3rd July 2018:
Lee and Ryan chat with Esther, who uses he/him pronouns, at his workplace in North Melbourne. Esther shares his experiences working as a union organizer, his involvement in trans-related groups or activities like The Shed and The Gender Agenda radio show on Joy FM, and tells us about the important people in his life. Esther also chats about cats, activism, how going to the gym has been great for his general well-being, and how coming out at work has been an eye-opening experience.
L: So we’re here today on the 3rd of July, and we’re here with Esther
L: And maybe we can just kick off and you could tell us your age and your pronouns?
E: I am 30, and my – I had to think about that – and my pronouns are he/him/his.
L: And this is a complicated question, but what kind of things do you like?
E: [laughs] Well I like what I do for a living, I get paid to be an activist, and I think that’s really, I keep pinching myself, even though I kinda love hate it, but that’s fine. I like going to the gym, and I like Adventure Time the cartoon, it’s amazing, I just started watching another show called Everything Sucks, and its really cute because it has a baby gay and she talks about liking Tori Amos, and it’s just adorable. I like my cats, I like my partners. I dunno, I like lots of stuff.
R: Can you tell us a bit more about your job?
E: Yep, so I work as a union organizer at United Voice, and I work specifically for the members of the casino, which is the biggest union workplace in the country. Which we’re pretty excited about saying. So, in that work, like my, the big thing that I do is run a team to build union power. What that looks like for each kinda individual, and at different times, in the sort of 3-4-year cycle, really varies. Basically the people at the casino are killing it, and they’re really awesome, and I work for them.
L: Awesome. And how’d you get involved in that?
E: I’d say that I have a history of different types of activism, but um, honestly I did not, I don’t think anyone really knows what fucking organizing for a labor union is, until you’re doing it. Like until you’re at least 6 months in. I just, I was like, oh that vaguely sounds like something that I could do – I’ll give it a go? And then it turned out to just be my calling, not that I really think that you necessarily have a calling, but it turned out to be something that really amazingly fits like a bunch of my values and priorities, and a bunch of my skills, and a bunch of stuff that I wanted to be more skilled at. But I do have a history as an activist, so, well…I went to Melbourne Uni and I was moonlighting as a student, but I was really involved in the student inion, and I was Women’s Officer for a couple of terms, which is increasingly awkward to say, uh cos I don’t look like your average Women’s Officer anymore. Which is really great. But yeah, I was Women’s Officer for a couple of terms, and got involved in this group called Activate, which I think has maybe now folded at Melbourne Uni, which is really sad. But at that time, it was like, we described ourselves as the radical left of the student union movement. Which like, I think that we were pretty pompous and pretty, I dunno, all the things that Melbourne Uni lets you be, like just kind of a massive tosser, and you think you’re really good for it. But I learned heaps of skills and I made some really special friends, and so that was cool. I liked that part. So I think I, y’know, I went from fairly painfully disorganized and like, short memory student organizing, um and kinda got a taste for it, and in particular got a taste for like, organizing and running protests and direct action, and how like empowering that is, and how amazing that is. And then stumbled across this union that is really into taking like, really green organizers, and teaching people how to do stuff, and maybe you stay on here, or maybe you go out to some other part of some progressive movement somewhere. And do it there, but its yeah
L: It’s awesome –
E: [laughs] Yeah I know, [laughs] I can’t believe it!
E: And I think, some of the people working here and in the leadership, are honestly some of the most effective, most committed, incorruptible, amazing people that are out there. Like, it’s not perfect at all, there’s some brutal things about this type of work, it’s really unforgiving, and you never switch off, and we work in 24-hour industries, so like our members middle of their day, is the middle of your sleep cycle, or your annual leave, or a date, or something like that. And you get interrupted all the time. But I think some of the people running our union are just pulling the movement up by the ear [laughs].
L: Like if you can work somewhere where you can describe the people you work with that way, then you’re really lucky [laughs]
E: [laughs] yeah
L: Can you tell us more about the cats?
E: Yes, I live with 2 cats, Silvy and Charlie. Charlie is an old lady now. It’s hard for everyone to get their head around that, but its true. She’s an old lady. She’s a little tortoiseshell, like quite small cat. And everyone thinks that she’s like, really charismatic, and really lovely, and totally innocent and Charlie – I mean charming – but actually she’s, I think quite seriously bullying Silvy. So Silvy’s like a very big, y’know, confused about her identity cat, like, she looks like she could be fancy, but she’s really not. Just doesn’t have her shit together at all [laughs].
L: Did you always have animals growing up, or is that a new thing?
