Wednesday 6 November 2019
My Amazing Body is a podcast where we explore interesting, unknown and misunderstood parts of your body, with help from medical experts and stories from real Queenslanders.
This special edition episode is all about gender. Gender is something we all have. It's a part of us that influences how we live in our bodies and interact with the world around us, how we see ourselves and how the world sees us. In this episode, we learn what gender and gender identity are, how your gender is different from your sex or sexuality, and about gender diversity. Psychologist Olivia Donaghy explains the ins and outs of gender, while psychiatry registrar Dr Claire McAllister talks about the services offered to gender diverse young people at the Queensland Children’s Gender Service. Queenslanders Ashley, Jayden and Willow give their accounts of growing up identifying as gender diverse.
This special edition of My Amazing Body has been co-produced with Children’s Health Queensland.
Meet our guests
During this episode, we discuss services available at the Queensland Children’s Gender Clinic and Gender Services run through Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital. You can find more information about these services at the links below.
Queensland Children’s Gender Service
Vox pops: I'm a boy!
The gender I identify as is man, male.
I'm a woman.
I identify as a male. I'm a trans guy.
I'm a man.
I'm a woman.
I'm a trans girl.
I identify as a cis gendered man.
Host: Hi, I'm Elise. Welcome to this special edition of My Amazing Body, a podcast where we explore interesting, unknown and misunderstood parts of your body. Today, we're learning about gender.
This special edition of My Amazing Body has been produced in partnership with Children's Health Queensland. When it comes to gender and your health, there's a lot to discuss, so this episode is going to run a little longer than others.
We've spoken to a range of Queenslanders about their personal experiences with gender. As you listen, we encourage you to think about your experience with your gender identity, the role gender has played in your life and your wellbeing.
Vox pop: I think largely it's something that I've always just felt naturally. It, from day one, has just resonated with me. I think it less guide what I do, and more just kind of is.
Host: Gender is something we all have. It's a part of us that influences how we live in our bodies and interact with the world around us, how we see ourselves and how the world sees us.
When we talk about gender, it's important to know that we're not talking about your sex or your genitals. Psychologist Olivia Donaghy is the coordinator of Queensland Children's Hospital Gender Clinic and Statewide Service. She explains the difference between your gender identity and your sex.
Olivia: Sex is about your physiology and a lot of people think that's just what's in your underpants, but actually, sex has got three components to it. One is your endocrine system, so generally your hormones. Second is your chromosomes, so people might recall things like being XX or XY or some people have chromosomal variations, they might be XXY. Then the third one is your internal and external reproductive organs. So that is what you can see in your underpants, but also a lot that you can't see. A person's sex is determined by all three of those things.
Your gender identity is something inside of you. It's this really strong, innate sense that you are a boy, a girl, neither or perhaps a blend of both, or perhaps you just reject the whole binary notion of there being boys and girls and you have a different term to describe your gender.
Everyone has a gender. Everybody has a gender, even if they don't think about their gender, we all have one. It's an intrinsic aspect of yourself and of your body.
Host: Olivia says that your gender also isn't the same as your sexuality, though it can be common for people to confuse the two.
Olivia: Your gender identity is about you and who you are and how you identify, whereas your sexuality is about who you're attracted to. I guess it's got a component of who you are, but it's really about maybe who you get crushes or who you want to date or who you want to marry one day. So, it's talking about, I guess, the other person.
Host: Now that you know the difference between gender, sex and sexuality, how would you describe your gender?
Vox pop: Cowboys don't cry and, I don't think they’re applied to me, but I think there is social pressure on men to behave in a certain way, just like this social pressure on women to behave in a certain way.
Vox pop: I think there some very antiquated stereotypes and then there are actually some newer ones that are coming around more recently. I think that there's the older kind of, “Oh, you belong in the kitchen or the less ambitious or kind of, regardless of which direction you'll go, you'll up being a mom or a wife”.
Vox pop: Those characteristics would be, strong, macho, in control, domineering, into sports, not effeminate in the way that they speak or move, or in their manner. All of those traditional ideas of what it means to be a man: rough and tumble, into action films, not into things like dancing or singing necessarily.
Host: When you think about gender, do stereotypical images like 'blue is for boys and pink is for girls' or 'boys like football, girls like dolls' come to mind? Olivia says that gender isn't that simple for any of us, and that everyone can be unique in how they express their gender.
