This post was originally written for a community group in the area where I live. It is presented in a superficially edited form here.
Hey everyone — it is Transgender Awareness Week (13 to 19 November 2021).
Trans people are generally defined as “people whose gender is not the same as the sex they were assigned at birth.” Related terminology includes:
- binary (adjective): of or pertaining to the two most popular genders, “man” and “woman.”
- cisgender (adjective): having a gender corresponding to the sex you were assigned at birth, i.e., not being trans;
- nonbinary (adjective): of or pertaining to a gender which is anything other than solely “man” or “woman”;
- transfeminine (adjective): of or pertaining to trans women and other trans people of feminine genders;
- trans man (noun): a man who was assigned female at birth;
- transmasculine (adjective): of or pertaining to trans men and other trans people of masculine genders;
- trans woman (noun): a woman who was assigned male at birth.
Throughout the English-speaking world, the percentage of the population who currently identify themselves as being trans on large-scale surveys is approximately 0.5% (Collin et al., 2016; H., 2017). Assuming a future of greater acceptance and awareness, which is not a given, that number will likely go up. Accepting 0.5% for the sake of argument, that means the number of trans people who live here is approximately:
- 129,515 in Australia;
- 26,000 in Queensland;
- 19,000 in Greater Brisbane.
Here are a few notes that I hope will be of some use.
Don’t assume that people didn’t get a specific gender-affirming therapy because they didn’t want to, or because they weren’t “man” or “woman” enough. In Australia, even access to hormone replacement therapy (HRT), generally considered the foundation of most medical transition, is dicey. Contrary to the “Big Pharma” conspiracy theory, manufacturers and governments regularly take no action to ensure that trans people have any access to gender-affirming therapies at all. Manufacturers don’t bother to maintain consistent supply (Simons, 2020). When there is consistent supply from the manufacturer, there may not be Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approval (Cheung et al., 2019) even for products that are uncontroversial abroad (Molteni, 2016). When a product has both consistent supply and TGA approval, it may not be covered by the PBS for gender transition, even when its use in that context is beyond doubt, e.g. the testosterone blocker bicalutamide (Randolph, 2018).
In terms of gender-affirming surgeries (a diverse category, serving both men and women, of which the notorious “op” is a very small part) the options are even more limited. Even though medical consensus indicates that gender-affirming surgeries are medically necessary and should not be considered cosmetic or elective (Coleman et al., 2012), Medicare coverage does not reflect this. Theoretically, out-of-pocket costs will run to at least several thousand dollars; realistically, they will run to several tens of thousands of dollars (Hunter, 2021), which many, perhaps most, trans Australians, being economically disadvantaged (Bretherton et al., 2021), will never be able to afford.
All this having been said, if someone confirms to you that they didn’t get a specific surgery because they didn’t want it, that doesn’t make them less their gender. A trans woman who chooses not to alter the testosterone-affected bone structure of her face, for instance, is still a woman.
General healthcare for trans people is badly tainted by “trans broken arm syndrome” (Bisshop, 2017) — known to fat people as “fat broken arm syndrome” (Paine, 2020) and to cis women as “hysteria” (Vanvuren, 2017). Broken arm syndrome, in all its forms, consists of attributing someone’s health problem, or potentially all of their health problems, to a single variable which is inseparable from who they are, and refusing to consider anything else. “Trans broken arm syndrome” is so named because the joke is that a trans woman breaks her arm after falling onto concrete, she presents to a GP, and the GP says, “Well, sir, the problem appears to be those female hormones you’re taking, so I’ve taken the liberty of cancelling your script.”
In terms of violence against transgender people, 2021 has been the deadliest year since records began (López, 2021). It would be illuminating to know the situation in Australia specifically, but unfortunately, unlike the rest of the English-speaking world, we don’t collect data on gender-related hate crimes so we have no idea at all (Lavoipierre, 2019).
Many trans people use singular “they” pronouns. This is often treated as a 21st-century affectation, and as being grammatically incorrect on the basis that “they” is exclusively plural. Neither is true. The use of singular “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun in mainstream English literature is first attested in 1375 (Baron, 2018).
Many trans people use neopronouns, i.e. sets of third-person pronouns other than he, she or they, such as thon/thons/thonself, xe/xyr/xemself, ze/hir/hirself, etc. These are also not new; neopronouns have been coined and circulated constantly since the 1300s (Yuko, 2021). Being unusual doesn’t make them wrong.
