The last three parts of this series covered the shape that the anti-trans culture war is taking in Australia, why the people prolonging the war say it is happening, and why it is actually happening.
The question becomes:
What can people opposed to the further marginalisation and silencing of trans communities do to fight back?
Write to your elected officials
At present, the primary venue for transphobic legislation in Australia is the Commonwealth Parliament. The federal Coalition government is openly trans-hostile to the point that discussing it further here is likely to be unproductive.
However, the federal Labor Opposition’s stance on trans rights has also been less than stellar. Caucus voted to pass the Religious Discrimination Bill 2022 (Cth) without amendments if they considered it necessary (Karp, 2022). Senator Kristina Keneally, the Shadow Home Affairs Minister, told ABC TV’s Insiders that Labor religious discrimination legislation would likely allow anti-trans employment discrimination (“Kristina Keneally,” 2022). Also in February, Anthony Albanese MP, the federal Opposition Leader, told The Monthly that he thought trans people expecting not to be deliberately misgendered was “just not a reasonable thing to do” (Bryant, 2022).
In 2022, the Parliament of Queensland will most likely consider legislation brought by the Palaszczuk government which will harmonise Queensland law with the laws of other states by abolishing the existing requirement to have sex reassignment surgery (SRS) in order to qualify for a legal change of gender (Hirst, 2021). Consequently, there will likely be an uptick in culture warfare in Queensland specifically.
Local (city, region, shire, etc.) government has not yet formed a significant theatre of the anti-trans onslaught in Brisbane. However, local governments are starting to become battlegrounds in other states (MacDonald, 2019; Lewis, 2021; Maley, 2021). In 2022–2023 it is probably best to keep a weather eye.
There are two kinds of lobbying in which you can engage:
- Reactive lobbying. This involves contacting your representatives to demand they vote a certain way on a measure being considered by their legislative chamber. I will be using this blog to provide rolling coverage of anti-trans bills as they come up.
- Proactive lobbying. This involves contacting your representatives to demand they take action on an aspect of the law which is not currently the subject of a measure in their chamber. I am working on developing a summary of legislative measures which have broad support from the trans community in Australia.
Materially support trans people
Bretherton et al. (2021) surveyed 928 participants in Australia from September 2017 through January 2018. 47% of respondents had tertiary qualifications, compared to approximately 27% of the general population at the time (Hughes, 2022); however, 19% were unemployed, compared to 5.5% of the general population throughout the same period (“Labour force,” 2017; “Labour force,” 2018). 33% of respondents reported experiencing anti-trans employment discrimination, which is illegal under Australian federal law. Trans people who find themselves out of work will spend longer searching for a job, and will most likely burn through more of their savings doing so.
Illness and disability can impair a person’s capacity to work. However, trans people’s access to appropriate healthcare is often impaired by a trans-hostile healthcare environment, and by “trans broken arm syndrome,” the tendency of cis medical practitioners to attribute literally every possible health problem, metaphorically (and occasionally literally) up to a broken arm, to a trans person’s medical transition, and refuse to investigate or treat it in any other way (Bisshop, 2017).1 Consequently, trans people who are kept out of the workforce by a medical condition may be kept out for longer.
Donate to trans people’s transition and survival crowdfunds; transition therapy coverage on the Australian public system is woeful, worse than in much of the rest of the English-speaking world (Aidone, 2021). Give them food, or invite them to eat with you, so they can spare the expense of a meal — and because being trans is often a deeply lonely experience (Bowling et al., 2020) even though trans people have done nothing to deserve that. We do these things for each other; please join us and help out.
Be an active ally
Observe basic etiquette
Deadnaming is the act of referring to a trans or nonbinary person by a name they used prior to transitioning, but no longer use. Misgendering is the act of labelling a person with a gender that does not match their gender identity. Please do not do either of these things.
Put in the work to see your trans family and friends as their correct gender
Keep in mind that the traits often treated as indelible marks of gender are actually shared across multiple genders; I am a baritone, and a few years ago I worked with a cis woman who had my exact vocal range. Keep in mind also that many societies and cultures, both ancient and modern, have recognised trans people and their genders — there is nothing “politically correct,” “woke,” or denialist about this.
While intent matters, impact matters more. It is absolutely understandable that you might slip regarding a trans person’s name and pronouns the first couple of times you speak to them. After the fiftieth time, after a year of it, regardless of how well-intentioned you believe yourself, it starts to look like you just don’t care. Please put in the work to call people by their correct names — the fact that we draw the distinction between “maiden” and “married” names establishes quite clearly that we are already happy to do this for people who are cis.
If you see someone deadnaming or misgendering someone, and you know that they know or reasonably should know the correct name and pronouns of the person they’re referring to, step in and correct them. Don’t simply ignore it because it’s “not your fight”. The mistreatment of our friends and colleagues absolutely should be our fight.
Consider “virtue signalling”
“Virtue signalling” is a faux-academic-sounding snarl phrase used to describe the act of expressing a moral or political standpoint for social reasons; stereotypically, to show how “virtuous” you are. People who say others are “virtue signalling” usually treat it as a bad thing.
