Pam Cork­ery in­ves­ti­gates the re­def­i­ni­tion of gen­der iden­ti­ties


For years trans­gen­der and in­ter­sex peo­ple have lived in the shad­ows. Now they are in­creas­ingly be­ing ac­cepted for who they are, but, as Pam Cork­ery dis­cov­ers, there’s still work to be done.

IN­VES­TI­GAT­ING THE hu­man rights sta­tus of trans­gen­der and in­ter­sex peo­ple in New Zealand is the sad­dest, most frus­trat­ing and hum­bling re­port I have ever worked on. There is no other way to in­tro­duce this over­due jour­ney into the world of fel­low cit­i­zens who don’t fit the dom­i­nant gen­der cat­e­gories of male or fe­male.

Re­cently the tran­si­tion of Cait­lyn Jen­ner from Bruce Jen­ner – a for­mer Olympic gold medal-win­ning de­cath­lete and fa­ther of some of the fa­mous Kar­dashi­ans – brought the is­sue of trans­gen­der to the fore. Soon to fol­low was Trans­par­ent, a tele­vi­sion se­ries about a fa­ther who tran­si­tions, and more trans­gen­der char­ac­ters have be­gun to ap­pear on TV se­ries like Or­ange is the New Black and our very own Short­land Street.

So does this new aware­ness help? Cer­tainly. But when I started talk­ing to peo­ple for this story I quickly re­alised that life is still very dif­fi­cult for trans­gen­der and in­ter­sex peo­ple.

Sui­cide is an in­dica­tive place to start. While there is no data avail­able here, a study pub­lished in 2014 by the Amer­i­can Foundation for the Pre­ven­tion of Sui­cide has shown that 41 per cent of trans­gen­der peo­ple try to kill them­selves. Sui­cide at­tempts among trans men were a whop­ping 46 per cent and trans women, 42 per cent.

If this level of de­spair was reg­is­tered by any other group it would be a head­line-mak­ing med­i­cal cri­sis. But pub­li­cally-funded men­tal health cam­paigns pro­mot­ing, say, depression aware­ness never in­clude trans or in­ter­sex peo­ple.

From pub­lic toi­lets to doc­u­men­ta­tion to per­sonal pro­nouns – and all ba­sic hu­man rights in be­tween – the bi­nary so­ci­ety of M and F shouts out that it doesn’t care about trans and in­ter­sex peo­ple.

“Sex­ual mi­nori­ties are ar­guably one of the few re­main­ing mi­nor­ity sta­tus groups where so­cially sanc­tioned big­otry is ac­cepted, even en­cour­aged.”

That was a heavy-duty con­clu­sion from Te Pou (a na­tional cen­tre of men­tal health re­search, in­for­ma­tion and work­force de­vel­op­ment),

Jobs, ed­u­ca­tion, hous­ing, or med­i­cal care – there’s no part of life that isn’t touched by be­ing trans.

which did a com­pre­hen­sive needs as­sess­ment re­port to help in­form the Health Min­istry’s Na­tional Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Ac­tion Plan.

The rea­son most fig­ures for gen­der­vari­ant peo­ple are es­ti­mates is largely be­cause the Statis­tics De­part­ment doesn’t in­clude sex­ual di­ver­sity in the Cen­sus. There was a bit of a fan­fare from the De­part­ment last year when it an­nounced a ‘world first’ move in adding ‘gen­der di­verse’ to ‘male’ and ‘fe­male’ cat­e­gories in a new gen­der-iden­tity clas­si­fi­ca­tion. There is, how­ever, no obli­ga­tion to im­ple­ment this.

A 2006 in­quiry by the

Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion into dis­crim­i­na­tion against trans­gen­der peo­ple came up with some clear rec­om­men­da­tions: in­crease the par­tic­i­pa­tion of trans peo­ple in de­ci­sions that af­fect them; strengthen the le­gal pro­tec­tions mak­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against trans peo­ple un­law­ful; im­prove ac­cess to health ser­vices, in­clud­ing gen­der re­as­sign­ment pro­ce­dures; and sim­plify re­quire­ments for change of sex on birth cer­tifi­cates, pass­ports and ev­i­den­tiary doc­u­ments. There was also an add-on rec­om­men­da­tion that the rights of in­ter­sex peo­ple be given ur­gent at­ten­tion be­cause so many sub­mit­ted to the in­quiry.

