19th June 2018:
Lee and Ryan sit down with Sam, who uses they/them pronouns, at the Docklands library. Sam is the first dedicated LGBTIQ outreach lawyer in Victoria, and works out of St Kilda legal service. Sam talks about growing up in Perth, student activism at La Trobe, listening to and learning from trans and gender diverse young people, and some of the challenges involved in working in the legal system. They pitch the idea of a communal life admin day, changing lawyers’ titles to the gender-neutral ‘Advocate,’ and tell Lee and Ryan about a particularly moving theatre performance they saw in Sydney earlier this year, called Wild Bore.
R: Today’s the 19th of June and we’re sitting here having a chat with Sam. Would you like to just start off by telling us your pronouns and your age?
S: Yes, my name’s Sam, I’m 34 years old. And my pronouns are they and them.
L: What kind of things do you like to do?
S: Well, um I actually really like to listen to podcasts while walking my dog in the park. That would be a top, uh, evening activity. If I wasn’t here, that’s what I’d probably be doing. I’m quite into creative writing and reading, and all of that sort of introverted stuff. Yeah, quite like going to the country and having walks around and stuff.
L: Can you tell us a bit more about your dog.
S: Yeah, her name is Tibby. And she’s 10 years young this August, she’s a cattle dog cross with a spitz, so she’s kind of big and black and fluffy, with a white chest. And um, she’s got big ears, and yeah loves to play with the stick and run around. Yeah she’s got more energy than I do, especially since she had her anti-arthritis injection the other day. She’s a new dog. Yeah.
L: And um, what kind of podcasts do you listen to, or recommend to listeners?
S: I’ve got a lot of favorites. I guess, being a lawyer, not that you have to be a lawyer to be into true crime, but I do love my true crime podcasts. I actually listened to a New Zealand podcast the other day called ‘Black Hands,’ which got recommended to me by a New Zealand friend, and that was really fascinating.
L: I can vouch for that also, I loved it
S: Yeah. Nancy’s a good one. Quite like that. It’s an American podcast, it’s about queer politics and culture and things like that. What else? The list is so long.
R: I’ll just share that Lee does a crime podcast –
L: Oh yeah, I do [laughs]
S: Oh wow –
R: I was like, you’re not going to spruik that, so –
L: I didn’t even think about it! Yeah, I do a crime fiction podcast.
R: Can you tell us a bit about when and where you born?
S: Yes, I was born in Aylesbury, in the United Kingdom. 34 years ago. Um, I migrated to Australia with my family when I was 6, and I moved, we all moved to Perth. And I relocated myself to Melbourne when I was 20.
L: It seems to be a common migration path from Perth to Melbourne.
S: I think a lot of people do leave Perth, um [laughs] A lot of my friends who I went to art school with in WA moved to London. So it seems like, yeah, there’s lots of interesting people all over the world, and I don’t really know anybody in Perth anymore. I’m sure there’s like, great people around, but apart from my immediate family everyone I knew at Uni is gone.
R: So what made you choose Melbourne?
S: I think for me it was either Melbourne or going back to England where I was born. And I remember I went on my first like holiday as an adult, or proto-adult, with my uni friends at the end of first year Uni. And I’d just turned 18. And we came to Melbourne, and my mind was just blown, I just thought this was the greatest city on earth, and yeah it was just so…I mean I suppose it is a lot like Perth, y’know, all Australian cities are very similar, but um, I was staying in that North Melbourne area and I really fell in love with the place. And yeah, being a little bit different, I felt more comfortable here and I spent 6 years in Sydney as well, which was a good time in many ways, but I do definitely call Melbourne home now.
R: So what took you to Sydney for 6 years?
S: Uh, a relationship [laughs]. Yeah I went up there for love, and yeah had a wonderful relationship up there. And um, moved back down at the end of 2016, after a bit of a stint up in the NT.
L: I might back track a bit, and ask you what it was like growing up in Perth?
S: Yeah growing up in Perth, that was very difficult for me. So my family moved to the, what was then the outer Northern suburbs of Perth, I grew up in Marangaroo, and that sort of Northern suburbs area near Wanneroo. It was, at the time, yeah very difficult for me because I had, when I lived in England, I used ‘Sam’ as my preferred name, which I’ve gone back to. But when we moved to Australia, I feel like everything sort of like, went back. And my chosen name, and my sort of identity and way of doing things, was really, really not cool here. And really not acceptable, and um there were a lot of conversations with, y’know, my mum and the primary school about like what I was going to do to be more normal. And yeah, just the experience of coming to Australia and like, swimming, learning how to swim being a really big thing. Like I didn’t want to wear girls’ bathers, and yeah. There were just so many issues here in Australia that hadn’t cropped up in England. So I dunno if it would’ve been like that if I’d grown up in Melbourne. Probably. But um, yeah I really found Perth to be very difficult place. And I don’t have a lot of fondness for the place, I mean I’m sure it’s a wonderful place, but yeah I don’t have the best memories.
R: So your immediate family still lives in Perth?
S: Yeah, my mom and my brother and his family both live out in the Wheatbelt, which is about 100km east of Perth, so it’s the country, but its sort of, only an hour and a bit out of Perth. So it’s not that far away. Gets very, very hot in summer.
R: Can you, if you’re comfortable sharing, tell us a bit about your relationship with your family now?
S: Yeah. I wouldn’t say that I have the most uh resolved relationship with my family. I suppose in some ways it is quite resolved [laughs], but um I don’t speak with my Dad very much. Y’know we’re not completely estranged, but um, I would say that I try and limit contact with him to, y’know the annual phone call. And um, when I do go back to WA, I y’know often see him when I’m there, but I’m only usually back every 2 or 3 years. He’s got a new uh partner, and a young child, so yeah. I sort of, yeah don’t have heaps to do with my Dad anymore. My Mom, I have a fortnightly to weekly phone call. Y’know, I have a lot of fondness for my Mom, care very much about her. But yeah I would say that we would have a bit of a strained relationship, I find it hard to connect with my family because yeah I feel quite removed, as probably, largely due to gender-related reasons I would say. And my brother has two kids, he’s about to have his third, and I don’t sort of speak to him very much, but y’know, I’m a well-wisher.
