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The faintest rainbow is still a rainbow
The faintest rainbow is still a rainbow

This article addresses child sexual abuse and gender identity.

On 1 March this year, when I took the selfish indulgence of using Around The Sound as a platform for my personal message about coming out as transgender, I said I would provide updates. I’ve done so intermittently on my personal Facebook page, but there are some things about the past and present that I think it worth sharing via an extended form of writing. Why? Because the love and respect people have shown me since coming out feels like it deserves a response. Also, my coming out has encouraged some who have been questioning their own identity to talk about their journeys, and that can only be a good thing. Finally, the journey itself may be of interest so some, particularly those trying to navigate being highly non-conforming in public.

I currently stand at another gate, am in communication with another gatekeeper. This time, though, I will not allow anyone to deny my identity.

I have to say, the morning of that first Sunday in March, when I clicked on ‘Publish’ was one of great anxiety and then relief. Since then I have found a place of happiness and contentment I’ve never experienced before. Life still has its ups and downs, but I no longe feel the need to ride them so heavily. Life is good! Better than I ever thought it could be. So, while I deal with some difficult issues here, I want people to know that there is always a light, if you’re open to it.

A question I ask myself from time to time is, ‘What took you so long?’ The answer to that is complex and, while I may be the only one asking it, it does require a response. It involves discussion of child sexual abuse, which is normally a taboo subject for good reason, but occasionally difficult things need to be brought into the light and examined. In this instance, as is so often the case, a big part of needing to do this is to acknowledge my own past and, by making it public, help myself to come to terms with being a victim.

As a six-year old I was sent to boarding school. My family lived in Zambia at the time and, being inherently racist, after a short trial my parents decided that the local schools weren’t good enough. They didn’t want their children to be the only white kids in a sea of black kids. It very much begs the question as to why they would choose to go and live in Africa in the first place, but that’s a story for another day. Partly. One of the reasons was that they were escaping their own cycles of abuse. Zambia was as far as their South Yorkshire imaginations could take them.

Having spent time at two schools in what was then Rhodesia – the first of which my brother, Stuart, and I ran away from, spending a couple of days hitch hiking across the country and making front page news – I ended up at Haslegrove House Preparatory School in Somerset, England. It was there as an 11-year old that a teacher, Mr Michael Pyke, groomed and sexually abused a number of students, including me. I won’t go into details, but it’s important for me to name the school and my abuser. I’ve never done that before, but somehow my healing makes it necessary. Mr Pyke is likely long dead and, to my knowledge, his evil doing was never exposed and he was never brought to justice. Naming him here will have to be closure enough.

It was around this time, purely coincidentally, that I began to address my gender identity. I would lie awake in my boarding school bed for hours wondering what my future might hold, where I might be in the year 2000, attempting astral travel and knowing that there would come a time when I would be able to live as the woman that I had known myself to be since I was about four. Interestingly, I couldn’t at that time see myself as a girl, I was always projecting forward to an ideal future when I’d be a grown woman. I think there were a couple of reasons for that. I spent most of my days and nights in an all boys school, so I had few viable models of what it was to be female, other than unattainable and highly unsatisfactory adults. The second reason was that, having been sexually abused, the resulting guilt, shame and anxiety that crushed any attempts to express my sexuality for so many years became entwined with my emerging gender identity. Gender identity and sexuality are unrelated, but that’s what happens when children are damaged by the adults into whose care they are entrusted.

I mention this here because child sexual abuse is crippling and because my own experience of it delayed my confirmation of my identity by decades. It impacts every aspect of the victim’s existence and leads to high incidence of substance abuse and suicide, among other things. I’m proud to be a survivor but, most days, I wish that had not been my lot. If anyone reading this also is a survivor, welcome and my deepest love and respect goes out to you.

In an ideal world, I also would not be transgender. I would never have had to question or fight for my identity. In an ideal world, I would just be me and be able to unremarkably identify as I need to. Identity is not a choice, it’s a fundamental part of who we are. To deny a person’s identity is to deny their very existence. Now that I am out in the world, I understand this far better than I ever did when I kept my struggle to myself. The world is full of gatekeepers and never more so than in the world for the trans person.