Out of all those rec­om­men­da­tions the only no­tice­able progress has been in the doc­u­men­ta­tion area. For pass­ports, there is the ex­tra op­tion of writ­ing ‘X’ to in­di­cate in­de­ter­mi­nate gen­der. Gen­der can also be changed on birth cer­tifi­cates with­out al­ways re­quir­ing that full gen­der re­as­sign­ment surgery has taken place.

The prob­lem with this break­through is that gen­der re­as­sign­ment surgery ceased to be per­formed in New Zealand when the plas­tic sur­geon on the spe­cial team re­tired in 2014. Since then no one seems in­ter­ested in train­ing up to re­place him. Should a sur­geon be found, there are only three op­er­a­tions ev­ery two years – a rate set more than 20 years ago. At that rate, the wait­ing list would still take up to 40 years to clear. There is talk of male-to-fe­male surgery be­ing re­ferred over­seas, but no fig­ures. Fe­male-to-male re­as­sign­ments have al­ways been done over­seas, as they re­quire ex­tra spe­cial ex­per­tise.

Ac­tion on the rest of the Com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tions seems to be mov­ing more slowly than a glacier.

It is worth not­ing the in­quiry team found that be­ing trans is not a lifestyle choice; it is sim­ply one di­men­sion of the rich di­ver­sity that is hu­man­ity. And that trans peo­ple, and sub­se­quently in­ter­sex peo­ple, aren’t ask­ing for ex­tra treat­ment. They sim­ply de­mand the same leg­is­lated rights and pro­tec­tions taken for granted by the rest of the com­mu­nity.

The in­quiry found that be­ing trans is not a lifestyle choice; it is sim­ply one di­men­sion of the rich di­ver­sity that is hu­man­ity.

EV­ERY EX­PERT AND IN­STI­TU­TION I ap­proached about the well­be­ing of trans­gen­der and in­ter­sex peo­ple told me that first I must talk to Rain­bow Youth. What work­ers!

Rain­bow Youth (RY) was es­tab­lished 27 years ago, mak­ing it the old­est youth-led, youth-run or­gan­i­sa­tion in New Zealand.

“We are here for those (up to age 28) who fall into the huge gap be­tween male and fe­male, gay and straight,” says Na­tional Man­ager Toni Duder.

Toni, 24, hails from Dar­gav­ille and came out as a les­bian when she was aged 15. She is part of a tightly run unit of four staff: three full-time work­ers and one part-time.

They do an eye-wa­ter­ing amount of ser­vice, in­clud­ing look­ing after those who drop in, run­ning seven peer sup­port groups in Auck­land, Tau­ranga and Whangarei, and fill­ing the re­quests for lit­er­a­ture that pour in. In the past 18 months, 60,000 brochures have been sent to com­mu­nity groups around the coun­try. Vol­un­teers do the clean­ing, the pa­per­work, and greet young peo­ple com­ing in. On av­er­age, five young peo­ple land at RY each day. As well as be­ing a sort of gen­der-di­verse cit­i­zens’ ad­vice ser­vice, the drop-in cen­tre also of­fers a so­cial en­vi­ron­ment where the young can iden­tify with each other in an al­co­hol-free, drug-free, non­smok­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

“That con­nec­tion is im­por­tant. While lives have been saved by peo­ple telling their per­sonal sto­ries on YouTube, you can’t live on the in­ter­net,” says Toni.

One out of five of those who come in daily will change into clothes that wouldn’t be ac­cept­able at home. The gar­ments of­ten come from The Com­mu­nity Wardrobe, which pro­vides free, iden­tity af­firm­ing out­fits. One of the sup­port­ers of the on­site Com­mu­nity Wardrobe is West­lake Girls High School in Auck­land.

“West­lake is great. Many schools come to us too late – when they are re­act­ing to some­one com­ing out, or to bul­ly­ing – rather than be­fore in­ci­dents build up.”