Olivia: Gender permeates everything about you. This is why there's always a lot of confusion about gender, because it gets confused with other things. People might think your gender identity – a person would know what that is based on what you like to do, whether or not you choose drama or rugby league for your elective, or depending on what length you grow your hair to or what area of the shops you buy your clothes in.
But all of those things are actually not your gender identity. They're just your interests. Sometimes people might refer to it as maybe gender expression or your gender presentation but it's not the same as that innate sense inside of you that you're a boy or a girl. Most people know, there's lots of people who might describe themselves as being a boy but they love things that maybe the majority of people who identify as girls love. Doesn't mean they're any less a boy but they just like different things. It's a bit of a hang up in our society that we seem to have gendered a whole lot of activities and clothing and hairstyles and things and, actually, those inanimate objects don't have genders. People have genders.
Host: So, if your gender isn't the same thing as your sex, and it's not defined by whether you prefer pink or blue, where does your gender identity, that innate sense of who you are, come from? Olivia says that while we have some clues, we're still discovering exactly how your gender identity is formed.
Olivia: It is a mystery, I would say. I would say that gender identity, we believe that it's brain-based. We don't think it's in your big toe or your kidneys. However, so much of our makeup is brain-based. There is a lot of research into this. At the moment, around the world, there's a human genome project, which is trying to identify the parts on the chromosomein which diversity in gender lives. Maybe there will be news for that in the future.
Vox pop: The kids, well, my son is 16, so he's not quite a kid anymore, but they are much more open minded and accepting than my generation was. One of the things my son said to me, which I thought was fantastic. He said, “It's hearts not parts, dad”.
Host: So how does your gender affect your health and wellbeing? Well, that can vary a lot person to person, but there is evidence to show that our gender can affect how well we are. For example, statistics show that Australian men are far less likely than women to seek help if they are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. While 42% of trans young people have experienced difficulty accessing health services after reaching out to a provider who didn’t understand or respect their gender identity.
Vox pop: Oh, there's a whole array of gender stereotypes that come with being a man, and I think it's important to understand that for men who traditionally fit the stereotypes of that gender, those stereotypes of work for them.
I think those stereotypes do get applied to me by other people. I personally have struggled with, well more so growing up, adhering to those because they don't work for me, and they're not compatible with who I am. So, I'd never really fit the typical or traditional mould of what it meant to be a man or a boy, I was interested in all things that girls liked. So yeah, I think society has pushed those stereotypes onto me, and that did damage for sure.
Vox pop: So, I recently had a baby, and there's a lot of stereotypes around, you know, women are supposed to want to stay home and look after the family. And I was really, really excited to come back to work and to come back full time. I love my child, but I really like working as well.
So, I think I encountered a lot of people, I guess, questioning my decision or maybe accidentally insinuating that I'd made the wrong decision by coming back full time…that's a bit crap. No one would ever have asked my partner, like, "Why aren't you staying home with the kids?"
Vox pop: Oh, I think I'm very privileged, definitely. I think as someone who identifies as a man, and I guess outwardly identifiable as a man as well. I think it's very much been a man’s world for a very long time.
Host: Can you think of ways that, big or small, you feel your gender has impacted your wellbeing?
Host: If you've never given much thought to your gender before you listened to this podcast, chances are it's because your gender identity – remember that's who you feel you are – lines up with your sex - those physical characteristics that are used to assign the labels male, female or intersex. When your gender identity and sex line up – say if you're male and you identify as a man, that's called being cis gendered. But Olivia explains that not everyone is cis.
Olivia: The reason why the vast majority of us, 98, 99 percent of us don't think about our gender is that when we're born, the doctors have a look at our sex and they identify that physiologically our body is a certain sex. They usually use the labels of female, male or intersex. And because it's true for the majority, they say that the gender of the person is going to be the same as their sex. But what we know from research studies in Australia and internationally over many, many years, is that there is a small minority of people for whom their body and the way that that's been physically formed is not in alignment or doesn't, what we call, align with their gender identity.
Host: For a small percentage of Queenslanders, the sex they were assigned at birth doesn't line up with the gender they feel they are. Some people may identify as a different gender to their assigned sex, while others might not feel like they identify with any of the binary gender descriptors, such as man or woman, boy or girl, and that none of those options fully match their identity. Olivia explains the language we use to describe these diverse experiences of gender.