S: So I went to Balcatta Senior High School in WA, and they had a, it was a public school, and you could apply to be in a special art program, where you went to school on Saturday and did art for 4 hours. So I did that all through high school. Yeah I really sort of fell in love, not so much with art, because I don’t actually think I’m a particularly good artist, but I really liked art theory. And I liked learning about art. And I loved going to openings, uh [laughs], I really liked drinking wine –
S: So yeah when I was thinking about going to Uni, studying fine art seemed like an appalling choice from like, a financial or like life sense point of view, but I really wanted to do it, cos I really wanted the lifestyle. And it was quite interesting, going to art school, cos I’m from, yeah, I’d say a pretty disadvantaged background overall, whereas the kind of people that go straight out of high school and do art at Uni tend to be from much, yeah wealthier backgrounds. So yeah my main memory of art school really is the kind of culture shock of realizing that like, I was from a really broke family, and feeling a lot of shame about that.
L: And so, you said earlier that you’re a lawyer. So can you tell us a little bit about that pathway?
S: So when I finished art school in Perth, I decided that I wanted to move to Melbourne, and I’d just turned 20 and I had a degree, and I was really worried about what I was going to do with my life. I didn’t really have a lot of employment history, I’d worked at like a pizza shop and y’know like, a few random names of like selling – what are those, roller shutters? Y’know – doing telemarketing things like that, like I didn’t have a lot of work experience. And I found it really hard to, I didn’t have the confidence to just like, walk into a job that I would like to do. So it felt really important to me to try and like get a qualification where I could get a job [laughs].
My first choice was actually to be a librarian, I remember – yeah it was a big sliding doors moment when I moved to Melbourne, and I was just going to all the different uni’s and I think I was going to do – yeah become a librarian or I was going to study law at La Trobe, or I was going to continue with my like, art studies and do critical theory at Monash. And yeah I do often wonder what my life would be like, if I’d chosen one of those options. But yes I did end up choosing to go to La Trobe and do law, and yeah I mainly did that cos I had a really big crush on this woman who was at the education welfare action collective stall on the day that I was like, it must have been like O day or something like that, and um, I was really blown away by the activism on campus. I’d always been interested in getting involved in, y’know, political activism and things like that, and there was really nothing like that in Perth. So yeah I suppose, yeah the combination of there being a lively scene there, and yeah crushing on this particular person at that time, kind of led me to make this fairly arbitrary choice and, y’know, look at me now.
R: So did you get involved in student politics or something throughout –
S: Yeah I did. I was probably not that involved for my first year at La Trobe. Oh, that’s not true, actually I was part of an occupation of RMIT in, I think it was 2004, which was just one of the most amazing things that had ever happened to me, it completely blew my mind. There were like, I dunno, 4 or 500 students that just, all kind of en masse went up to the top of the RMIT building in the city – I don’t even know where that is anymore, but it was where the vice chancellor’s office was at the time, and we like occupied it. And it was over Voluntary Student Unionism, which was a big issue back in the day, one that we sadly lost. And yeah it just seemed, I don’t know, people took power into their own hands and do something, even if I suppose in the scheme of things that won’t be remembered as one of the great moments in Australian sort of political history: for me, it was incredibly meaningful.
I remember like, other students were having conversations about like the politics of eating one of the admin staff’s wasabi peas? They’d left on their desk, and y’know, one person was like about the chow into them, and the other person was like, ‘comrade, that is a worker’s wasabi peas, support the workers and the struggle, don’t eat those peas!’ And I was like, oh that’s true, we shouldn’t eat the peas! And, yeah it was really fun, really mind-opening experience. I didn’t spend much time actually studying in my first couple of years at law school. I was really a crammer and uh, spent a lot of time painting banners and I eventually got quite involved in the queer space at La Trobe university, which was called the Rainbow room then. I don’t know if its still called that now. But um, yeah I ended up running to be a queer officer and I did that honorarium job for like 18 months. Which was an incredible privilege and completely, yeah humbling, like the opportunity to you know, actually I suppose try and serve, y’know my community. Like that was the first experience of doing that, it felt really big and important, and even though like what that looked like, was sort of taking like 10 people to a queer beer event down at like, the Eagle bar or something – yeah it felt important and good to do that.
L: I think they can be such important times in people’s lives, just that first queer beer at a bar –
S: Yeah, well we had a couple of international students who were American students um who were on exchange at La Trobe. And they, it’s really interesting, they were in the military, they were sort of like, economic conscripts I suppose. Y’know this was the time of the Iraq War and things like that, and um they’d had to, for financial reasons, join the military. And back at their home universities in, y’know like Kansas or something like that, they had to wear their full military uniforms to uni, to class – and they’d somehow managed to get into this exchange program to go to Bundoora in Melbourne. Like Kansas to Bundoora, what a weird, yeah, two places to go to. And I think that they felt this incredible sense of freedom of being able to explore their sexualities and not be wearing their like military fatigues to class. And um yeah that’s the one thing I remember feeling like really important and really grateful that I got the chance to help those guys have fun and get to know other people. And I always think about what happened when they went back to the States, like did they get shipped out to a war? And where are they? And yeah, I often think about those two.
R: While you were involved in this, you were also doing a law degree – I’m wondering if there was a capacity in that law degree to bring those concerns in? Those, I guess, your experiences and concerns from the union?