E: Yeah, yep. I’m really sad to not live with a dog. And I haven’t lived with a dog for a really long time, and its shit. But we always had dogs, we had dogs when I was little, and then even when I like, moved out of my family home, um, I couldn’t have my dog permanently with me, but he came for visits like a lot of the time. Um yeah. I’ve had really special, special animals.
That one that I was just talking about is called Bruce, and he has died. Which is, y’know, part of what happens, but we had a little funeral for him and like spread his ashes on the beach where we used to go for walks, it was really cute, and everyone cried. But we all told stories and, about him, and sometimes when I think about it, I feel really like, actually quite sad for him, but also very grateful. Cos it seems like maybe he really spent his whole life absorbing everybody’s pain, like, he came into our house after my Mum had died, and my sister had fallen off the rails, and we’re semi-estranged cos she has lots of challenges. Um, and anyway, so he was there for part of like, when her, when she like first kind of collapsed in a heap of mental health stuff. Um, and yeah so I think he was absorbing all this pain from her, and I was this super angsty teenager and, y’know, my Mum had died and my sister was off the rails, and I had my own stuff going on, and he was like absorbing all of my pain I think.
And y’know, even some things with 2 of my brothers, it seems like he was really instrumental in keeping them, in helping them feel relaxed and comfortable. And then even at the end of his life, he lived with my oldest brother, who he had never lived with before, who was in the army and did 2 tours of Afghanistan, and so is just like in a world of PTSD hot mess. And yeah, I think that Bruce like, he [?] this period of time for Morgan as well, and we all told these stories that I didn’t know about until after he’d died. And it was just so full on, I just kinda keep thinking about, he had really soft ears, he’s a, um like Rottweiler German Shepherd guy from the pound. Very handsome. And very big. And had no idea, no self awareness about his size. He just thought it was totally cool to sit on your lap or something
L: That’s my favorite thing
E: [laughs] Big dogs that don’t fit where they try to go. And he was like, pretty good at reversing, but not good enough. He was too big, you can’t get around him in the hallway, so he’d like awkward reverse [laughs]. But yes, I just kinda think about his really beautiful soft ears absorbing all this stuff for people, when they like pat him and tell him about their woes.
R: Did you grow up in Victoria? Or Melbourne?
E: Yep. Um, I was born in Kyneton, which used to be a shit country town, but is maybe really hip now? I’m not sure. I think it’s getting really hip. We, like I went there for Primary School and then my Mum got really sick, and in my mind that correlates – maybe it doesn’t actually, but anyway – my Mum got really sick, we moved to the city. And then we moved back to Kyneton to be closer to her parents, who still lived there. Cos my grandma is basically like a second mom. And then back to the city, and I think that’s it. I think that’s how many times we did that. So I did like all of high school and stuff in Melbourne. Grew up playing around in the paddocks, my own little adventure land –
L: Is there a place that’s, anywhere really, that’s particularly meaningful to you?
E: I dunno, I mean there are, we are in my team room where I do lots of things to bring everyone up to speed, and do lots of work in the back of house of Crown. Um, and I don’t go there very often, but have lots of, y’know, lots of the feelings that probably most people have when I go to my Mum’s grave. But I don’t think so, there’s nowhere that special. Like when we were little we used to go to caravan parks for holidays. I don’t think there’s a particular caravan park that I remember, I just remember what it was like to stay in those plays, it was like all of us, all of my siblings in one bedroom and my parents in another. And I liked that. I think, cos I was little I have a really romantic idea of what that was like [laughs] if I tried to do that now, nooo [laughs]
R: Um, what is your relationship like now with your siblings?
E: Almost across the spectrum – like I don’t really hate any of them or anything like that, at all, I don’t hate any of them at all. And yeah, I’m semi-estranged from my sister. I say that because like, I don’t seek out time with her anymore. And I kinda made a conscious choice to stop doing that a while ago. But when she wants to, and when its, like actually good for her instead of just like this terrible trigger stress thing, we do see each other. But its pretty rare. I don’t know my little brother that well, my youngest brother. But I do really enjoy his company, he’s hilarious and very very honest and very very sweet, and there’s just no – there are layers, but there’s nothing to hide. Like, there’s no difficulty getting through, really deep into the layers really quickly, and that’s adorable. And he really likes board games, and I also really like board games.