Olivia: In Australia, we commonly use terms like trans female or trans girl, trans male, trans boy and non-binary as ways to describe diversity. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, they may prefer to use words like sistergirl or brotherboy. Sistergirl aligning with trans female and brotherboy, trans male, but this varies by location. What these words mean is that – we talked before about when a person is born and their sex is decided, they generally say, "Okay, if your sex is this, then your gender's going to be this” – some people grow up and that's not how it turns out. For them, perhaps their sex was male but they grow up and they identify their gender as female. They would be classified or they might choose to use the descriptor of trans female to describe their identity. They might also just describe their identity as female, if that's their preference.
Non-binary is a bit of an umbrella term. Whenever we're chatting about non-binary, there's probably a dozen, maybe a lot more, other terms people might use but it's really a person who says that, "Hey, you know this whole boy/girl thing? That's just not for me. It doesn't fit with my experience. I don't fit into that box of being a boy or a girl."
Perhaps they have an inner sense that they're a blend of both those things or perhaps they feel like, “I'm neither of those things," or perhaps they use a word to describe their identity that is not trans female or trans male but they feel they're gender diverse.
It's really important to recognize though, that these words, trans female, trans male, they're English language words. We've always had gender diverse people, throughout time and throughout history and there are actually many, many words in people's first languages all across the world that describe being gender diverse. For example, in Australia, amongst the languages of our First Nation's people, there are many words that describe gender identities other than the standard boy/girl or man/woman categories.
We've always had gender diverse people. Every country in the world, every continent. It doesn't discriminate by religion or culture or even era. We've got lots of evidence around gender diverse and intersex variations throughout time, throughout history, all the way back to ancient Egypt. Apparently, there was a transgender male Pharaoh.
Host: We spoke to three young people, Ashley, Willow and Jayden, who identify as gender diverse, about their experiences with gender. Each of them has accessed services at the Queensland Children's Gender Service to support them and their families as they've explored their gender identity.
Willow: Hi, I'm Willow. I'm a trans girl and I live in Brisbane.
Ash: Hi, my name's Ashley. I am an 18-year-old. I live in Brisbane, but I'm from New Zealand Initially. I identify as a mixed race non-binary person, and I go by they/them pronouns.
Jayden: I'm Jaden. I'm 18 years old. I graduated last year, and I live on the Gold Coast, and I'm having a bit of a gap year this year. I identify as a male. I'm a trans guy, and I've been out for about five years to my close friends and family, but out to everyone publicly for about three.
Host: People who are gender diverse may have a sense from a really early age that the sex they were assigned at birth doesn't match up with who they feel they are. Willow remembers feeling she was a girl during her childhood.
Willow: For me, I guess, one of the memories that I can remember from, like, looking at it from now, was when I was little, if I had a wish, it would be to be female. That was one of the earliest memories. I guess I was about ten. Nine, ten, eleven. Eventually, I guess, it just sort of gradually became. I never really just woke up and was like, "Oh, I'm trans." It just sort of…I slowly figured it out. It just sort of happened.
Host: Jayden also had a sense that he was trans from a young age, but says he initially tried to resist how he was feeling.
Jayden: Before I came out to anyone, there's always that transition in your brain of being like, "I'm cis, to maybe I'm not?" And I feel like that's probably the hardest transition out of everything, because some people grow up their whole life thinking one way, being like, if you have grown up in a religious circumstance, like you may be told that it's bad, and it's wrong, and then you're going through it in your own head. That's the hardest thing. I personally had a really rough period where I was being hyper feminine and constantly wearing dresses and makeup and trying to be as girly as I could because I was suppressing it so much, which ended up being worse for wear by a long shot.
Host: Ashley, who identifies as non-binary, has found that gender expression can be fluid and change throughout life.
Ashley: Gender to me – it's a very broad thing to define. I kind of just consider it, like, how people experience the world through a particular lens. So for me that's, at this point it's non-binary, but at one point like I was experiencing it through like a female, like a woman's lens.
Non-binary to me…there was like a long period of time when I first came out and started socially transitioning that I was really picky with labels and I just like to the T wanted like every single thing to be worked out into my label. And then eventually, because for me it fluctuates a bit, it changes, that ended up not being convenient anymore. So non-binary is pretty much just like an overarching term that I can use to generally state how I am, rather than having to be really specific with people. So it basically just means not being, not identifying as either of the binary genders, as woman or man and just kind of like floating in between sometimes feeling neither, that sort of thing.