S: Um yeah I didn’t think there was much scope for me to like queer up property law or contracts or anything. And there probably is, y’know, for a brighter student. But um, yeah I was definitely, y’know, focusing more on my activism at that time than going deep into the texts. Now I wish that I could go back to Uni and y’know do some really interesting, uh y’know honors thesis on like anti-discrimination law and y’know gender identity or something like that. But um, yeah my main experience of being at law school was feeling like a complete alien [laughs] y’know like, yeah. Most law is about property rights, and that felt really like alienating yeah for somebody who spent 3 years doing a fine art degree and thinking about ways to express oneself. And then like going into the hard cold truth that most jobs that I might end up doing involve like helping protect somebody increase wealth at the expense of others. Yeah, it felt pretty unpleasant.
So I mainly just ignored the study at the time. I did do one subject that was called like, it was essentially the community legal center subject. It was about y’know concepts of poverty law, doing lawyering from a social justice perspective, in my last year of uni. I volunteered at the West Heidelberg community legal center, and that was a really, a really eye-opening experience. There’s a lot of people from the Horn of Africa living in the west Heidelberg area in very uh, inappropriate housing, so like 2-bedroom department of housing properties, and they’ve got very big families, or sometimes 2 or 3 quite large families living together. And um, I did a bit of like, I suppose law reform work would be overselling what I did as a student – but yeah, learning about what a project like that would look like, and I reflect back on that experience as something that probably shaped, y’know, what I’ve tended to do in my career. And so that felt really meaningful. Yeah, it didn’t feel like, I’ve always felt like my work and my sexual gender identity have had to be very separate. It’s only quite recently really, in the last 2 years, that I’ve tried to be more open at work and try and sort of merge those two parts of my life together.
L: Do you mind telling us a little about the work that you do?
S: Yeah um I’ve started going this really interesting job, um I’m working as the LGBTIQ outreach lawyer for St Kilda legal service. It’s a pilot project, goes for 2 years. Um, there hasn’t been a dedicated LGBTIQ outreach lawyer in Victoria before. There are a couple of lawyers in Queensland and NSW that do that work and there has been, y’know, great volunteer services or intermittent sort of outreach services, like Fitzroy legal service have done, and – I think we all know that there’s a need for that kind of work, to be done. And yeah, I’m just really excited about the opportunity to get it going, so yeah, its basically trying to meet the unmet legal need of the community. So at the moment I’m trying to keep the service as broad as possible, so if someone’s got a legal problem, they’re welcome to like, sit down with me at the Victorian Aids Council and like, talk about it. And if it falls within my area of expertise, I’ll have a red hot go at, y’know, opening a file and going down to court or whatever it might be with the person. Or if its something that, that’s outside of my area, I’ll try and set up a good referral and y’know work with the law firm or whatever it might be, to make sure that they’re y’know providing an inclusive service, and that they’re not accidentally really alienating somebody and making them walk away. Cos I think a lot of queer and gender diverse people have a lot of legal issues that they actually don’t address. So you can have fines build up, or y’know, not get around to the change of name stuff cos its hard, and y’know, its tiring. Yeah I just really want to be able to offer a service where I can help people and um, yeah its been going really well so far. So that’s really, really interesting [laughs]. I dunno if you can use the word ‘bless’ in a secular way, but I do feel blessed about the work that I’ve got the chance to do at the moment. Cos like, I think y’know, everyone is really interesting and deserves the best quality service that they could get if they had, y’know, thousands of bucks to spend on it, and its great that this is a free service. And I get to help people without having to worry about whether or not they can afford a lawyer and things like that, so that’s really cool.
L: How might people contact you, if that was something they wanted to do?
S: Oh, they could just call the Victorian Aids Council and ask to speak to me. Or they could call St Kilda Legal Service, yeah I think my contact details are on the St Kilda Legal Service website, so just maybe jump on there. Yeah.
R: Is there a place that is particularly meaningful to you, and would you mind describing that?
S: I live in, I’ve moved sort of out west recently, and I’m really loving getting to know Footscray, and I spend most of my time when I lived in Melbourne in the sort of like, Coburg, Brunswick area. Yeah the one place that really springs to mind as like the most meaningful to me, is that intersection in Fitzroy North where Piedemonte’s is and the Pinnacle, and it’s like right up Northside Clinic and Mind Equality Center – just around there. But that intersection, St. Georges Road, and Scotchmer street, I think – I used to catch the bus, the 250 to Uni, and I think it went down Holden st, which is near there, but you get the idea. Um, I spent a lot of time going up and down there in my first year of Uni, and I just felt so incredibly happy [laughs] to have left Perth, and to be in Melbourne. And, y’know, I was living in a really dive-y sharehouse that was on a slant, and I was always freezing, I didn’t have a jacket, and I wasn’t properly acclimatized, and I had no money cos I didn’t have a job. I was on youth allowance and things were quite grim in some ways, but I was so happy. And yeah there’s just something about that intersection. I couldn’t have even afforded to shop at Piedemonte’s [laughs] at that time. Like, no way. But yeah there’s something, I don’t even go to the Pinnacle, I don’t even think I’ve even had a drink there. But yeah I feel very warm toward that particular building, that weird triangular building. Yeah.
L: Do you remember a time that you first started engaging with gender? Can you remember a thought, or is it something you felt had always been with you, or?
S: Yeah, I definitely was at my most comfortable with my gender when I was very, very young. I knew that I wasn’t a girl, y’know, I chose the name ‘Sam’ for myself, which was not the name that I was given at birth. And um, I had my hair cut very short when I was, y’know, really young, like 5 maybe. Y’know, I really thought of myself as a boy, and that there’d been some sort of weird mistake and that y’know when I was 18, I was going to get a sex change, as my Mom had called it at the time [laughs]. We don’t use those terms really anymore, but that’s, that’s how she sort of talked to me about it. Yeah I remember feeling a lot of, yeah, suffering about it. Perhaps when I was around the age of 6, cos we moved to Australia when I was 6 I kind of have pretty strong memories of that time, and I just remember having these like awful nightmares, really gender-related, of like having boys and men on one side of this staircase, and like, girls and women on the other side. And the girls had these like tinkly kind of triangles and things, and over on the boys side there were boxes, and really heavy things, and it was quite awful noise – like this ‘dooon dooon’ noise on that side, and y’know it was just this sort of like, feeling of confusion and not knowing what to do. Yeah, so its definitely something that I have experienced for a long time.