Um, I’m really, I think I’m very close with my middle brother. We talk on the – he lives in Alice Springs now – he’s lived there for a few years. We talk on the phone a lot, about lots of stuff. Some of it, like really superficial, we talk about the gym or what’s going on at work, that’s not really that superficial, but whatever – and we talk about really deep feelings things, and its adorable. And I really like it. I feel like I’ve got to be part of his, like, learning emotion skills over the last few years, and its been amazing. And I think because he moved away and we had to only speak by phone, its somehow brought us closer. And I’m not particularly close with my eldest brother, he, I think, part of his experience of post-army and all the mental health stuff that’s going on, is that I don’t think he’s particularly close with anyone. I worry about him, and I do enjoy his company mostly when we hang out. He does some very annoying things though that he knows are very annoying. Like I can’t stand the sound of people chewing, I just have that – I think it’s a thing, as well. I got told that it’s a legitimate thing [laughs]
L: You’re valid
E: [laughs] yeah. But like there’s some sort of science term for it. Yeah the sound of people chewing, just like, you can’t cut it out, its just terrible. And I know that’s one of those things that I need to manage, and I do, but he’s terrible, he’s the worst.
R: As with all these questions, how you interpret it is, is totally up to you. Um, maybe this is like, not a very relevant question, but how would you describe your gender?
E: I don’t describe it very often. I’m trans, is what I usually say to people, I’m transgender. Um, sometimes now they ask me if I wanna, like in all sweet, from a very sweet place, they ask if that means that I wanna start wearing dresses soon? And I then I have to try to explain, no, I used to have to wear dresses, you wear dresses if you want it, that’s cool, but anyway. Sometimes that happens which is sweet and weird, and…whatever. Um, sometimes I tell people, like sometimes people ask me or they wanna talk about it or whatever, like I’m usually pretty open about it, and I describe myself as having like, having always been some kind of transgender person. And then I found some language and some healthcare stuff, and some ideas that helped me feel good about that, feel comfortable about that. Yeah, I describe myself as trans and as a trans man.
R: Do you have like, a clear kind of understanding or recollection of when these things became, kinda percolated and became part of a conscious understanding?
E: That is such a great – percolated is a great way to phrase it. And I will now use that sometimes, and pretend like it was my idea [laughs]
E: Um, yeah I mean there are, there is some stuff that’s just like feels like it was glacial or whatever, but there are some moments. I mean, like in the same way that when I was a baby Womens Officer, I told people this story, I kind of, or this example, I still use it now for this other reason. So maybe I’ll feel more sophisticated about it in the future and stop doing it again. But when I was little my Mum told me off for, she came to pick me up from Kinder, and she caught me, like playing like a child is supposed to play, so caught is a weird phrase, but she caught me playing in the sand pit with the best toys. Which are, you could sit in the truck thing and move some handles, and pick up sand, and like swivel it around and drop it. Amazing toy, if I found one now, I would play in it. Right? Yeah –
L: I’d be all over it [laughs]
E: Yeah [laughs]. Amazing toy, anyway she told me off and she told me they were for boys. And I didn’t know that I was allowed to be a boy or something? So then I thought that I was in trouble, and that it was wrong, and I was, I was manifestly in trouble, she was very upset with me. Um, she was always kind of on guard about my gender in a pretty, y’know, place that would’ve come from like love, but was very fearful and very awful. Um, so y’know, that kind of happened, and so there was some like conscious making sure she didn’t know about other behaviors and like, keeping a bunch of stuff kinda hidden or whatever. But yeah, not for a very, very long time. Um, like um y’know when I was at Uni, I was y’know very proudly presenting as a like, pretty angry butch dyke. And I think that was y’know the right thing for me at the time. But if I had known that some things around hormone healthcare and surgery healthcare were a real option, that that could be true for me, like I would’ve done it as soon as I – I mean, I did it as soon as I believed that that was a real option for me.
Some of my friends were trans at Uni, or like, came out at Uni, and did some healthcare things, and I think most of the time I just kinda like shut off any emotional response to that for me. Cos I think, yeah, I just didn’t believe it was for me. I dunno what happened, but something happened, and then I suddenly was just like oh no, I need to like emergency do something now, and so I wrote to one of those friends like on Facebook message. One of those friends. And was like um I want you to know that I like you and I want to hang out with you anyway, but also I have this going on, can we please meet up. And he made himself emergency available, and was really sweet and gentle, and I’m really, really grateful for that. And was just like, oh yeah, these are some things you can do. And it was really straightforward, and that was pretty cool. But I don’t know what happened to make me write that message, but it like, felt very suddenly very urgent. And then like, between that and every minute of time, like til my first shot of T, and then til y’know I had a little teeny tiny fucking chin hair, and some other things, and like every little bit was like, grinding against my soul. Yeah. Couldn’t have happened fast enough, and it was still pretty fast.
R: You mentioned um, your, that experience of the sandpit, I’m just wondering if you’ve experienced kind of – to a probably lesser degree, but a similar kind of policing now that you present as masculine?