Host: Transitioning describes the process of privately or publicly expressing a new or changed gender identity. Olivia explains that transition is a process that's different for everyone.
Olivia: Transition has many levels and aspects. There's no one right way to transition. There's no one right way to be trans. People will generally refer to things that are classified as social transition. These are things like names and pronouns and clothing and maybe legally changing your name as well through Births, Deaths and Marriages. Then there are things like medical transition, which is some of the gender affirming hormone treatments. As adults, people might in later life choose to have gender affirming surgeries. I guess in terms of transitioning, what we talk to young people about is that, they'll say to us...well, some people don't like the term. They say "I've always been who I am, I'm not transitioning to something different. I'm just telling people who I really am and I'm changing things around me that match up with who I've always been." It's a word that some people use and some people don't.
Host: For Ashley, transition isn't something that just happened overnight. It can be a long, sometimes lifelong, process.
Ashley: It's kind of like, I think a lot of the time when people talk about transition, it can seem like, like a short period, like you go through a transition and then it's done. Where I think especially socially transitioning is a really long-term process and even if you come out to people, you start living how you want to be living, you still have to meet new people and introduce them to it. And I still consider that part of the transition as well. So, it's ongoing, but yeah, transitioning to me, it was like introducing everybody to it, my family, my friends, and then working out what it actually meant to me and how that would affect how I was living and what I needed to change to be comfortable with myself.
Host: Jayden says that social transition continues as he meets new people throughout life.
Jayden: Yeah, you never stop coming out to people. Never. I made this big Facebook post, but it's like you're still coming out, you're still meeting new people. Even in 50 years’ time, I could still be coming out to people. It never stops.
Host: Even though we teach children that 'words can never hurt', we all know deep down that language and words can really impact our sense of identity and self-esteem. A significant part of transition for many people can be changing the language they use to describe themselves. They might choose a new name that they feel better represents their identity and ask others to change the words they use when talking about them. As a trans woman, Willow prefers people use the pronouns she and her when they talk to or about her.
Willow: I don't really go out and say like, “Oh, my pronouns are she/her.” Because if someone gets it wrong, they aren't purposefully trying - well, most of the time - to put me down. It's just a little mistake. And if they do do it a couple of times, I'll go “You know, it's she/her, I'm trans. Could you please use she/her pronouns?” And usually most people will go, “Yeah, sure, that's fine, we can do that.” A lot of the time, though, people will ask pronouns, which is an amazing thing. That helps out a lot.
Host: For Ashley, who identifies as non-binary, the gendered pronouns for the English language - he or she, him or her, his or hers - aren't an accurate fit. Instead of using these words, Ashley asks that people use gender neutral, non-binary terms.
Ashley: So, I use they them pronouns. Generally if it's somebody who I think doesn't have a very good idea of gender in the first place and they don't have something to go off, I'll probably start by saying that I'm non-binary and what that means before I introduce the pronouns because for some people they don't know that that's an option at all. So I kind of have to clarify just like where I'm coming from before I can introduce that to them.
Host: If you're not sure what words a person would prefer you use when talking to or about them, Jayden recommends sticking to gender-neutral terms like they, them and their, until you know for sure.
Jayden: If you meet someone and you have an idea, but you're not completely sure, always stick to gender neutral pronouns, I find is the best thing. Like, they/them is a really good universal term.
Host: And Ashley says if don’t know what words to use or how someone identifies, just ask!
Ashley: Asking questions is definitely like the number one thing. If you're coming from a respectful, curious place, people aren't going to get mad at you just for wanting to understand more. So, asking questions is a great place to start.
Again, if you're coming from that respectful point of view, if someone's uncomfortable with the question that you've asked, they’re gonna tell you. And as long as you're coming from a place that's not super negative or discriminatory, people are generally quite open minded about what they're willing to share.
Host: Realising that who you are inside doesn't match your assigned sex can be distressing. Like Jayden described, some people might feel distressed because they're trying to supress how they're feeling, while others might worry about how to express what they're feeling to family and friends. This distress is called gender dysphoria. Dr Claire McAllister is a psychiatry registrar who has worked with Olivia at the Gender Service. She spoke with us about gender dysphoria, what it means and how people experiencing gender dysphoria can be supported.