When we moved to Australia things changed, y’know, really for the worst for me in that sense. Y’know the school that I went to was like, really not okay with me having short hair, and wanting to call myself Sam. It was really considered to be a problem that needed to be addressed. Yeah my dad gave me an ultimatum that I had to either grow my hair or start wearing a pleated skirt to school, in year 3. So Year 2 I’d gotten away with the short hair and the trackies, and Year 3 I had to switch it up, and so he gave me that ultimatum on like, the first day of my, y’know summer holidays. So of course I chose the skirt, because it was for so far away. And I remember like the first day of Year 3, I was meant to wear the skirt, and I just was refusing to wear it, and it was an awful fight. And at that point I agreed to grow my hair, y’know, so eventually I had long hair, and I had long hair until I was about 16. Y’know, I was really trying [laughs] to be a girl. Um, y’know I’m not the most, I wish I’d had more fight in me I guess. I never fit in, and I was always tomboy-ish, but I was actually trying my best to be a girl. I was just always falling off the mark somehow [laughs]. Yeah
R: So you chose ‘Sam’ when you were really young. How did your family take it, did they use the correct name?
S: Um, no [laughs]. Not really
R: So they also refused to –
S: Yeah. Yeah with my name, called myself Sam in England. That’s how I thought of myself, its hard for me to remember whether anyone called me that or not, but certainly yeah, when I was in Australia that wasn’t an option. So I had my birth name until I was, yeah, up until I was 21, 22 – when I changed my name here in Melbourne. I sort of socially changed my name, and then I changed my name with Births, Deaths, and Marriages in 2008 I think it was. So yeah, spent a lot of time with my birth name. Yeah, I feel quite sad about the name. I’ve actually changed my name twice – I changed my first name, and then I changed my surname actually not that long ago, I think it was about 2 and a half years ago now. Hard to think about, its like, sort of like shedding a skin [laughs] or something, and I’m very much, yeah much more comfortable with my name now. Yeah, when I see people from the past who might know me, y’know either as my different first name, or my different surname, it does create a sort of a bit of stress and confusion, like are people going to know who I am, or do they think I’m sketchy? I feel like people think I’m sketchy because I’ve changed my name twice. Particularly in the world of like lawyering and things like that, I think that they think that, oh somebody who changes their name twice, like that’s somebody who’s very unwell. That’s something they would do. So yeah, I feel quite weird about the whole thing.
L: I have that concern as well, working in the welfare sector, that I might run into a young person or another worker that knew me by another name, and the confusion and kind of suspicion that that brings up? It’s not that suss, I swear –
R: I guess its kind of like, continuous with the way that trans people are often cast as deceivers or, y’know, like a kind of um… It’s interesting, I recently went through that process with Births, Deaths, and Marriages, and I don’t know the reason for this, but it strikes me as particularly apt given this conversation, that they said on the form that you can only change your name three times. Um, otherwise you have to get like special permission – from who, I have no idea. But like, it’s weird that, yeah it’s like oh no you’ve used up all your chances.
S: I know, it’s like if you don’t have your identity right by the third go, then you’re just stuck with it.
R: It’s bizarre.
L: I thought it’s strange as well that they ask you the reason for the name change.
R: Yeah. And lots of anxiety around, what do I have to say to get it approved, because I don’t really wanna have to write – y’know, why should I have to justify myself in that way, and y’know –
S: It’s weird, because…I guess by putting on my lawyer hat, like I assume the reason the government doesn’t want people to just change their name, is because they want to be able to follow people when they’re creating debts. And that it’s all about debt and y’know things like that, and its like you’re not going to write on the form: I wanna change my name cos I wanna like, do a personal phoenix out on my life, and like start a new bank account. Like, as though you’re gonna provide that reason if that was your genuine reason. So what do they even say no to? It’d be interesting to find out what they’d reject. Cos yeah, I do have people ask me, what should I write in there? And I’m like, write whatever you want. Why would they say no, y’know?
L: There’s a tip on the form that I used, and people should know that you can just write, ‘I’m known in the community as this name’
R: That’s – that’s a good one
L: I’m not sure if you remember, or if you wanna share, but do you remember as a child thinking about choosing that name? Do you remember that process?
S: Yes, I chose it cos it was quite similar to my birthname. I remember when I was little, I called myself Sam Allen, which was quite similar to my uh first name and my middle name, at that time. And um, yeah my uncle’s name is Allen, so I think that’s where I got the idea for that. But yeah, I don’t know why I specifically chose Sam, I do think it was quite similar to my birthname, and I’ve always just, I don’t consider this to be particularly good, good personal trait – but I do feel like I’m just a massive compromiser in life. And have always tried to find the kind of, easiest way of doing things for other people. Yeah, so I suspect that, it’s just like, oh you’ve just gotta like, y’know take off just a couple of letters, and then its just the same name! You know, I feel like if I’d have had a different personality maybe I’d have chosen like, y’know, Tyrannosaurus or something like that. Yeah.
L: Do you feel like in Melbourne or wherever really, that you’re part of a trans community?