Someone deserves to be addressed by their chosen name even if they cannot legally change it. For instance, given that trans people are disproportionately likely to be unemployed for reasons directly attributable to their trans status (Bretherton et al., op. cit.), it is disproportionately likely that someone might find themself on JobSeeker and unable to afford the $200 required to change their name in Queensland.
Trans people are nominally legally protected from discrimination, primarily by the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) Act 2013 (Cth). However, unfortunately, there are employers who are willing to ignore the Act because they know that transgender people are economically disadvantaged and unlikely to be able to go to court.
Trans people have existed forever. Elagabalus, Roman Emperor 218-222, appears with a high degree of certainty to have been a trans woman (Mijatovic, n.d.). Prince Kalonymus ben Kalonymus, a medieval Jewish translator from France, wrote a lament for having been born male (“Commemorating Transgender Day of Remembrance,” 2015). The Public Universal Friend, who was nonbinary, was active as a Quaker preacher from the 1770s through the 1810s (Schmidt, 2020). James Barry, a trans man, served as Inspector General of British military hospitals in the late 1850s (Ortenberg, 2020). Private Albert Cashier, a trans man, served in the Union Army during the American Civil War (Vago, 2019). Frances Thompson, a Black trans woman, became the first trans person to testify before the US Congress in 1866 (“HRC honors Frances Thompson,” 2021). Michael Dillon, a trans man, worked as a recovery-vehicle driver and fire watcher during the Blitz (Casey, 2021). Christine Jorgensen, a trans woman, World War II veteran and later celebrity and nightclub singer, started her transition in 1952 to tremendous media attention (Long, 2010).
While “Nazi book burnings” are treated as a general category, the books they are most famous for burning are the archives of the Institute of Sexual Research, the gender clinic in Berlin (Bauer, 2014). Partly due to that burning, many of the techniques innovated by the Institute in the 1930s have not yet been re-implemented today (Kohn, 2016; Jones et al., 2021).
Finally — progress is not assured. Hungary and Poland have passed stringent laws framing LGBT people’s existence as a form of “ideology” and ejecting us from public life (“Poland LGBT,” 2020; Reid, 2021). In the UK, the BBC recently published an article framing trans women in particular as being systematically sexually predatory; the article was based virtually entirely on fabricated sources, primarily anti-trans hate group Get The L Out (Factora, 2021), as well as a cis woman, Lily Cade, who also happened to be a violent predator targeting other cis women (Wakefield, “BBC,” 2021) — a fact of which the BBC was aware before publication but chose not to disclose (Wakefield, “Trans,” 2021). The same cis woman then went on to call for the mass ‘execution’ and ‘lynching’ of trans women (Wakefield, “Lesbian,” 2021), to minimal response from the BBC (Nolan, 2021).
In Australia, there is a concerted push from within the Coalition to force trans people out of public spaces, currently using “save women’s sports” legislation (Lewis, 2021) — which has been well-established as entirely baseless (Strangio & Arkles, 2020). The Australian Labor Party is refusing to take a strong stance, or really any stance, on trans rights, because it doesn’t want to be seen as a “grievance-based organisation” (Harris, 2021). In New South Wales, One Nation is advancing the Education Legislation Amendment Bill (NSW) 2020, which would have the effect of purging transgender teachers and students from the education sector (Lawrie, 2021).
They are quite capable of forcing us back into the closet and into effective nonexistence. They have done it numerous times before and they can do it again. We need you to stand up for us. Please do not look the other way.
Baron, D. (2018, September 4). A brief history of singular ‘they’. Oxford English Dictionary.
Bauer, H. (2014). Burning sexual subjects: Books, homophobia and the Nazis destruction of the Institute of Sexual Science in Berlin. In G. Partington & A. Smyth (Eds.), Book destruction from the medieval to the contemporary (pp. 17-33). Palgrave Macmillan. doi:10.1057/9781137367662_2.
Bisshop, F. (2017, December 7). What is ‘trans broken arm syndrome’?. QNews.
Bretherton, I., Thrower, E., Zwickl, S., Wong, A., Chetcuti, D., … & Cheung, A.S. (2021, January 12). The health and well-being of transgender Australians: A national community survey. LGBT Health, 8(1), 42-49. doi:10.1089/lgbt.2020.0178.
Casey, M. (2021, June 1). Ireland’s remarkable trans pioneer: ‘People thought I was a woman, but I was just me’. The Irish Times.
Cheung, A.S., Wynne, K., Erasmus, J., Murray, S., & Zajac, J.D. (2019, August 5). Position statement on the hormonal management of adult transgender and gender diverse individuals. Medical Journal of Australia, 211(3), 127-133. doi:10.5694/mja2.50259.