Dr McAllister: My name is Dr Claire McAllister. I'm a psychiatry registrar, which is a doctor who's doing their specialty training in psychiatry, and I am doing advanced certificates in both child and adolescent psychiatry and consultation liaison psychiatry.
So, whilst having a gender identity that is different from the sex you were assigned at birth is not a mental health condition, there is a term known as gender dysphoria which refers to the distress associated with having a gender identity that is different from the one you were assigned at birth. That distress can arise from a number of different factors, such as anatomical distress, so having a body that is different, or progressing through puberty in a way that is really distressing for you. Also, the distress can arise from societal stigma in the way that you present all your identity in itself.
Host: No matter who you are, acceptance from the people you are close to and your broader community can have a huge impact on your wellbeing. This is no different for people who are gender diverse; Dr McAllister says that social acceptance plays a key role in managing the impact of gender dysphoria.
Dr McAllister: I think a lot of the distress associated with gender dysphoria comes from societal stigma, and feeling like you aren't accepted in your family or in your peer group. Obviously, family are often almost strong connections and, especially as a child or a teenager, the people whose opinion you really value. I think that having that support from your parents and siblings and extended family as well is really invaluable.
Host: All three of the young people we spoke to said that support and understanding from family, friends and community was crucial to their health as they were transitioning, and these groups continue to be a valued source of support. For Willow, friends were a major support during her transition.
Willow: I believe I had a really good relationship with my friends. They were my family in the time that I needed them. It was a lifesaver, honestly, having all of those friends around me that accepted me.
Host: Ashley said that they didn't expect everyone to 'get it right' straight away, but just valued family and friends who were willing to listen and be supportive.
Ashley: I'm really lucky that I'm in a great group of friends and I have a great family who have all been super supportive. It's not realistic to expect everyone to get it straight away and I've known that the whole time, so obviously even if people are really responsive to it, initially mistakes happen and that's totally fine.
Host: At the gender service, Dr McAllister says family and carers are encouraged be involved with a young person's gender journey.
Dr McAllister: So here at the gender clinic, we really try to support parents to come along on the child's journey with them.
Host: The staff at the clinic also help young people and their families advocate for themselves in the broader community.
Dr McAllister: We have a lot of young people who do experience bullying in their schools or churches or sporting clubs, and a big role that the gender clinic does is advocacy for the young person and their family. So that they can play on the sporting team of the gender that they identify with, and that the schools really do address bullying and transphobia in that environment. We also help young people if they're considering approaching workplaces to get casual jobs, about how they might go about talking about their gender identity if that's something they choose to do.
Host: The Queensland Children's Gender Service provides specialist outpatient care both at Queensland Children's Hospital in Brisbane and state wide through telehealth services. Dr McAllister talked us through the kinds of support the Service can offer young people and their families.
Dr McAllister: We can offer a really thorough assessment of someone's gender identity, and help explain that to the young person in their family. Because often these things are really misunderstood. It's really difficult to determine whether that gender identity is likely to persist into adulthood or not, off one interview. But we like to see the young person throughout time and really get to know them and their family, and do what's called a longitudinal assessment to help support them best and learn about how we can support them.
So, we know that the best protocol is a so-called affirmative treatment approach, and that assumes that no gender is the correct outcome. So, we don't have a vested interest in someone becoming transgender, or we're not interested in trying to make them conform to the gender they were assigned at birth either. We just want to support the young person and their family along their journey.
Host: As a psychiatrist, Dr McAllister particularly supports young people with their mental health, but there are a number of specialists on the team who work with young people in other areas.
Dr McAllister: So, I guess on the mental health side of things, we have psychiatry doctors. We also have psychologists and social workers and a sexual health nurse. But from a medical point of view, we also have the endocrinology team, so doctors that specialize in the prescription of hormones for young people or hormone blockers. Psychiatry is involved in doing a thorough assessment of whether those might be needed, and whether the young person and family are ready for those and understand all the risks and benefits that are involved in something like that. Where the endocrinology doctors do their prescription and monitoring of those medications.
Host: Olivia says that some of the specialists who liaise with the Gender Service might surprise people; clinicians like speech pathologists play an important part in some of their young patient's treatment plans.
Olivia: This is a really important aspect of our service, because an interesting thing about gender diversity is that it has a high co-occurrence with autism and communication disorders. That's around the world. What we see is that in a lot of gender clinics, they have much higher numbers of young people on the autism spectrum than you would in the general population. A speech pathologist helps facilitate us to provide a service that is adapted and tailored to the communication needs of people on the spectrum. They also can help with voice therapy for our trans females who have already had their voice break and they feel really self-conscious or perhaps that's a point at which they experience transphobia in the community. So it can help with feminising their voice.
