Words by Zavier, 18 WA
This article mentions historical events and references homophobia, which may be difficult to read or triggering to some readers. Readers in need can seek support from the following services or visit our Creating a Safe Space page to see a full list of support services.
The burden of being labelled a “trailblazer” is inescapable for any individual from a marginalised group wishing to pursue political careers.
This burden is amplified for transgender and gender diverse individuals, as currently no trans person has ever been a member of parliament. This lack of representation is not due to a lack of passion and interest from the trans community – it’s because a career in politics for a trans person is neither physically nor mentally tenable.
The Australian Parliament has always been populated by pale, stale, males. As much as young trans and gender diverse people want nothing more than to see this status quo shift to reflect the diverse Australian population, Parliament House is a hegemonically masculine space that does not acknowledge our existence.
Furthermore, the political campaign of any trans person will be overpopulated by public debate regarding the validity of their identity, rather than on the qualities that person could bring to parliament.
As a young transgender person, although I am an incredibly passionate and outspoken political advocate, I admit the idea of pursuing a career in politics terrifies me. I worry about how the scrutiny of my queer identity from the public and the media would impact my mental health. I worry about how other parliamentarians would treat me. Would they listen to what I had to say, or would they immediately dismiss me as some ‘leftist hippie’ who doesn’t know what they’re talking about?
I worry that my trans identity locks me out of a political career and forces me to limit my political advocacy to lobbying from the side-lines, protected by anonymity. But most of all, I worry about what this means for the future of trans and gender diverse Australians.
How are we to expect legislation to pass that protects our basic human rights if there is nobody in parliament who can adequately advocate for us?
The people who can ‘adequately advocate’ for the trans and gender diverse community are people from that community.
I look at the current political landscape in Canberra and am met with a Government who believes that they can win votes by reducing transgender people to political pawns. Anti-transgender rhetoric has become normalised and accepted by our Federal Parliament, as evident in the Religious Discrimination Bill and recent debate around banning transgender athletes from sporting competitions.
For transgender people living in Australia, the constant sensationalisation of our pain is traumatic. We experience mental illness at egregious rates, with a recent 2017 study reporting that 48% of trans young people have attempted suicide, compared to 2.4% of adolescents in the general population. I cannot begin to comprehend the sheer lack of empathy this parliament has for the lives of transgender people, which is highlighted by piss-poor funding and mental health support being provided to the community.
I wish I could give you an answer for how we solve this. But how do you go about convincing someone to care about the lives of gender diverse young people?
We are not confused. We are not attention-seekers. We are not a trend; a phase; a stage of teenage rebellion. We are real people with real experiences who need support. The research is clear in what the needs of transgender Australians are – more funding to gender-affirming care and dedicated mental health services, and policy which protects us from discrimination (rather than opening us up to an onslaught of hate and prejudice).
Trans lives matter. Until representation in the Federal Parliament is tenable for transgender and gender-diverse Australians, we need the practical allyship of incumbent members who can use their privilege and power to listen to trans people and vote to defend our human rights.
Illustration by Aileen, You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenetc