make no mistake - they know that a loss today will seriously undermine the traditional fixation on classifying all of society under the binary gender system. I doubt it will open the document revision floodgates as they fear, but a ruling in Norrie’s favour will certainly encourage other marginalised people to claim their own identities.

For a government to invest so much in pursuit of suppressing the visibility of sex and gender diversity speaks volumes. Regardless of today’s outcome, I want to acknowledge a true pioneer and wish per good fortune in this historic case. As quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald last year, “It’s not good enough if the law is just for the majority of people”

Go Norrie!

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October 23, 2006

Back in the box

I was chuffed to have this piece published in Womyns Vertigo, a special edition of Vertigo, the UTS student newspaper in Sydney. It's tragic to think that future generations of students are unlikely to have independent publications like this. VSU (Voluntary Student Unionism) looks set to destroy many aspects of campus life including the ability for young people to express themselves in print, let alone keep track of what people have written in previous years.


A few years ago I started feeling some pride in my gender. It was when I woke up on a train to find a drunk guy pawing me. I said something predictable like 'Fuck off!' and the response was 'You're a geezer!' as he ran off. We both got a shock. I'd paid my dues and surgery fees. I'd assimilated. I'd spent years learning how to blend in and make my way in life but after years of making an effort, to simply be one of the girls, I realised that, even if I could reject my past, perhaps maybe I wouldn't want to. I wanted to learn. A late starter, I was making my way in the world, meeting all kinds of women. I'd begun to see that regardless of my origins, how I chose to live was what defined me. Me a geezer? Don't make me laugh!

I can remember the first time that a casual remark by a guy came across as patronising rather than as flattering. For the first year of my transition, I floated through life in a fuzzy pastel haze. Any reference to my femininity was affirmation. No remark was too crass not to be considered a compliment. 'I AM a girl and they can see that!' But perceptives change. The insidious feeling of being trapped in someone else's skin was being replaced with foreboding about what life as female entailed. People took gender so seriously and I felt strongly that I was still the same person

I never wanted gender dysphoria, let alone gender, to be the focus of life. How boring. All I wanted was equilibrium. On the train that night I laughed as I realised how happy I was. I'd had the good fortune and the luxury of time to make a conscious and drastic decision about my future and then I'd acted on it. Did I need to pretend that gender reassignment had never happened? Did I need to disappear into the mainstream? Was my identity contingent on denying my roots from now on? Was my identity and future happiness dependent on deception? Where's the joy in that?

These questions plagued me for a while. What do you do? Male-to-female transsexuals still equate to freaks for many poor souls. To your face, they say things like 'You're so brave', 'Your story is inspiring', or more honestly 'I really don't understand' but in private they don't want their children to turn out differently from the herd. We don't see transgender role-models in the media. We don't hear about individual contributions to society. We see the casualties. Not everyone gets burnt to death in the streets, like poor Hayder Faiek did in Bagdad in 2005, but to be transgender is portrayed as a curse. What if that's bullshit? What's an out-there trannie to do? I decided that I need to strike a careful balance between in-yer-face pride and blending in with other women.

You're supposed to blend in. It's more convenient. The Australian Government only issues gender-amended passports when travelling for surgical reasons. I only discovered this after my first female passport had expired and I was re-issued with a male one. The fact that I was on a surgery waiting list and had been living full-time as a woman for five years was irrelevant. There's no scope in society for globe-trotting pre-ops. Stay out of sight, once you've transformed into a beautiful butterfly you can come out. Yeah right... The irony is that now that I'm entitled to regain that big F in my passport I haven't bothered. I am not someone's paperwork.

I never expected to be fully accepted as a woman and I never take acceptance for granted. Of course there will always be those who count chromosomes and dig up birth certificates (good luck!) but for most people, how you appear is what you are and that seems to be enough. And there lies the irony:

Just when society seems comfortable with me, ticking the right box this time, I'm finding it increasingly pointless to stay in it. Why NOT play with appearance, explore androgyny, and revisit my masculinity as you would revisit places from your childhood. Why shouldn't any person explore their boundaries? Transsexuals have less obligation than any to preserve the status quo. The system doesn't respect us. Maybe it's our role to evolve it. Having learnt from scratch how to carry myself, dress myself and interact with others as female, is it any wonder that I question the baggage that comes with it? How many myths are we memorising? Are we buying into a construct or an essential truth?