S: Yeah, yeah I mean that’s quite new to me. I’ve been, like, I started identifying as nonbinary maybe 4 years ago, when I was in Sydney. I was involved for one year with this wonderful group called Camp Out, which puts on camps for queer and questioning youths, up in rural NSW. And I got involved in the organizing committee for that, and um, meeting a whole bunch of people that got things like a pronoun name-around thing, y’know, even though I was quite involved in the queer community in some ways, I think I’d sort of like, aged out – and wasn’t really going to anything, and y’know just in a very quiet domestic relationship, and wasn’t really that exposed to that stuff. And then I decided I wanted to volunteer my time to do this, and yeah I met a whole bunch of people there who were transgender, nonbinary, y’know, used pronouns in sort of more creative ways, and when we actually put on the camp – which was incredibly nerve wracking for me, cos um, it felt really big and important to have responsibility for all of these young people and their poor little hearts [laughs] um.
And yeah they would like change their pronouns on a daily basis and change their names, and y’know, be like, I’m just going to identify only as a symbol today. Yeah it was really cute and interesting, and I was incredibly moved by just how, y’know I find it quite patronizing when people talk about trans people being brave, cos sometimes it’s just like, well its just – I dunno, suggesting that it’s just bravery is like suggesting that there’s a choice in the matter, or something like that? But I did feel really in awe of, y’know, like a 15-year-old’s absolute resilience and bravery coming from regional New South Wales, and saying, naw, I’m this person. This is who I really am. And I didn’t do that when I was their age, and y’know, I was 30 at that time. Y’know, I was using female pronouns, I was certainly using female pronouns at work. Yeah, that kind of, I felt like I’d had the gauntlet thrown down by those young people. I was like, if they can do it, I can do it.
So I started using they/them pronouns in my personal life, and I’d considered medically transitioning with hormones like many times, on and off, over the last 10 years. But it was only in really in the last 3 months that I’ve actually started taking T, and y’know, actually doing something of a medical transition. I don’t really know how, what that’s going to look like for me in a few months, its very new, and yeah. Like, I’ve been involved, like on Facebook with the, there’s like a shed group on Facebook, and that’s been incredibly important. I never thought I’d be the kind of person that would be like, I have to be on Facebook, because I have to be in this like, weird little group. But yeah, more than anything that’s available online or in terms of meetings and things like that, that like little Facebook group – and I don’t even, I’m not really that involved in it, I’m definitely like, a bit of a lurker. But um, just reading about people’s experiences, that does make me feel very connected. Cos I think taking hormones and changing your body in some way, is profoundly lonely, and yeah that’s definitely given me the greater sense of community, even though I haven’t quite managed to like, show my face and go to a meeting or anything like that. Maybe I will by the time this comes out.
R: Do you mind telling us a bit about what prompted you, 3 months ago, if you’ve been thinking about it for 10 years?
S: Yes, I can answer both of those questions! Um, I had been thinking about it for a very long time, but I’d always – when people asked me about that stuff, I’d say that I felt very sad that, y’know, hormone treatments or, y’know the trans and gender diverse community was not a thing that I had access to, or certainly didn’t feel like I had access to when I was a young person, and that had I’d been 16 in 2016, then I probably would have transitioned. But I felt like I was too old, I felt like it would be a genuine existential threat to my career, I felt like I didn’t want to talk to my family about it, and so it was better to just not do it, than actually have that conversation. Yeah, I definitely thought of it as something that I should have done, but couldn’t do. And um, I saw this amazing performance when I was in Sydney, at the beginning of the year. It was called, uh, Wild Bore, or Wild Bores, and it was a comedy performance, mainly by these 3 funny female comedians talking about, like, stupid shit that men say to them in the reviews about their comedy. And its, y’know, the first part of it is about, kind of like sexism and stuff, but in the third or final act, a transgender or gender diverse person, who was, y’know wearing a binder, and practically like naked on stage, but for that – was doing this kind of like, counter-performance during the performance about, y’know, their sort of unthinking whiteness and their unthinking cisgenderedness. Y’know, it was kind of like critiquing the performance from within the performance. Which was interesting, but I was just like blown away by the fact that there was y’know somebody who I was perceiving, was representing a transgender person on stage, without their clothes on. I was just like, completely moved by that. Y’know, I remember like, I went to sleep and woke up, 3 or 4 in the morning, and was just like, crying – I was extremely upset, and I felt like, this is something I have to do. And that, it just felt really clear to me, that it was something that had to happen.
And then as the weeks and months happened, I went back and forward on that, but yeah really had clarity after that moment. I don’t even know who that person was who did that performance. I should really Google it, and be like, thank you for being so amazing. But um, yeah it was definitely a big moment.
L: I was just going to ask how your process has been, about, how your process has been going through channels to get access to hormones?
S: It’s been incredibly good. And I do feel really grateful and really shocked by how easy its been for me, living in, y’know, the inner suburbs of Melbourne and having the right language and the right, y’know – enough money to get public transport around and stuff. But yeah, its basically been incredibly easy to access services, went down to Equinox, and y’know, probably waited a little while for an appointment. When I spoke to the doctor about it, y’know we had a bit of a chat about my history and y’know, I’d been having some counselling at a specialist service already about the kind of, thinking about it. Y’know he was just sort of saying, you’ve really done everything that I would suggest that you do. Like, y’know, you’ve really ticked it all off, like do you wanna start taking T or not? And I was just sort of like, oh I thought there was another step, like some sort of gateway. Obviously, there’s blood tests and stuff like that, but really it was just incredibly quick. I was a bit thrown by that, cos I was like, oh this will be a process that I start, and there’ll be some sort of 3 or 4 gateways, or y’know barriers in my way, and I’ll have to get some sort of psychiatrist to tick me off or something. That didn’t really happen.