Host: Not every young person who needs to access the service lives close enough to Brisbane to come in in person. Olivia says that telehealth services are used to link these young people, their families and their local doctors with the Gender Service.
Olivia: In terms of other professionals, we are a state-wide service. We use a lot of telehealth to reach out to young people in regional and remote Queensland and we really rely heavily on partnerships with local services. We work with some amazing sexual health centres, child and youth mental health services, GPs, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical centres and people in private practice who help support us with the young people to stay in place, with us just providing the bits and pieces that they don't have available locally.
Host: A referral from a GP is required to access the Gender Service. Olivia says that young people of all ages access their services, but there are certain peak ages that young people often request their help.
Olivia: The gender service in Queensland accepts referrals of anybody under 18 living in Queensland who's questioning or identifying as gender diverse and would like some support. Our referrals can be as young as five years of age, but the vast majority of our referrals are over the age of 10. That makes a lot of sense, because puberty generally starts happening to people between the ages of 9 and 14, maybe 16 for a few late bloomers. And so what we see is that little people who notice that there's something different about their gender, they can be pretty merrily going along for the most part, particularly if they've got families who are not raising them in heavily gendered-roled ways. They're little boys or little girls who have interests or prefer clothing that is a bit different to their peers. If that runs okay and no one really minds, they're generally traveling pretty good.
But it's about the time that their body starts changing that they start experiencing something we call gender dysphoria. This is when they start experiencing a lot of distress because, if you've got a really strong sense, for example, myself, my gender identity is female and if I was about to be going into puberty and my body started developing into a man, I'd be really distressed. Because inside I know that I'm female and I know that when I grow up, I'm going to be a woman. And if all of a sudden, I was faced with the prospect of facial hair and other things, I'd be pretty upset. So, it's not unusual for us to get a referral of a young person early in adolescence.
Sometimes this is confusing because it can feel a bit out of the blue. Sometimes a young person at 13 or 14 will out of the blue say, "Hey, I'm trans male or trans female and I need some help.” And that can be a surprise to families or people around them, because maybe they haven't said anything for a long time. What we find is that young people have usually been thinking about this for a long time before they tell anybody. Ny the time they tell people, they're usually feeling a bit upset about it and feeling a bit hopeless about it because their body is rapidly changing, and they're really looking for support. That would be a fairly usual way that a young person would come to us in their early adolescence.
Host: So, what should you do if your child or a young person you know tells you they're questioning or exploring their gender? Olivia says the first thing to do is just listen and try to be supportive.
Olivia: I meet some amazing mums and dads in my job. These are parents who oftentimes, the news about their young person being diverse is pretty fresh. Whilst their young person has had a long time to think about it, they're really researching and trying to figure it all out. Sometimes they're expressing views that they wish their child wasn't trans or that they are questioning whether or not this can really be happening. At the end of the day what I find is, it's coming from this base of fear. They're afraid that if their child is trans that they're not going to have a good life. It can be really reassuring to those parents to say, "Hey, you know what's going to be the difference here? Is the love and support of their parent."
Some fantastic research in Canada has shown us that the number one mediating factor around young people who are diverse in their gender attempting suicide or not attempting suicide, is the level of support of their parents. Once parents realise that if what they're, I guess, fighting against is a fear that their young person's not going to be safe or that society's going to mistreat them or that their life won't be as good as it could have been if they were not trans, reassuring them that that's just not the case. Their love and support is actually probably going to be the golden ticket to that young person having access to all of life’s opportunities, the same as all young people.
Host: If you'd like to seek support from the Queensland Children's Gender Service, a referral is all that's needed.
Olivia: So, it's a pretty simple referral process, just going to your family doctor, your local GP an getting your referral to the Queensland Children's Hospital Gender Clinic Outpatient Service.
Host: We've included information about the Gender Service and other services that support gender diverse young people in the shownotes of this episode. We've also included information about adults services offered state wide through the Gender Service at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital.
Vox pop: Because people need to feel accepted, people need to feel normal, people deserve and have the right to feel like they're not an outcast, and people should not feel shame over something that they have no control over.