'Why would you want to be a woman?' Mum asked, long after the dram of discovering her son was taking oestrogen. 'It's awful!'. I expressed my sympathy. 'You're just doing it to be trendy' she shot back. That hit a nerve. Was I just trying to distinguish myself from the crowd, create some notoriety and novelty where none existed? I did research. No I decided. Being transsexual wasn't actually that trendy. I noted the lack of magazine covers and celebrity lifestyle. I discounted all the references to modern-day shamanism, mainly from transsexual literature and online communities. There seemed to be a distinct lack of respect and privilege associated with simply being. Hence the reason that many opted for subterfuge, letting their differences fade from view.

I needed a compromise. I didn't want transgender to define me but neither would I go to great lengths to hide it. It would have to be the elephant in the living room, and online. If people wanted to discuss it, they were welcome to. But they could bring up the subject. And so, nine years later, I still get amazed when people discover my 'secret'. I assume it's obvious. In many ways I've moved on. Honey, I was a teenage testosterone addict. I blogged my way through gender re-assignment surgery. Google knows it's all public but I'm not going to shove it down your throat either. Different cultures must coexist if we are to evolve as a civilisation. And besides, discretion has its moments.

'Why do I keep getting emails from transsexuals?!' my assistant exclaimed after a month in the job. She seemed taken aback by the revelation about her boss. 'But you ARE a woman yes?' she demanded. I assured her that I was. “Cool”, she responded and that was the end of the matter, until the very next day when a movie opened full-screen from her inbox, proclaiming 'THIS is a transsexual' over a photo of me. We laughed but I was so glad that this hadn't arrived one day earlier. Optus had licensed my image for use in a staff training programme. Apparently there is a real shortage of 'normal looking' transsexuals in stock image photo libraries.

I won't pretend that I'm completely comfortable in my skin. I'm as susceptible to insecurity as anyone. Take the other day when 60 female film directors were invited to pitch for a project sponsored by some cheap body spray. They crammed us into this tiny airless room decked out with “girly stuff” where we sweated for an hour checking out each other out and watched Gwyneth videos. As the creative brief about girlhood and romance was read out, I caught sight of my reflection in a pink balloon, looking as awkward and uncomfortable as when I first transitioned, and felt ridiculous. As the tallest woman in the room I'd subconsciously tried to blend in by slouching down against the back wall at a weird angle, looking totally out of place with my mucked-up sweaty hair, nervously clutching my cycle helmet. It took a moment to remember who I was, how I got there, and what the hell I was doing. I straightened up to my full height, towering over the others, and felt instantly better. Whether I'm capable of channelling the experience of 16-24 year old girls is another matter. What would I know? I entered puberty at 25.

(PDF of published article)

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March 02, 2005

Queer Activism - why bother?

It's amazing how pervasive the idea that queer = bad is becoming. There are few better barometers of the times than right-wing crack downs on queer expression.

Here's the text of a leaflet that the University of Technology (UTS), Sydney put out recently:

* In 2003 the Catholic Church released a paper labeling homosexual people seriously depraved and calling on politicians to oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage. These messages of intolerance from Church leaders are still very influential.

* Within weeks, Australias Prime Minister John Howard made his infamous survival of the species comment in opposition to gay marriage.

* Both the Catholic and Anglican archbishops of Sydney, George Pell and Peter Jensen, are well-known for their public homophobic comments, and are regularly invited to speak publicly, including on university campuses.

* On being told their child is queer, parents still cry and ask where they went wrong, as if it is one of the worst things that could happen.

* A recent official NSW study has shown that homophobic violence remains high, with queer people much more likely to be physically assaulted than their heterosexual peers.