My first significant encounter with the gatekeepers to the world of being trans was in 2008. That was when I made my first attempt at transition, which required me to see a psychiatrist who was an ‘expert’ in everything trans. The doctor was male and, because I didn’t fit his stereotype of a trans woman, he did everything he could to make me feel uncomfortable about my identity and turn me away from my path. Inevitably that attempt failed and, worse still, I was made to feel responsible for that failure, because I couldn’t even fit in that man’s office, a place where I should have felt safe and welcomed.

I went back into my shell, lost hope for a while, as I tried to reconcile myself with the idea that I would never have the courage to be me. It was an idea I had become familiar with over the years, but this time the push back felt definitive. Who was I to match it with such an expert?

But I am nothing if not a thinker. The next time I attempted transition I deliberately sought out a female general practitioner who was known as an ally. This was an important connection because, from the first time I met her, I didn’t have to explain myself, or justify my existence. She simply accepted my account of who I am and took on the role of supporter. I felt fully recognised and validated for the first time in my life. Unfortunately, this time the choice of anti-androgen drug was my undoing, pushing my salt levels to dangerous lows and making me seriously ill. This was followed by a return of depression and anxiety and a period of, let’s say, absence from being a fully functioning human being, as I had to let go of, once again, the idea of being me.

Third time lucky? Maybe. This time I’d come to understand gender and identity more fully and I knew that I didn’t have to accept any stereotypical views of what I could be from any so called ‘experts’. This is my life and I get to choose how I express my fundamental self. No one gets to stand in my way. So, this time I have the most incredible team of women supporting my transition. Medical professionals and experts, yes, but people who understand that they can only properly apply their expertise when they use it to support an individual’s absolute right to be themselves. These people are enablers, the exact opposite of gatekeepers.

March this year was, coincidentally, around a year since the first national lockdown that was intended to save us from the ravages of COVID-19. It also marked a year since my income from the music industry was reduced to $0 as a result of the death of live music. While coming out as trans, I was also looking for a job. When applying for positions I chose to identify as male, something I struggled with, but which was a pragmatic response to the mountain of prejudice that still very much exists out there in the world.

I’m now employed in a public sector organisation that likes to think it is progressive. We have a rainbow flag in the foyer alongside the Indigenous, Australian and West Australian flags. We have policies on inclusion and workshops and online training reminding people of their responsibility to treat colleagues with respect.

I recently spoke to my organisation’s director of human resources and advised them that I am a trans woman and that I wanted to discuss coming out in the workplace. This should be a joyous opportunity to live by our organisational values. As I write, I’m waiting for a response.

I currently stand at another gate, am in communication with another gatekeeper. This time, though, I will not allow anyone to deny my identity.

We’ve come a long way as a society, but we still have so very far to travel when it comes to recognising and respecting individuals for who they are, nothing more, nothing less. Regarding gender and identity, we’re still very much stuck in the binary that denies the existence of so many people.

It’s time to challenge the assumptions that underpin our society’s generally held concept of gender.

Right now, I’m treating my own experiences as an experiment in living, because that makes it feel more survivable. But it’s an experiment I’m now bound to continue, because to stop before the inevitable conclusions are in will be to deny my own existence.

It’s not easy when you know you’re right and the majority of society is wrong, but I’ve been in that place my whole life. This time, the difference is that on 1 March I crossed a line behind which I am not willing to retreat. It’s onward now, I can’t for a moment contemplate the possibility of taking a backwards step.

Since 1 March, the love and respect of people who read my first coming out message are a big part of what has enabled me to continue this journey. I would like you to know that. Your recognition and support fill me with hope for a better future, the one I didn’t mention at the opening of this piece.

Thank you.

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If you or someone you know is experiencing difficulty at this time, please refer to the following resources and helplines.

Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Black Dog Institute

Lifeline 13 11 14
QLife 1800 184 527
Suicide Callback Service1300 659 467