Vox pop: It’s one of those things…I think the more diversity that we have in every aspect of our lives, the more opportunities that we have as a species.
Host: You might not know a trans or non-binary person personally, and before listening to this episode, you may have never heard their stories. But everyone can play a part in supporting gender diverse people in our community. Olivia says that understanding that gender diversity is a normal part of humanity is a great first step.
Olivia: In understanding the experience of trans young people, a couple of things that can be helpful are to consider heteronormativity and cis normativity. Heteronormativity is this belief that everyone's heterosexual, and that's the normal thing, and that's what everybody should be like. And cis normativity is that everybody's cis gender, and that's how everyone should be, and anything that is different from that is not normal.
In a culture and a society that expects everybody to be cis gender and to be heterosexual, it kind of doesn't sound that bad initially, but when you start thinking about that, what that means is anyone who steps outside of that is other, or not as good, or different. And that can snowball really quickly into being mistreated or treated less than, or even into bullying and harassment. And one of the really sad statistics for trans adults around the world is that they have a much higher risk of homicide, of being actually murdered. Which is really, really scary, but it's part of the beginnings of these ideas that being different, or being different to the majority, is somehow bad.
As we know when we sit down and we really think about this, being different is wonderful. There's 101 different ways that human beings are different, and that doesn't mean that they're less than the majority.
Host: For Jayden, Willow and Ashley, learning about their gender identity has been a big part of their young-adult lives. We asked them what advice they'd give to other young people who are exploring their gender identity and their families. Jayden says that it can help to give the people closest to you a bit of time to adjust when you first talk with them about your gender and what you're exploring.
Jayden: A lot of kids come out to their parents and they've already had that internal transition, but the parents a lot of the time don't think that. They think, "Oh, it's been the past month. It's just a phase." But for some kids it's since they were children, like five, six years old, and they've struggled with it for maybe 10 years. Parents don't see that side of things. They see what the kid has decided to tell them.
When you come out to your parents, though, you always have to remember that even if you've had that transition period for so many months or years, it's just starting for them. They might not have clued on, so even if you're ready to start medically transitioning, keep in mind that they're months or years behind you. You always have to keep that in mind. So, it's not just hard for yourself, but you have to remember it's also hard for everyone else around you, in a different circumstance.
Host: For Willow, accessing the Gender Service made a big difference to her mental wellbeing.
Willow: After I came out to my parents, I suggested that I would go see a gender therapist. My mother agreed with that, so I started with a video chat with one of the gender therapists here, Heidi, and then eventually went to face-to-face interviews, and then I got diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
That was when I truly started accepting myself for who I was, because I was getting that help. And I knew that I wasn't the only person going through it, and I could actually go out and see a professional that does this for a job. To know that there are other people just like me.
Host: Ashley recommends everyone learns more about gender by exploring their own gender identity, whether they're trans, non-binary or cis gendered.
Ashley: For everyone, it's a big learning process. You have to unlearn things about yourself and relearn them and other people have to do the same process. It can seem really daunting, but it can also be a great thing. And I think finding as much enjoyment in that learning process as possible, can make it go so much easier and it can change a lot about how you experience other people and how you experience yourself. So I think it's a really worthwhile thing to do, even if you're not necessarily somebody who identifies with it, but just coming to understand other people better, I think it can be a really great thing.
Vox pop: Gender diversity. It's just about accepting everyone for who they are, not telling them that they have to fit into two mutually exclusive columns, and you must fit into one of those. Everyone is different, everyone's unique. We should definitely be celebrating all of those differences because that's what makes people beautiful. That's what makes us stronger as a community, yeah. And if we can celebrate that and make people feel comfortable being themselves, like, that's always going to be a good thing. We want people to be happy and comfortable in their own skin.
Vox pop: I think it'd be good to celebrate, because we celebrate all other kinds of diversity in our lives, from appearance, talents and that kind of thing. Why is gender so different to that?
Host: Thanks for listening to this special edition of My Amazing Body. Have you learned something new about gender or your own gender identity? Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.
This episode of My Amazing Body was co-produced with Children's Health Queensland. Special thanks to our three young interviewees: Jayden, Willow and Ashley; our clinical experts Olivia Donaghy and Dr Claire McAllister and all the staff at the Queensland Children's Gender Service, and my podcast colleagues: Lauren our researcher, writer and producer, Carol our audio technician, Dan our music guru and Helen on sound effects.