RY staff ad­vise on sex­u­al­ity guide­lines for the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, as well as help­ing schools with gen­der-neu­tral bath­rooms and school uni­forms. “But bul­ly­ing at school is a huge is­sue. We have to tell schools the prob­lem is with the bul­lies, not the vic­tim. If a young per­son is beaten up in a gen­der-neu­tral bath­room, that’s a vi­o­lence prob­lem, not a gen­der-di­verse prob­lem,” says Toni.

Ap­proaches to RY also come from par­ents and grand­par­ents who have no­ticed that their son or grand­son loves wear­ing dresses, and from kinder­garten and pri­mary school teach­ers who may have ob­served a young boy act­ing in a fem­i­nine way.

“We say to let chil­dren be the ex­perts of them­selves. A seven-year-old, for in­stance, doesn’t need a la­bel, and is of­ten too young to recog­nise gen­der. We say, ‘Don’t put bag­gage on that kid.’”

And there is ad­vice to family and whanau if a loved one has come out. “The best thing you can do is to com­mit to find­ing out all you can, and to know that it’s okay to grieve. It’s also okay to get stuff wrong. [Un­der­stand­ing] the list of new words and de­scrip­tions can be like mem­o­ris­ing the dic­tio­nary.”

But just be­ing fine with the news isn’t enough. “We need them to be­come ac­tive then, to share their new in­for­ma­tion with oth­ers. Get the con­ver­sa­tion out there. We need recog­ni­tion in the wider com­mu­nity. We have to tap into those who can help. Doc­tors, ther­a­pists, peo­ple who will pro­vide job op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

It’s all done on slim re­sources. There are com­mu­nity grants and, in a re­cent de­vel­op­ment, $150,000 from the gov­ern­ment to spread over three years. RY also gets do­na­tions from gen­der­di­verse fel­low trav­ellers.

But it’s not enough. Toni would like to see peo­ple across the board do­nate. The web­site’s do­na­tion page shows a ‘$5 a week’ sug­ges­tion writ­ten on a cof­fee cup that would cost $5 to fill.

“We stand on the shoul­ders of those who went be­fore us, with ho­mo­sex­ual law re­form. We can’t allow our doors to close,” Toni says.

Rain­bow Youth: “Bul­ly­ing is a huge is­sue.”

Emmy Rakete is a trans­fem­i­nine so­ci­ol­ogy stu­dent and a spokesper­son for No Pride In Prisons. NPIP is a prison abo­li­tion group with a fo­cus on trans women be­ing put at risk in male prisons.

The 23-year-old ex­plains the in­creas­ing num­ber of young, gen­der-di­verse ac­tivists this way: “It’s like we’ve got noth­ing left to lose. We’re fac­ing down the bar­rel of global fi­nan­cial melt­down, the col­lapse of the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, and we don’t see a lot in our fu­tures that’s not worth gam­bling.”

Emmy says of her com­ing out that, while not with­out pain, “it was noth­ing ex­cit­ingly dif­fi­cult. I just re­alised that, ah, that makes sense.”

She has solid family sup­port, and has the re­sources to cam­paign for oth­ers. “Anger is a re­source. I’ve got anger, so I’ve got stuff to give.”

Emmy knows of two trans women who have been raped while in the gen­eral wing of a men’s prison when they should have been in seg­re­ga­tion at the very least. Or, as new pro­to­cols de­clare, a women’s prison should be of­fered.

“You can’t watch the news and see this with­out ask­ing, why is this hap­pen­ing?”

She isn’t sur­prised that the num­ber of trans women pris­on­ers is dis­pro­por­tion­ate to the trans fe­male pop­u­la­tion. “Poverty and vi­o­lence… it’s in­evitable.

“Trans peo­ple face al­most in­sur­mount­able marginal­i­sa­tion when it comes to ac­cess to jobs, ed­u­ca­tion, hous­ing, or in­formed med­i­cal care. There’s no part of life that isn’t touched by be­ing trans.

“But I think I’m an op­ti­mistic pes­simist. Ev­ery­thing is ter­ri­ble right now. But then 300 peo­ple turn up for a NPIP protest when the year be­fore there was only a hand­ful.”