E: Yeah. So the way I kinda describe it, is like, I wriggled into some skin that fits better. And I did that through some like healthcare measures. Calling them healthcare measures, like I’m a union organizer, my language is not an accident – its like, putting it like that’s what I think it is, and I think it’s politically important to recognize that that’s what that is. Um but I think, y’know, important in our communities to try to even the plain with people who don’t need that kind of healthcare, and the legitimacy of their gender expressions and their experiences. Anyway, yes. I experience policing, I have a different experience of it now, because I’m not set by it. I don’t find it particularly validating, but I just feel, I think I, cos I feel so secure in myself, I find it mostly funny and occasionally a little bit sad. Mostly sad for that person.
Like today, I was eating my lunch which was a delicious lasagna that I brought from home cos I made it myself, cos sometimes on Sundays I’m so grown up I make lunches for the week, uhhh, some older women who I work with, who are wonderful in many ways – who, y’know, do lots of the things that people who are like them are expected to do, around policing food and being shameful around food and all this fucking stuff. Um, anyway one of them was like, did you make that? With this really accusatory language, because I don’t think that she knows, she, I don’t think she knows that I’m trans. And I think she gets really mixed signals from me about whether I’m some kind of queer and whether I am straight, or something like that. So I don’t think she quite knows what to make of me. But anyway, she was like, did you make that? Yeah, she had this really accusatory language around did I make this lunch. And I was like yeah, and then I started talking about the recipe. And then because it was like, I think a disappointing response, like she wanted to get down on me for not making my own lunch like a grown up, then she just started ragging on how hard lasagna is to make and why its such a waste of time, to like put all this effort [laughs] in to make, just like what the fuck, I can’t fucking win! And like that is a really minor thing, but those kind of things happen all the time, like people have, like y’know I am, I present in a way that people read as straight up and down dude, maybe until open my mouth sometimes, or sometimes much more so after I start speaking, depends on what kind of mood I’m in, I suppose, and what kind of space I’m in.
Uh, things like that happen all the time, and people have a set of really well-formed expectations before I start to speak. And y’know around like, even like the way that men talk to me now about like my body and about my size and about my weight and about the gym – is like really, really different. I get really celebrated for it and like, people are like, ahh did you put on another kilo, another 500g or something. And I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that question –
R: Sorry, are these just like random people you see at the gym, that think –
E: No, not at the gym – guys that know me
R: oh, right –
E: Like, maybe members, like members that know me at Crown, who’ve known me for a really long time, who’ve known me since I presented as like a um, butch dyke. Like who now like, a thing to get down about, to like have friendliness about, is like the gym or whatever. They’ll make comments about like my body and my size, and stuff like that all the time. And yeah. And its interesting [laughs]
I mean, I think lots of that for me, y’know I say this from like a place of quite manifest privilege, for me a really key thing has been to read the intention, not so much the execution. And its worked really well for me. And I think its really, if you can do it, if you’re in a place to be able to do that, its quite fair as well. People don’t come, get through, like any of their social or like formal education with a fucking radical view on gender, like [laughs]. They come with a set of rules that are really clear, and if you don’t stick to them, you’re in trouble.
L: Um, this is a bit of changing tracks, but who would you think of, when you think of people who are important in your life?
E: Hmm. There are lots of people. There are maybe some categories like: my partner who I live with, Mim. Partners in like a different way, like not romantic people, like Anj who I live with, and who I’d really like to live with forever. And you know, Jen, whose just like moved in with us, whose Anj’s partner, and kinda have a plan that we might do, about having this really cool life together, really important to me. And um I have also another partner who I don’t live with, Filly. There are lots of members in particular, delegates at Crown that are really important to me. Whose lives, like I’m y’know really involved in, in a sort of, y’know, in a way that is unique to this like union organizing relationship. Like, my Grandma is really important to me, but not in a way that if, like we don’t have a day to day or a week to week interaction. But she’s a really important person I think in part of who I am, and how I got to be this way.
L: Do you feel like you’re currently part of a trans community?
E: Hmm. Yes and no. So I wanted to feel more like I was part of a trans community, and so I got really involved in organizing in the Shed. There is an online space of the Shed on Facebook, if you are interested you can Google ‘The Shed Melbourne,’ or something like that. And there is a physical manifestation of that group with events that they do once a month, which is really cool. Its an amazing resource. I think, in particular for people who are new to some part of discovering themselves, whether its, y’know, seeking out like social information or healthcare or legal information or whatever. But also just finding – people often finding, my experience of it is like, people come and they find their person or their people, and then go away and make a life together, and maybe sometimes they dip back into the Shed, maybe not. Um, but that was kinda my experience of what I saw over a few years, and I think that that’s fucking wonderful.