Coleman, E., Bockting, W., Botzer, M., Cohen-Kettenis, P., DeCuypere, G., … & Zucker, K. (2012, August 27). Standards of care for the health of transsexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming people, version 7. International Journal of Transgenderism, 13(4), 165-232. doi:10.1080/15532739.2011.700873.
Collin, L., Reisner, S.L., Tangpricha, V., & Goodman, M. (2016, March 25). Prevalence of transgender depends on the “case” definition: A systematic review. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 13(4), 613-626. doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2016.02.001.
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Factora, J. (2021, October 26). The BBC’s latest transphobic screed is a mockery of journalism. Them.
H., M. (2017, September 1). Why transgender people are being sterilised in some European countries. The Economist.
Harris, R. (2021, March 11). Albanese’s slimmed down policy platform lashed by LGBTI community. The Sydney Morning Herald.
HRC honors Frances Thompson, a black transgender hero (2021, February 22). Human Rights Campaign.
Hunter, G. (2021, February 17). Gender reassignment surgery. Finder.com.au.
Jones, B.P., Rajamanoharan, A., Vali, S., Williams, N.J., Saso, S., … & Smith, J.R. (2021, January 20). Perceptions and motivations for uterus transplant in transgender women. JAMA Network Open, 4(1), e2034561. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.34561.
Kohn, A. (2016, May 24). How the Nazis derailed the medical advances around sexual reassignment surgery. Timeline.
Lavoipierre, A. (2019, November 20). Why is it so hard to work out how many transgender people have been murdered in Australia?. ABC News.
Lawrie, A. (2021, June 14). Friends, Jagged Little Pill and transphobia in the NSW Legislative Council. alastairlawrie.
Lewis, J. (2021, July 31). Senator Claire Chandler doubles down on anti-trans views. Star Observer.
Long, T. (2010, December 1). Dec. 1, 1952: Ex-GI becomes blonde beauty. Wired.
López, C. (2021, November 13). 2021 is on track to be the deadliest year on record for trans people. Insider.
Mijatovic, A. (n.d.). A brief biography of Elagabalus: The transgender ruler of Rome. In A. Mejia, A. Mijatovic, S. Barajas, A. Benck, A. Klebine, … & A. Herrera (Eds.), Challenging gender boundaries: A trans biography project by students of Dr Catherine Jacquet. OutHistory.
Molteni, M. (2016, October 11). Trans women can fill their estrogen prescriptions—for now. Wired.
Nolan, E. (2021, November 4). BBC removes Lily Cade contribution after transphobic remarks spark outrage. Newsweek.
Ortenberg, R. (2020, October 20). How history keeps ignoring James Barry. In Science History Institute (Eds.), Distillations: Using stories from science’s past to understand our world. Science History Institute.
Paine, E.A. (2020, December 14). “Fat broken arm syndrome”: Negotiating risk, stigma, and weight bias in LGBTQ healthcare. Social Science & Medicine, 270, 113609. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.113609.
Poland LGBT: Diplomats from 50 countries call for end to discrimination (2020, September 28). BBC News.
Randolph, J.F. (2018, December). Gender-affirming hormone therapy for transgender females. Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, 61(4), 705-721. doi:10.1097/GRF.0000000000000396.
Reid, G. (2021, October 6). Hungary’s path puts everyone’s rights in danger. Human Rights Watch.
Schmidt, S. (2020, January 5). A genderless prophet drew hundreds of followers long before the age of nonbinary pronouns. The Washington Post.
Simons, M. (2020, May 20). Patients frantic over mysterious global shortage of HRT medications and contraceptive pills. The Guardian.
Strangio, C., & Arkles, G. (2020, April 30). Four myths about trans athletes, debunked. American Civil Liberties Union.
Vago, M. (2019, June 16). Meet the trans man who fought in the Civil War. A.V. Club.
Vanvuren, C. (2017, May 18). The history of hysteria: Sexism in diagnosis. The Talkspace Voice.
Wakefield, L. (2021, November 3). Lesbian porn star platformed by BBC calls for mass ‘execution’ and ‘lynching’ of trans women. PinkNews.
Wakefield, L. (2021, November 4). BBC cuts transphobic porn star from reviled anti-trans article — but refuses to delete it. PinkNews.
Wakefield, L. (2021, November 4). Trans sex worker went unpublished by BBC because she didn’t ‘fit their narrative’. PinkNews.
Yuko, E. (2021, June 29). Beyond they/them: What are neopronouns?. Rolling Stone.