Of her own ac­tivism, Emmy says, “There’s a great quote about gen­er­a­tional pol­i­tics; that ‘the only fu­ture of a gen­er­a­tion is to be the pre­ced­ing one’. I don’t stake too much of my pol­i­tics on be­ing a mil­len­nial. Mine is an out­look thing.”

EMMY RAKETE We’ve got noth­ing to lose

WELL-KNOWN TRANS­GEN­DER PEO­PLE rode her mo­bil­ity scooter top­less at the head of the Decade of the Di­vas float at the Gay and Les­bian Mardi Gras. She be­came as much-loved in Syd­ney as she was here.


Trans­gen­der icon Car­men (1936-2011) worked as tire­lessly against big­otry as she did mak­ing Wellington nightlife racier. Car­men is one of our his­tory’s most colour­ful and con­tro­ver­sial peo­ple.

Born in Tau­marunui, and given the birth name Trevor Rupe, Car­men went first to Auck­land, then to Wellington, do­ing drag per­for­mances after-hours while on com­pul­sory mil­i­tary train­ing.

She left for Syd­ney in the late 1950s and be­came Aus­tralia’s first Maori drag per­former. Car­men worked with snakes, be­came a brothel madam, landed in Long Bay Prison a cou­ple of times and de­clared it all made her stronger.

Back in Wellington in the 1970s, she be­came a vo­cal ad­vo­cate for gay and trans­gen­der rights and for HIV/AIDS aware­ness. Car­men an­noyed then Prime Min­is­ter Rob Mul­doon enough to be called be­fore the Priv­i­leges Com­mit­tee. She had sug­gested there were gay and bi­sex­ual MPs. Car­men ran for the Wellington may­oralty on the far-sighted plat­forms of same-sex mar­riage and le­galised broth­els. As artist Gra­ham Smith said of Car­men: “She used to come down Cuba Street look­ing like a Span­ish galleon in full flight.”

The lat­ter part of Car­men’s life was spent in Syd­ney. In 2008 she

Georgina Beyer

Georgina Beyer, who also moved from show busi­ness to pol­i­tics, called Car­men one of her role mod­els. Born in Wellington, Georgina changed her name by deed poll be­fore turn­ing 16. She shifted to Syd­ney and into act­ing, where she achieved a re­spectable level of suc­cess. She was also a dancer and a drag queen per­former.

On her re­turn to Wellington, Georgina worked in the gay night­club scene be­fore shift­ing to Carter­ton to work on ra­dio with Paul Henry. She then suc­cess­fully ran for mayor, be­com­ing the first transsexual mayor in the world.

She liked pol­i­tics and cam­paigned for a seat in Par­lia­ment for the Labour Party. In 1999 Georgina Beyer be­came the world’s first transsexual MP.

Cait­lyn Jen­ner

Cait­lyn Jen­ner is the most fa­mous trans­gen­der per­son in the world. An ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with her in April last year drew more than 20 mil­lion view­ers in the United States, be­fore the in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence was counted. Cait­lyn had built up for the in­ter­view with a two-pro­gramme spe­cial of Keep­ing up with the Kar­dashi­ans: About Bruce. She has the Guin­ness World Record for the fastest gath­er­ing of a mil­lion Twit­ter fol­low­ers. Her time: four hours and three min­utes, sur­pass­ing Barack Obama, who ac­com­plished the same feat in four hours and 52 min­utes.

There’s not much that isn’t pub­lic knowl­edge about Cait­lyn Jen­ner, the for­mer Olympic de­cath­lete. Her family life and tran­si­tion are all re­al­ity TV in­for­ma­tion. She has had cos­metic surgery but not sur­gi­cal gen­der re­as­sign­ment, al­though isn’t rul­ing it out. She now iden­ti­fies as asex­ual, which is a per­son not sex­u­ally at­tracted to oth­ers, or who has a lack of in­ter­est in sex.

Out of all the awards pre­sented fol­low­ing her com­ing out, Cait­lyn said her most cher­ished is the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage.

Car­men ran for the Wellington may­oralty on the far-sighted plat­forms of same-sex mar­riage and le­galised broth­els.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.