Underlying the potentially deadly political football that Scott Morrison and other politicians have played with transgender people this year is a big assumption: that transgender people made a choice, and a bad choice.
As soon as I was old enough to express who I was, I started surprising people by telling them I was a girl. School quickly shook that notion from my mind, but the feelings didn’t return until a few years later.
I could not imagine, at seven years old, that what I was experiencing was unusual. If I was a boy, I thought to myself, then all the boys must feel what I felt. I pushed him down. Then the transformations of puberty brought those feelings back again – this time in the form of urgent, agonizing desperation to stop my body from doing what it was doing. After I came out to my parents, I told them, full of shame: “I don’t want to be like that”. It’s an overwhelming feeling.
Decisions to denigrate and exclude transgender people are based on the assumption that transitioning is a cosmetic choice. If we choose to brutalize our bodies in this way, why should society welcome and include us?
Despite the agony that puberty brought, I desperately tried not to transition, out of fear. As we have seen this year, the world does not make it easy for those who do.
Many adolescents and adults who might otherwise make the transition instead try to protect themselves from potential discrimination, judgment, exclusion and violence – and tragically end up taking their own lives. I convinced myself, for my own comfort, that the consequences of transitioning would be worse than the consequences of doing nothing at all, that the pain I would experience at the hands of others would be worse than the pain of ignoring this deep, inexplicable, lifelong distress. After another year of trying to carry on as usual, I found out I was wrong.
For many, like me, transition is a brutal imperative. You only ever take that risk because the alternative is much worse. You only know how deep it is after you try – as if your life, your family, your friends and your future all depend on it – to suppress it. It is a feeling that is foreign to you until you face it and try to describe it, to convince those around you.
We don’t know for sure why this happens to some people, although a hormone surge during fetal development is emerging as a strong contender. Politicians would do well to consider that they are talking about something they don’t quite understand, playing with a fire they don’t see. But we will see it, as we already do, in the suffering of children and our friends as they are reminded, every day, how little their politicians care about them.
Liska Fell is a young transgender woman.
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