And then, the one thing I will say, is that, when I had to go to the pharmacy to pick my prescription up, that was really difficult. That was incredibly difficult, and I’m somebody who doesn’t, y’know cry a lot or easily, I’m not somebody who likes to express emotion in public, but y’know, I was really crying on the street like about some of the things that had happened when I was attempting to just get the prescription. I really should’ve just like, left it for a few days and went I felt more sort of like, together, gone to a pharmacist and… but yeah like the first place I went to, the person was like, oh we would need quite a while to get that. And I didn’t really understand the process. Yeah I went to a second place, and they were like, oh we don’t do that here. And I’m still very confused by all this – I’m like, really there are some pharmacies that don’t order stuff in for people? And then the third pharmacy I went to, they would get it in for me, but I had to wait a few days.
And, y’know, which I do understand now is a thing, and that they have to order it from somewhere and it takes a few days to come in. but I didn’t understand that, and I felt incredibly discriminated against, and I do do anti-discrimination law, and I was like, am I? Is this a moment I’m having, have a become the client and I’m genuinely being denied services? I still don’t’ know the answer to that. But yeah, what I would love for there to be, is not just a medical practice like a GP, but a pharmacist and like a pathology lab, cos you know, I got my bloods done for the first time to check the levels of T and all the other stuff you need to check, and that was an incredibly nerve wracking experience, cos you’ve got to hand over your bit of paper that says that you’re on testosterone. And, y’know, you don’t know how that person is going to respond, and y’know, when you’re in a pathology lab, I mean I certainly was the only person in there. I’d just gone in straight after lunch, and I was really scared, and y’know, the person who did take my bloods was just polite and friendly, and there was no drama at all. But it was so nerve wracking anyway. So I can’t imagine how upsetting it must be if anything bad actually did happen. Cos like, if you can’t get your bloods taken, that’s really like, unsafe.
So I really hope that in the next couple of years, that we can have, y’know a more sort of clustered, allied health service, because like when you start taking T, all of a sudden you’ve got all of these medical things. Like I’m not somebody who goes to the doctor very often, but now y’know, I have to get my bloods taken, go back to the doctor and check in, I’m seeing a counsellor about my mental health – all of which is great stuff, but it’s just like, whoa my life has become really medical. And it’s taking time out of my day, and y’know it’s really important for me to remain in work. That’s what I wanna keep doing, and its actually really hard to juggle all of the things that you have to do, around working full-time, and then like having mild panic attacks about the way you’re going to be treated everywhere, does make life a bit harder. Sorry that was a very long answer to –
L: A lot of what you’re saying I feel like reflects how I feel. The blood tests, in particular. I feel like I’m pretty responsible about my health, but I avoid, I push out the shot, because I avoid getting the blood test. Which is not how I want it to be.
R: I think so much of it, um, is also – it shouldn’t be the case, but it seems to be that word of mouth, right. Like, I’ll like the pathologist I go to, and I’ll mention it to Lee, y’know because she’s always great and doesn’t blink, and is like, actually tells me you should get tested in the morning because your testosterone levels drop. And I don’t know this stuff! And she just volunteers that. Throughout the last like, almost 2 years for me, but like if you don’t – or like if Chemist Warehouse runs out, I’ve been lucky enough that they’ll just be like, let me check on the computer, go to Barkly Square and get it. But like, that’s the kindness of that one person. And otherwise you like, yeah you’re just stuck there, being like why is this happening, like how are they reading me, are they just completely – yeah, avoiding to serve me? And its also, I’ve found at least, that all those calculations like you’re constantly making, to be like, whys this happening, or like, can I go there – which person is going to serve me, which person would I want to serve me and why am I making these assumptions about who looks more queer, or y’know. All that stuff is so tiring.
S: Yeah, totally. Yeah I have thought that, waited at particular counters. Oh I’ll look at the head lice treatment for a little while [laughs] so that the person who I want to be served by, comes back to the counter and then… yeah, like why should I choose one person over another. So, yeah.
L: If we’re doing a shoutout though, I know some doctors at Equinox told me, and I have had very good experiences at Chemist Warehouse on High St in Northcote.
S: Good tip – I’ll be going there.
R: So you talked a bit before about the queer community. How do you see the queer community and the trans community? Do you see them as one?
S: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I guess I’ve always identified as being part of the queer community, always, or y’know for a long time identified as queer. And, y’know, when I was younger, I was involved in like putting on queer events, I was involved in running a pub night in Brunswick called Orlando a few years ago. And yeah for a while there I was really involved in fun queer stuff. Then I feel like I got old – then I got old and died! [laughs] No yeah, I had a very quiet few years. And I was also working in the country for a little while, I was up in the NT. And when I came back to Melbourne and was thinking about my identity a bit differently, and I was identifying more with the trans and gender diverse community, I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of really interesting stuff that younger people are doing. Like I went to that Transpire performance event here at the Dock, in Docklands [laughs] shoutout to Docklands –
And um, yeah it was really impressive and really interesting, and it’s not, I don’t feel like I’m part of that community because I don’t know any of those people. And I feel like I’m a decade and a half older than most of them, and so I don’t really feel like I’m part of – yeah I feel like I’m too old to be part of the like queer community that goes out drinking and partying. I, y’know, was one of those people, but I just like, can’t abide a like weekend-long hangover now. And I wanna go to bed at 11:30PM at the latest, for the rest of my life [laughs] Like nothing would make me happier than that happening. So yeah, I don’t really think that I have like a community, I suppose I’m aware of communities, and I think they’re really lovely and really interesting, but I don’t necessarily think about any of them as mine or for me. I feel a bit of a drifter, yeah.
L: Talking a bit about trans representation in the media. Do you feel like that’s an important thing?