So another thing that I did because I wanted to feel like I was more part of a thing, um, was I started doing a show on Joy, called The Gender Agenda, a radio show. With some really lovely people um called Beckah and Miranda and Rowan – and you can listen to The Gender Agenda on Joy 94.9 on Wednesday nights from 8 til 9? 9 til 10, I can’t remember. We had lots of podcasts up on the internet. Um so I really liked the show, but again I just was, y’know, producing a radio show is heaps of work and I wasn’t doing any of the work, and I started to feel some part of the guilt that I should feel for that [laughs] And it sucked the joy out of it for me. Um so I decided to step down for a while. But I do think I’ll be back to the show, cos it was so much fun.
L: What was the focus?
E: Well, our intention was to put some positive trans experience and trans dialogue into the world. So I think it is really important that lots of the hard truths are documented and uncovered, and shared, and discussed. But I also, in my experience, I’ve met lots of people who have not had really terrible things happen, but because that’s like the dominant story out there about what its like to be trans, you y’know, from my perspective, I kinda saw them clinging on to that identity in a way that was like, making them feel sad about things that they didn’t need to feel sad about. And I think its really understandable, and I think like, I don’t see any of those things to wash over the bad shit that happens, and I don’t say any of them without realizing like, y’know, I am white and able-bodied and employed and well-loved and well-connected, and have access to healthcare, and I live in a fucking city where you can get lots of different – there are choices about where you get your healthcare here. So all of those things make it easier to say: don’t be so sad, y’know?
But yeah, I, so I think its really important to put out some other stories, cos there are other stories. And so The Gender Agenda is an hour, on the air, and all over the internet, of um celebrating stuff.
L: What would you say is the best thing about being trans?
E: [laughs] I think if you ask some people they would say the sex? But I think if you ask some people they’d say that’s probably the worst part. So y’know, it really depends. I think that people who have had to work out some part of themselves, trans people who have had to work out their transness, in whatever way they’ve had to do that, have a capacity to like, empathize with other people’s stories and other people’s positions in a way that’s really special, and really powerful. And really beautiful. And I see it happening when people have the energy to do it. Or the generosity to do it. Um, and I really like that. I also think like, I’m totally bringing down the patriarchy from the inside. I mean I’m not really, but I sort of am?
L: Tell us more – [laughs]
E: Well [laughs] It’s really fascinating what it’s like to challenge people on their behavior and their assumptions when they feel safe and relaxed, and when they’re not being observed or regulated. So like there are lots of men who can, can and quite willingly do alter their behavior when you kind of educate them about it. And I have a, like a special pass into the opportunities to do that. On like a day to day basis. It’s kind of amazing. It also can sometimes feel like a bit of fucking heavy lifting, so I don’t always do it, but yea, lots of times I do.
R: How do you see yourself in this moment of increased trans visibility?
E: Um, I have a really self-indulgent Instagram account where I post gym selfies, and I’m not embarrassed about how much I like that. And I like seeing the likes. And the comments, its really good. Um [laughs] – there’s probably a more deep and meaningful answer to that. But actually like, I, so I went through this, y’know period of like quite radical physical change in front of thousands of Casino workers, who are y’know, you name a kind of person who exists, and as long as that person is an adult, that’s a casino worker. Like, everybody works there, it is a huge workplace, and everybody saw what was happening, and heard what was happening, and changed, like came along the journey with me. I don’t have very many conversations about my gender at work because it is not super relevant to union power. There aren’t lots of times to measure what impact my personal visibility has had on people? But there have been some, and they are adorable.
There is a man who I haven’t asked consent to share his name, so I won’t – but he early on in our time together, years ago, he, he’s a union delegate there. And he’s like, if you’re gonna do a caricature of a straight white Australian guy, cisgendered guy, he’d be, he’d probably fit it. Pretty well. And that’s cool, y’know, that’s part of his life. And so, he once disclosed to me relatively early on when he was supporting a particular member who was having a workplace problem, that y’know, he has had to work really actively to un-train himself from the expectations from his Dad, which is to beat up poofs. And these were his words. And the member he was supporting was a flaming homo. Um, who was having a bad time because he was a flaming homo. And so this delegate, like, y’know was obviously coming up against some of that, and seeking some coaching and some discussion about it and stuff. And y’know we did that work together, and then um after he’d finished that case with the member, he was like, y’know I’m trying really hard to like be a dad who teaches his kids not to beat up flaming poofs, but I do find it confronting when my boys want to wear pink and purple and stuff.