* Research indicates that about 30% of Australias high number of youth suicides involve despair over sexuality and/or gender identity. This despair is intensified, if not initiated, by negative comments and attitudes in the community toward queer sexuality.

* Australia still has a raft of laws that treat queer people differently from the rest of the countrys citizens, in areas including Centrelink allowances for students, employment, taxation, superannuation, marriage, access to reproductive technologies, child adoption and inheritance.

* School sex education routinely fails to include information on same-sex sexual activity, sending an unspoken but incorrect message that same-sex attraction is outside of the spectrum of diverse human sexuality.

* The media images with which we are bombarded present heterosexuality as if it is not just more common but the only natural way to be.

* The 1993 judgement of Chief Justice Brennan, involving the so-called homosexual advance defence meant men could be considered justified in inflicting grievous bodily harm or even killing another man who made a sexual advance.

* As recently as 2000, students at University of Technology Sydney (UTS) were refused permission to include their university logo in a cross-campus queer students' entry in the popular Mardi Gras parade. A document circulated at University Council in opposition to the proposal labelled queer sexuality "morally undesirable, perhaps offensive".

* Until late 2003, due to NSWs unequal age of consent laws, it was illegal for health workers to provide information about safe gay sex to males under 18.

* The Howard government is attempting to introduce anti student organisation legislation (Optional Membership of Student Organisations, formerly called Voluntary Student Unionism), which would spell the end for campus queer groups offering resources and support.

* In 83 countries it is still illegal to engage in same-sex sexual activities. In 9 of those the penalty is government sanctioned execution.

* Australia's refugee assessment procedures consider it oppressive for people to have to practice their religion in secrecy for fear of persecution, yet effectively tells queer refugees they can hide their sexuality to avoid persecution. We then deport them back to their country of origin and supply to that country the files detailing why the applicant did not qualify as a refugee in Australia.

* Tens of thousands of queers were targeted and died in the Nazi Holocaust. This is rarely acknowledged, keeping queers invisible in history and contributing to their oppression.

* Far from living in pink-dollar prosperity, queers actually experience high levels of poverty, with lesbians the worst affected. Two thirds of lesbians worldwide live in poverty, a reflection of the inequality suffered by women generally.

* The current crop of queer characters on our TV screens, rather than breaking down prejudices, tend to trivialise, objectify and stereotype queers.

* In 2004 Australia's parliamentarians voted by a large majority to outlaw same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage has never been legal in Australia so this new piece of legislation served purely to make a statement that queers are considered second-class and not considered capable of the same commitment as our fellow adult citizens.

* For one night a year, the straight world gawks and cheers at queers in the glitzy spectacle that is Mardi Gras. But being 'tolerated' is not the same as being accepted. Being applauded for entertaining spectators with glamour and wit is not the same as acknowledgment of the very real and very unglamorous inequity suffered by queers 365 days a year.

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June 21, 2004

TVC says beware of cross-dressing

The Traditional Values Coalition have posted a warning to parents that the film Shrek 2 contains "subtle sexual messages", referring to two cross-dressing references. The poor dears have their knickers in a knot about Dreamworks "promoting a transgender agenda".

Huh? What agenda? Raising awareness of the fact that trannies can look and sound ridiculous? That they can raise a giggle in the multiplex?

Somehow I don't think Dreamworks has an agenda, beyond making colourful entertainment that sells bucketloads.

Traditional Values Coalition - Parents Beware: 'Shrek 2' Features Transgenderism And Crossdressing Themes

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May 19, 2004

Values education in Australia

A rather disturbing media release from the AIDS Council of NSW, Howard Government encouraging homophobia in schools? prompted me to write to my old Sydney high school.

It seems that transgender individuals are only worth educating students about in the context of their unnatural sexual practices and their greater risk of transmitting disease.

Howard and his cronies should really pick up their cricket bats and fuck off to Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe would no doubt approve of alarmist propaganda and could maybe advise on upping the ante.