However, the present state of things is that the apathetic or outright malicious mistreatment of trans people and willful ignorance of their needs is the norm. Under those conditions, actively signalling that you are a trans ally can be a powerful source of comfort to the trans people around you. There are enough of us, and we come in enough different shapes, that there probably is a trans person around you somewhere, even if you don’t yet know.
Ways you can express trans allyship include: including your correct gender pronouns (he/him, she/her, they/them, etc.) in your email signature; wearing a pronoun pin at the office; overtly expressing support for trans people, even if you know there are people around who disagree. Don’t let the trans people around you be the only people who have to visibly care about this; it isolates us and makes us targets.
You may cop a little bit of flak for this. Pronouns are a particular focus for this kind of thing; it is a bitter in-joke among trans people that the easiest and quickest way to ensure you are consistently referred to as either he/him or she/her is to wear a pronoun pin indicating the other. However, the fact is for a cisgender ally this will be both less distressing and less dangerous over time because it has no meaningful effect on your life and it makes your interlocutor look like a fool. For trans people, deadnaming and misgendering can be a source of significant distress and, worse, danger; for us, unfortunately, it is no laughing matter.
Don’t immediately trust everything the media tells you about trans people
A 2021 Sydney Corpus Lab (SCL) study found that by October 2019 The Australian was publishing a median one trans-hostile article per day, and by late 2020 The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age had joined in at about the same frequency and intensity (Garcia & Badge, 2021).
Hallmarks of this coverage included
the use of alarmist headlines, misleading information, and the exclusion of transgender voicesGarcía & Badge (op. cit.)
False anti-trans narratives that the SCL team noted were becoming increasingly prominent across all Australian media coverage included
poorly supported claims on the ‘dangers’ of the transitioning process for children … the imagined ‘erosion’ of women’s rights … and then alleged ‘attack’ on freedom of speech for those who hold tradiitonal beliefs about gender and sex.García & Badge (op. cit.)
If you see an article or broadcast segment about one of these topics, keep your eyes open, start Googling, and assess those claims very, very critically indeed.
This also extends to interpersonal relationships. Virtually everyone who has a negative impression of trans people in general gets it through the media. If someone starts reeling off what sounds like a very well-put-together case against trans liberation, do due diligence. Look it up. It’s okay to believe things that are true — nobody denies that! — but please at least treat trans rights as being important enough that you would care if someone were wrong.
Join our fight
If you hear about petitions for trans rights — such as the recent petition to expand Medicare coverage of gender-affirming care — please sign them. If you hear about demonstrations for trans rights, and you can safely join them, please do so. Show up for us today and we will show up for you tomorrow — and many of us will have shown up for you yesterday, because solidarity is the only way many of us are getting out of this intact.
There is a war against trans people in other countries and in this one. It is being fought with many weapons and for many reasons, none of them good. The news this year has been bad.
I hope next year the news will be better, but only by working together can we make it so.
1 — For instance, I presented about a year ago to my then-GP with brain fog, chronic pain, dizziness, headaches, and visual disturbance. My GP responded by withdrawing my progesterone prescription and cutting my estradiol dose by half, placing it below the normal safe range.
The actual problem turned out to be chronic venous insufficiency (blood leaving my upper body to pool in my legs) due to a common connective tissue defect. The presence or absence of progesterone did not impact the issue at all. Cutting estradiol made things worse.
Aidone, D. (2021, November 22). What subsidised gender affirmation surgery would mean to trans Australians. SBS News. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
Bisshop, F. (2017, December 7). What is ‘trans broken arm syndrome’?. QNews. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
Bowling, J., Barker, J., Gunn, L.H., & Lace, T. (2020, October 5). “It just feels right”: Perceptions of the effects of community connectedness among trans individuals (A.M. DeBaets, Ed.). PLoS ONE, 15(10), e0240295. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0240295. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
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. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
Bryant, N. (2022, February). The repair man: Anthony Albanese and the task at hand. The Monthly. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
García, A., & Badge, J. (2021, June 9). Transgender people in the Australian press: “Bombarded by outright harassment”. Sydney Corpus Lab. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
Hirst, J. (2021, November 18). Queensland gender reforms delayed until next year. QNews. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
Hughes, C. (2022, January 28). Share of population with a university degree in Australia 1989–2021. Statista. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
Karp, P. (2022, February 9). Anthony Albanese warns religious discrimination bill could ‘drive us apart’ as Labor pushes for amendments. The Guardian. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
Kristina Keneally admits Labor may support sacking LGBTIQA+ teachers (2022, February 13). Out in Perth. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
Labour force, Australia, Sep 2017 [No. 6202.0] (2017, October 19). Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
Labour force, Australia, Jan 2018 [No. 6202.0] (2018, February 15). Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
Lewis, J. (2021, October 21). Hobart Council criticised for renting out town hall for anti-transgender forum. Star Observer. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
MacDonald, L. (2019, June 9). ‘Anti-trans’ group invited to help develop trans-inclusive posters for public toilets. ABC News. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
Maley, J. (2021, July 25). Feminist Legal Clinic evicted for posting anti-trans website links. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 31 March 2022.