S: Um, I guess its an important thing –
L: It’s a bit of a leading question, the way I phrased it just then! Anyway –
S: I think that the things that have been most meaningful to me in my life, in terms of like, cultural stuff, would be books more than TV or like pop culture type stuff. Y’know, I’m aware that there’s more transgender and gender diverse representation in the popular media, but I’m not really interested in y’know the Kardashians or what they’re doing, I don’t really feel like that’s my universe. For me, I think probably the most important like queer book that I ever read was like The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp, which is about a flamboyant homosexual man in the 40s in London. And that got made into a like telemovie in the 80s – that’s probably like my ultimate, sort of like queer text. And its, y’know, about a very sort of, camp and feminine but cisgendered male, which is not exactly my identity, so yeah I can imagine that if there was stuff that was more reflective of my personal experience, I’d probably would be really into it. And I’d probably be immensely grateful for it. But I do also think that, I dunno if it’s just me, but sometimes when I find out that people that have had a very similar experience to me in some ways, have created some sort of content or media or book, I’m just like, I can’t even read that – because its too much. It’s like, you become so unused to seeing yourself represented that the idea of being represented almost feels like, ahhh. I can’t handle it. Yeah, I haven’t really thought about that before, so I dunno if that makes sense.
R: I was just wondering if there’s like, some sort of, maybe not community but network of trans and gender diverse lawyers?
S: There isn’t. And I’ve been thinking about that recently. We really do need some sort of trans and gender diverse lawyers’ network. I’m not sure how many there would be? And, y’know, I’m sure there’s some, and yes I would love to know them. Obviously most lawyers, like don’t actually practice in court, but for the ones that do, its y’know, court is a very archaic and gendered space. And it’s not really fun being in court when you’re nonbinary, because y’know, as a lawyer you’ll either get called Ms. or Mr. They’re your options. So I get called ‘Ms’ in court, and I find that really jarring and annoying, and when I was a duty lawyer, I’d constantly be getting paged over the loudspeaker to like, y’know – and this would happen sort of like 15-20 times a day. And I know that people aren’t trying to offend me, but it’s a constant source of like – ugh!
Yeah I’ve been chatting with people about the idea that it’d be really great to get like a different title for lawyers practicing in Victoria or Australia. Like, it’d be really awesome if I was called like, ‘Advocate’ instead of ‘Mr.’ or ‘Ms.’ I heard Ro Allen speak recently, whose been doing some work training magistrates and judges around being more LGBTIQ inclusive, and I think that there is probably an appetite for change, but the law is not the forefront of change. I mean, y’know, I suppose it can be in some ways, but y’know, this is a place where people still dress up in wigs, and y’know, for the most part it’s still the case that most judges are y’know, white, cisgendered, wealthy, and male. And, yeah, our legal system is reflective of that, so I certainly feel like an outsider. And I do feel like I do need to, like check my identity at the security door when I go in. And y’know, doing my job well is really important to me, and in reality that means going back into the closet and just accepting being called she, she, she. Like 40 to 50 times a day. And just like, copping that, cos I want to do a good job.
R: This is something that I’ve been thinking about, I identify as nonbinary and use they/them pronouns. And I’ve been wondering if you would, kind of knowing that change is going to happen very, very slowly, feel more comfortable to – in those spaces at least – using he/him pronouns?
S: Yeah, I have thought about that. It’s something that I don’t have any peace with at the moment, because I really am committed to they/them, and nonbinary. I don’t want, and y’know, I might feel differently in 12 months, and certainly no judgment to anyone who feels any other way, but yeah I wanna remain in the middle, or somewhere else, that isn’t one thing or the other. I have thought, wow there is going to be changes to my appearance, or the way that I’m perceived, that might mean that people might feel more comfortable calling me ‘he’ or ‘him.’ And I do think that I would find that less, like dysphoric, being called he/him, like I have no issue being called that, it’s just that it never happens. So it’s just this curious notion that that would happen. Yeah, I don’t want to throw like, my identity under the bus, by being like, okay just call me ‘he’ then. You know? Cos I do think that, like in my workplace, or even in court, like I think that if I really was, say working in a local regional court, where y’know you have the benefit of getting to know your bench, and getting to know your registrars and stuff – I think if I’d said to them, look here’s the deal. I’m a transgender male, and my pronouns are he and him: I think apart from a few outliers, people would call me he/him. But what about they/them? Y’know? It feels impossible. So I’m not really sure what to do about that.
R: Yeah, I think I’ve been finding it also – constantly having to make these little decisions – but that there are certain institutions that will recognize ‘X’ or ‘nonbinary’, and there are some that still only use ‘male’ or ‘female.’ Then another problem becomes, is it weird that like, should I change it to ‘M’ on Medicare for instance, but then the University recognizes ‘trans,’ the bank – no the bank is still binary, but like…then you have all these documents that kind of don’t match up, and like is that going to be a problem? Or do I just like wait until Medicare becomes a bit more progressive? And like your passport can be ‘X,’ but Medicare can’t be – there’s all these different things to juggle and understand.
S: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s really tiring, yeah I just got my passport – I finally got my passport changed into my new name, and I was so happy about that. And then I saw the little ‘F’ on there – and I was like, ahh fuck it. I really should’ve done something about this, but then the idea of having ‘X’ and like travelling through countries where, y’know you may quite reasonably or unreasonably, but you may well get detained and strip searched, and I don’t want that to happen. And I basically want my life to be as easy as possible. And I probably could spend, like a weekend just sitting down and y’know going to Medicare, and doing all the online forms, and getting all my documents certified and like sent off to change my gender marker with a whole of institutions. But like, I just can’t be bothered [laughs] – its just like, life is hard enough. And I just feel like, I really feel like there should be some sort of like life admin day, y’know? Where everyone just comes together and like, gives over their documents to somebody else, and it’s just like – can you just do this for me, and I’ll do this for you?
R: That would be so good –
S: That’s the thing about being a lawyer – I can do other people’s paperwork, no worries. But when it comes to mine, I can’t even look at it. And I’ve just got this dangerously alarming pile of paperwork in my room, that’s always threatening to go into the dog bowl. And yeah, I’m just like, I should be able to smash this. Like I have the training, I have the skills to smash this, and I can’t do it. So yeah, I’m not surprised that many other people’s paperwork is all over the place as well.