And fast forward a couple of years, and he’s like, can you – can we talk, can you walk me out of work tonight? He finished his shift and – people don’t usually want to be walked out of work, they usually want to fly out the workplace, right, like put on some skates and get the hell out of the place. And so when they want you to walk them out of work, its usually because they wanna have some sort of private conversation that is usually going to be difficult for me, like its usually some sort of thing about like they can’t keep up their delegate workload, or something terrible has happened, or y’know they’re really miserable and they’re gonna cry a lot, or something like that. So I was like, ahh goddamn, y’know [laughs] Yep, can walk you out, lets go.
And so we got part way out, and stopped in the hallway, and y’know I was like, what the hell is coming my way. And he’s like, yeah, so um, uh y’know, anyway he was like – I understand that we should change our terms of reference for you. And I was like, I do not know what he fucking means, what is going on? I was like, what can you just spit it out, like I do not understand what you’re saying? Cos like in my mind, I’m like oh no he’s gonna quit the union, like what’s going on [laughs]. Um and he’s like, no I’m, I understand we gotta change the terms of reference, like is Esther still an appropriate name for you? And I was like, oh my god, like bless his cotton socks, what an adorable person. So uh, my name is Esther, that’s my name, you can keep using it, but if you can use male pronouns like he/him/his, that would be great. But if you stuff it up that’s fine, we’ll just work through it together. And he’s like, oh, okay, well y’know, that’s good, um, uh cool, well thank you for uh just clarifying that with me, and I’ll try my best, and I might sometimes get it wrong, but I don’t mean it to be disrespectful. Like really went out of his way –
L: my heart –
E: I know – totally, like really wonderful, adorable person, y’know.
E: Things like that, but to a much less degree, all through the fucking plebi-shite. Nonsense. Happened everywhere. Like so much unsolicited stuff from people coming up to me and being like, well just so you know, me and the missus will be voting yes, its obviously a yes from us. And I was like, I kind of hate marriage, but yay! Y’know, take the intention. Like the intention is being like, I used to hate weird gay people and queers and stuff, and then I met you, and you don’t seem so bad, so – okay I don’t hate you anymore and I will vote for you. In the way that I understand it to be happening.
R: Partly out of personal interest, can you tell us more about your experiences at the gym, and like why, or what that’s brought for you, and what you get out of it?
E: Um, so I’ve always. Well, in all the periods of time when I’ve been successful at managing my shit, exercise has been one of those ingredients. Um, so when I was like a teenager, I did lots of team sports, and um then when I was in Uni, I took up running. And then I was like a really proud Melbourne Uni feminist, so I went to the Womens’ Circus for a time, as you do. And then Womens Circus no longer felt like an appropriate place, and I felt very sad about that. But also kind of okay with it? Like, yeah. Anyway, so then I needed some kind of thing that um, at that time as well I was doing a lot of unsociable hours, I do lots of unsociable hours at my work, and also quite unpredictable, or just hard to forecast very far in advance, so keeping to things like classes or other people’s schedules became very difficult for me. So I wanted something that I could do, that was on my time, and independent, and at any time. My brother Doug, has been lifting weights for a few years, and was like you’d probably enjoy it – go and give it a go. Um, and so I did. And then I found also the miracle of like, developing shoulders and how cool, like I feel like it looks really cool, and I feel really excited about it, I feel really excited about how like shirts that I have, that I’ve had for a long time, used to be tight on my chest in a way that made me feel awful, or y’know, best case scenario, numb. And now, now I can’t really wear them anymore because they’re too tight, because I’m so buff. I’m so stoked, yeah. Yeah so I got into it for mental health management mostly, and I stayed for the selfies.
E: Its really interesting, and it’s just started happening, but like every now and then, people ask me if I like want a work out buddy, or if I wanna work out together or whatever. And I think that it is an opportunity for adorable mentoring, and so I am going to do it sometimes, even though it’s a huge compromise on what the gym is for me, which is my own personal self time, meditation time. But I think it’s a really interesting thing in trans and transmasculine and transman culture. And I think that there’s space for it to be something that’s like fun and empowering and good. And I can’t see that right now, cos all I can see is like us collectively like reproducing shitty masculinity, and like body policing of a different kind, that will just make people feel just as sad, or a different kind of also very sad. As if they couldn’t access healthcare, but I think there’s some, there’s something in there to do. I’m going to give it a go.
L: Ryan has recently taken me under their wing, and have been dragging me along to the gym with them, and its actually been like – I dunno how you feel – but I’ve really enjoyed it, like spending time with you, and also doing something that like, I didn’t know my body could do. It’s like, it’s a really cool way to engage with a few different things.
E: Mmm, yeah I feel like any new physical skills have this great like renaissance of like, I didn’t know I could do that! thing for a while. I really love that, that’s fun.