It should not to fall to the trans community (as much as there is one) to educate school kids about gender diversity. Any government-sanctioned approach which clouds the picture, or encourages the cloud to linger, should be opposed loudly. But how?

No reply from the Jesuits and co. to my missive below:

Dear Mr. Hogan
(and BCCing past teachers of mine),

I would like to draw your attention to the attached media release from the AIDS Council of NSW which is triggering outrage from Australians world-wide.

I am writing to express severe concerns about the Federal Governments stance on values education in schools that appears aimed at perpetuating lesbian, gay and transgender negative stereotypes.

As a female transsexual from the class of 89, happily married in a lesbian relationship, I feel obliged to write and point out the profound harm that the Howard Government is inflicting on Australian society through vilifying statements aimed, in part, at impressionable young boys. I hope that my alma mater will not been seen to go along with this quietly.

From London it seems that Australia is increasingly associated with intolerance, disrespect for diversity, and a lack of human compassion. Its not all fair. I look back at Riverview fondly. I remain in contact with guys from my year and in many respects it was a great education, if not on gender.

I would hope that the school, with so many resources at its disposal, will take every opportunity to show leadership with regards to real education. I would like to offer my support in any efforts to ensure that your students have better access than most to unbiased information on diversity, especially within the current political climate. There was no support on offer when I went through Riverview. Unbiased exposure to gender and sexual diversity can only help boys grow into well rounded men, or occasionally, women. It happens

Any assistance I can provide, please let me know. This is quite out of character for me to fire off something like this but the implications of the attached on my home town Sydney (where four M2F transsexuals were murdered last year) are truly sickening. Boys will be boys.

Best wishes,


Michela Ledwidge

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March 18, 2004

Tranny artists saturate the market

A Marylebone art gallery was recently approached about the idea of curating an exhibition on transgender art. The gallery owner exclaimed "I've got tranny artists coming out my ears!"

Who are these people? Grayson Perry may be quite visible now after winning the Turner Prize but where are all the rest?

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June 02, 2003

SRS diary

Last week I had a friend whisper to me that my personal diaries were visible online. "Oh you mean ikky stuff about gender surgery?". "Err yeah".

A lovely thought for my well being but. for the record, "SRS diary" content in this blog is deliberately out there. If you're contemplating re-configuring your body, the more information you can find on the subject the better. For me, I got a little fed up with the stream of "I had surgery and now I'm a beautiful butterfly" postings that I found when I was researching for the trip. If you're squeamish or uptight, keep away. Please.

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January 13, 2003

How many people fake the op?

The thought occurs to me... how many people never bother having gender reassignment surgery but still manage to get all their paperwork changed to a new gender?

After a five year transition, a "sex swap on the NHS", countless dollars and pounds (still accounting, but it's not my strong point), and a mental spreadsheet keeping tabs of sex, name and marital status in various countries, I'm finally going about changing my Australian birth certificate and doing it by the book. Seems like I could have saved myself the trouble though and bluffed through it years ago...

Australian citizens born in Canberra currently require two medical practitioners (who must be registered in Australia) to declare that reassignment has taken place. Last week I went to the Fox Valley Medical Centre near my parents' place in Sydney. Two GPs were happy to sign my form (for the $45 consultation fee). Neither of them (one male, one female) asked to look at me. We just had a little chit-chat about life in London. Apparently this is normal practice for GPs in most circumstances these days but let's just say I was a little surprised.

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June 04, 2002

How to insert a dilator

It doesn't appear in any of the notes or documentation I've found so here goes a little practical advice on inserting a dilator. It seems obvious in hindsight but I could have done with a little in advance...

Start by angling the dilator straight down into the vagina, and gently push it in. The angle of your artificially created vagina may differ slightly from that of a GG's. After inserting it a little way, drop your hand, about 45 degrees, so that the dilator is aiming further up your body. The point at which to start doing this will become obvious as you start pressing against the pelvic bone otherwise. If the angle isn't right you aren't going anywhere, so don't rush yourself and put yourself under pressure. I found that it was sometimes easiest to pull out and try again.

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