R: How do you see being nonbinary, related if at all to other parts of your identity?
S: Well, I certainly think about it a lot in terms of like, feminism and the politics of wanting to not live in a toxic rape culture. Yeah, like I don’t want to throw my, y’know, female friends, lovers, colleagues, things like that, under the bus, by trying to reject certain parts of myself that are more feminine or more soft or gentle, and I do feel like the process of transitioning, I do have a lot of, kind of like questions about what it means to be…y’know cos when you’re read as female, I’ve got short hair, and I assume people think that I’m a feminist? Like, if you take away that sort of physical marker of what people think that a feminist looks like, then y’know, how do you behave differently? In one context when you’re read as female, being y’know, really fiery and prepared to like, argue a point – y’know, is considered to be a really kind of like brave and awesome thing to do. And then if you’re read as male, are you just like, taking up space and being a complete dick? I’ve been thinking about that a lot. In terms of nonbinary identity and, I mean, I think the main other identity that I have is – I mean, obviously I’m a white person living in a colonial settler state, and I’m very aware of that – yeah to what extent that relates to being nonbinary…I guess I could have a political analysis of that, and that, y’know, the British government brought in a very binary, kind of like, notion of man and woman and the legal system, and y’know, if you look at the women’s’ prison camps in Tassie, and y’know there’s an incredibly gendered history of Australia. And being an immigrant in my own lifetime, from Britain – I feel very, very aware and conscious of that history of colonization that perhaps people that were born here, don’t think about as much? I don’t feel like, I mean I don’t wanna not think about, but I don’t feel like I’ve had the opportunity to not think about it in the way that this kind of collective forgetting goes on here.
But yeah, I do very much identify as someone who’s from a working-class background. I think that most people that I’ve met since I’ve moved out of my working-class area of Perth, have been uh, y’know, middle class, upper middle class. Um, they might be at the moment, doing it tough because they’re doing PhDs or whatever, but y’know, ultimately they’re set to inherit quite a lot of wealth. And that’s very different to my experience, and so I feel like for me, the biggest barrier to transitioning other than family was money. And like, being able to maintain employment, and I feel like if I was from a different class background, that wouldn’t be the biggest worry? Yeah, I just feel like other people I know don’t worry about that in the way that I do.
R: What do you think are the big issues facing the gender diverse community in Melbourne or Australia today?
S: So many. And yeah, cos of doing this job, I feel like I’ve been really alive to do this stuff at the moment. I went to a family violence workshop thing the other day, and some people were talking about the fact that there’s no queer or gender diverse youth refuge in Victoria at the moment. And I think that would be a wonderful thing to get going. I would really like to see that happen, I really want that to happen. I’m really passionate about housing, do tenancy law and things like that. Yeah, when you, y’know, you’re in court for people when they’re getting evicted, and you have to say to them: so you’ve lost your house, you need to be out by the end of the day, but I don’t know where you’re gonna go, but here’s a telephone number. And you have to walk out, like you really know that there’s something terrible going on with the state of housing in Australia. So for me, yeah I think that having a place for trans and gender diverse young people to go that’s safe, where they’ll be supported emotionally and physically during that really difficult time, I just think would be really, really important.
But um, there are so many issues. Y’know, I desperately wanna see the Births, Deaths, and Marriages, the birth certificate changes so that you can, y’know, you can change your gender marker without having reproductive surgery. I mean, at the moment you’re legally required, and I do think they fudge this sometimes, but to have surgery to your reproductive organs. I mean, how often do people do that? I mean, they do that sometimes, but that is financially out of the question for most people, I would say, and its also not something that most people want. I mean, y’know, not that there’s any like, normal, but y’know – many people would take hormones, and they would have chest surgery, but they wouldn’t have genital-altering surgery, or they wouldn’t necessarily as a first step have a hysterectomy. Whereas the law is basically saying that if you want your gender marker changed, you need to do one or both of those things. And, y’know, I would consider that to be forced sterilization. So yeah, I think that is an urgent law reform issue.
L: I’m just wondering if you were to say what the best thing about being trans is?
S: Yeah, I do think that being trans, gender diverse, and queer, led me out of Perth. I think that if I had been a straight, cisgendered woman, to be honest, I probably would’ve had kids, possibly a pretty large drug problem, and probably would be living, y’know, within a stone’s throw from where I grew up. Which is certainly not where I wanted to be. And that was not the life that I wanted. So, yeah, I do feel like I haven’t had the chance to uh, get stuck in a small town or small city that I didn’t want to be in. And I’ve met the most amazing people. Like, in the last 20 years. Like I’ve had a great life, I really have. I’ve been really lucky. And, y’know, I keep meeting really amazing people – like you two – y’know, like what a great opportunity.
R: If you could tell a younger trans or gender diverse person something today, what would it be?
S: They should tell me something [laughs]. I feel like young trans and gender diverse people are like, know more than I do. They do – they know who they are, and what they want, and they are actually doing it. And I just think that’s awesome. I think we’ve got so much to learn from younger people, and I’m just really impressed by them, and all I want them to tell me is to stop being patronizing when I’m like, ‘you’re so adorable!’
S: Cos its really annoying, and I know it is, and I don’t wanna be like that.
R: That’s a wonderful thing to say to a younger trans and gender diverse person today. And I guess, to turn it around, if you could tell an older trans or gender diverse person something today, what would it be?
S: Oh, I mean definitely thank you. Y’know, I know that here’s a very small amount of people that’ve done some extraordinarily hard work and have just been themselves under exceptionally difficult circumstances. And y’know, I may not know their stories, but I know enough about life to know that it must’ve been incredibly difficult. And I’m just really impressed, and I’m just immensely grateful that those people have done what they’ve done.