R: Yeah, I was telling Lee, that in a way, like I dunno if other people struggle with this, but I feel like I don’t really know what I look like. And I can’t get excited about changes because I’m not seeing them, and I can just kind of rely on someone saying, y’know your voice sounds a bit different or… but I find that going to the gym is like, the most quantifiable way I can be like, I never used to – y’know when I was going to the gym 5 days a week I could not lift above that – and now it feels like, oh yeah I can do that. I can even do like, a few more kilos, and its crazy like how quickly that happened for me, and that was a real clear indication that, yeah, if not else, I’m getting stronger. So I think like, T is working?
E: Yeah. I mean weightlifting in particular, is like, if you train in a sensible way and eat and sleep and do it consistently, then, if y, then x. Like, its happening. Its just, there’s no guesswork, there’s no hoping, you don’t do any of that. Like, if you do the things, then you get stronger. You get bigger, or whatever it is you’re trying to do.
L: Coming from a mental health perspective, weights is so good for anxiety. There’s so much clinical evidence that says its so good at reducing or stabilizing anxiety levels. So its also cool
R: I was gonna ask how you see the trans community in relation to the queer community? In Melbourne?
E: I think lots of trans, I’m just going to talk about transmen that I’ve met through the Shed, because that’s my kind of biggest pool of data. Lots of transguys that I’ve med through the Shed, who once felt deeply embedded in a queer womens community, have not universally, but like very often expressed a real grief at losing that connection and no longer feeling part of it. And a lot of the time that was a motivation for coming to the Shed. And I don’t think have ever felt really recovered from it, even like, years down the track. And part of me is like, well yeah, like you’re not a queer woman, so – maybe that’s okay. But then part of me is like, ah that’s shit, what a, what a loss for everybody involved. Um like certainly feel a bit like that, for me. Um even though I socially hang out with almost exclusively queer women, and like assigned female nonbinary peeps, for me, and lots of people I know, that connection, that sense of belonging is lost.
Um, I, y’know, it’s kinda funny thing to complain about, cos like the way that I look and sound and present and stuff now, means that y’know, I can do a whole heap of shit that I couldn’t do before, and feel relaxed and comfortable in a whole heap of places that i couldn’t before. But I also feel like if I don’t like deliberately dress and behave and like work hard to do those things in a certain satisfactorily non-straight way – um, then like people y’know, at the queer party, or people who don’t know me, are like, you don’t belong here, fuck off, like you’re straight up the enemy. And I can understand that defensiveness about space, I think there’s a real reason for that, like, but it feels shit, feels a bit sad, feels a bit hard. I don’t think about it often now, but for a while I thought about it a lot, like. And there’s no way that, its still, there’s just still no way that this outweighs the importance of the kind of healthcare journey that I’ve been on. But it is probably like my only real grief about my gender, is the way that finding skin that makes me feel more comfortable, and you know, doesn’t make me want to kill myself now, uhh, excludes me from a space full of people who should have kinda get some of that. And celebrate some of it. And who I think like would if they knew better, but…sometimes people are so busy, get caught up so quickly in this feeling of like, defensiveness or defending space or whatever, some shit like that y’know, just gets lost. Yeah.
L: I feel like we’ve already touched on this, but I just wanted to – how do you feel like being trans relates to other aspects of your identity?
E: Yeah I mean I, um, for me, it’s like sort of at the very least like underlying of everything, like all my various different experiences and all the like – I think, I, relationships with people in whatever form that takes, and whatever period of time they last, is a really core part of like my experience in the world. Like I work, y’know, I work with feelings, I work in relationships. And y’know, I am polyamorous, and I really love my housemates, and stuff like that. So I think because, I think that the way that I experience and express my gender is so important to relationships, then it becomes really important like across my life, cos that’s the kind of dominant thing that I’m about, y’know? And it makes me a better unionist. And a better man. And a great lover. Just in case anybody needs to know that [laughs].
R: I’m wondering if you have any intergenerational relationships with gender diverse people?
E: Um, I only had a couple through the Shed, and they’re not particularly close relationships. Not because of like, just like, we’re just not like people who get along heaps well. I really appreciate the opportunity to like hear some of that stuff and hear stories, and talk to people, like listen to people. And I think that there are some people at Transgender Victoria like Andrew Eklund and Sally Goldner who are very generous with their stories and with their truths and with their feelings, who make time to do that in different setting all the time, and I think that that’s like amazing. And I really worry about losing some of those stories. Like there’s this guy Dale Crane, who was involved in setting up the Shed, who has like some of the most awful, terrifying stories about his journey to accessing healthcare and what it used to be like, and what he did to survive. And just like, oh my gosh. Uh yeah, so that worries me. But I don’t have any like close, easy to access, relationships with older trans-es. And I would like to. I think its really important. And also kind of funny and cute, and fun. Yeah.
L: What do you think the big issues facing the gender diverse community in Melbourne are?
E: There are lots of financial barriers to accessing healthcare that are really serious. And that I worry a lot about that period of time once someone has sought out the healthcare that’s right for them, and found out options, and decided a course of action – the gap between that and then fulfilling that is terrifying. Like I reckon I probably have had the most support of any human in the world, or pretty close to it. And it was an extraordinarily hard time, and it got exponentially harder in that period. And I worry about that for people. I worry about, y’know, how many people we may be losing, or how long they have to spend in their life recovering after. Y’know, after that’ve got some decent healthcare. Um so I think that’s a thing. I think there are issues that are facing trans and gender diverse people that everybody is facing. Like I’m a unionist and we are in a work crisis. But I think that has a particular impact on people who feel nervous about disclosing their gender at work, or pursuing healthcare because of work, or who are insecurely employed and in a period of time in their life when they’re maybe not a very attractive employment prospect. And where we have y’know, situations where you can just get like sacked or underpaid, and whatever, like all of that stuff I think affects lots of our community in a really, um, in a more profound way, in a more scary, high stakes kind of fashion. Uh, and so those things are real.
But then I think there’s like this big, I dunno, this big cultural identity shift. I dunno what it needs to look like exactly, but its, maybe it’s starting – but it kinda needs to happen like…maybe its part of this thing about like this explosion of some certain types of transness, and certain people being visible. But yeah, I wonder what y’know, in 20 years like, the everyday trans person might think of themselves. Like, it’d be nice if you could just like click a button on the internet and have your fucking gender marker changed everywhere that it needs to change as well, just PS. But that’s not, I don’t think that’s like the biggest issue. Although I did have a very uncomfortable time being questioned at the airport on my way back into Australia. Passport says female.
L: It’s real. It’s such a real issue.
E: Just like, oooh. What do I do? [laughs]
L: How did you manage it?
E: I have, a letter from my GP that was written years ago, and it’s like this crumpled up fucking barely like disintegrating piece of paper. And it says something on it like Esther is receiving medical supervision whilst transitioning from the old gender of female to the new gender of male. Something like that. I mean, I say something like that – like quite precisely that’s what it says. But there are some other things in there. But it says like that’s it – it’s like a couple of sentences, and it’s just with the, I think it was even while my GP was still at Northside, like it’s the old Northside letterhead. Y’know, and he asked me to repeat myself, and then asked some other things, and then I showed him the letter. And then he started asking me stuff like, are you into girls or boys? Have you ever had sex with a man? And so after a couple of those questions, I was like, are these questions compulsory? And he didn’t say anything. And I was like, do I have to answer them? And he didn’t say anything. And I was like can I have my passport back? And he gave it back to me. And I went. So that could’ve gone a different way, but.
L: I think the letter is a good idea for people to hear about
Recommend the letter, yeah. I mean it’s good to be able to slide something over, like. Like I’ve used that letter a few times, I used that letter when I changed my gender marker at Medicare, which I did to get cheaper T. And I like, y’know in my mind I’m like I’m just going to this fucking Medicare Centrelink thing, I’m just gonna slide it across the table, no one’s gonna say anything, they’re just gonna computer-fy it, and I’m going to walk away. That is not what took place. I slid the letter across, and then she was like what do you want me to do with this? And I was like can you change my gender marker to male please? And she was like, looked at me really confused, and –
L: It’s all in the letter mate –
E: Yeah read the letter – and I was like. Yeah, she read the letter, like a few times. And then was like what do you want me to do? And I was like, change the gender marker – [laughs] – what do you want me to do? And then, but then she was like – I mean this is all very weird as well, but she was like mostly sweet – and she was like, do you mind my asking like when you made this decision? And I was like, oh how do I interact with these people? I was like, oh I didn’t really make it, like I made the decision to like get health, access healthcare, but I’ve always been, some kind of, y’know some kind of weird boy, and she was like kinda laughed. And I was like, oh oh, yeah I’m gonna laugh, I don’t really feel comfortable, but its disarming you so that’s fine. Uh, and then she said that she thinks her best friend’s daughter is maybe trans. And I was like, oh well here’s the phone number of Paul Povi [?], who is a child gender specialist psych, and she’s really lovely. And you should get your friend to call her. And I like wrote down the mobile number, and was like, when are you going to speak to – like trying to organize her friend to call in the psych – and being like, that child is me! Someone is going to help you, you’re going to be alright, if only someone had told my parents. Anyway, eventually she changed my fucking gender marker on the computer and I got to leave, but –
L: And you maybe changed some lives as well