NEW OUT­LOOK ON LIFE

TANE OXENHAM, 25, STARTED STRUG­GLING WITH IDEN­TITY AT FOUR YEARS OLD BUT TRAN­SI­TION­ING FROM GIRL TO MAN WAS LIKE BE­ING REBORN ... AND SUCH A RE­LIEF

Life & Style Weekend - - COVER STORY - WORDS: MICHAEL ROCHE

Grow­ing up in the av­er­age Aus­tralian fam­ily and liv­ing a reg­u­lar child­hood along with three sib­lings and two lov­ing par­ents seems ideal for any­one. How­ever, this seem­ingly per­fect life only caused Tane Oxenham to be­come more con­fused when he found him­self un­happy and begin­ning to strug­gle with his iden­tity from as young as four years old. He speeds into the court­yard on an old-fash­ioned, turquoise bike and screeches it to a halt right in front of a ta­ble and chairs, bounc­ing into his seat with con­fi­dence and a smile. He wears a cap on his head and is dressed in a skate shirt and cut-off jeans. While he skols cof­fee from a cup, he be­gins to re­call the first time he re­alised he iden­ti­fied as trans­gen­der. “There were so many signs ever since I was a child. I would al­ways ask to be dressed in mas­cu­line cloth­ing and I was en­vi­ous of male ac­tiv­i­ties. But I think the first time I un­con­sciously re­alised I was trans was at my par­ents’ wed­ding when I was four and I got so up­set and anx­ious be­cause I had to wear a dress,” he said. “And then there were small things like not get­ting the toys I wanted to play with at Christ­mas and then even­tu­ally de­vel­op­ing in­se­cu­ri­ties at pu­berty when my body started chang­ing when I didn’t feel like it should be.” Tane, who now at the age of 25 iden­ti­fies as male and has done so for the past two years, lives a self-pro­claimed peace­ful, evolved and amaz­ing life since his tran­si­tion. He talks about how he feels reborn, more open and ac­cept­ing and has a new-found per­spec­tive on ev­ery­thing. “Peo­ple see me more for who I am now, and I see my­self more and more,” he said. “It’s like walk­ing out of a dark tun­nel.” He stops talk­ing abruptly and be­gins beam­ing with happiness as he no­tices a fam­ily of baby ducks wad­dling past the ta­ble. He is over­joyed and gets up to have a closer look at them as he pro­fesses his love and ado­ra­tion of an­i­mals and na­ture, be­fore elab­o­rat­ing on his tran­si­tion­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “I feel like a new per­son ev­ery day, and it’s beau­ti­ful to be able to wake up and look in the mir­ror and see the re­flec­tion of what I al­ways felt and saw on the in­side,” he says through a smile. I feel like non-trans­gen­der peo­ple will never truly un­der­stand that feel­ing.” One of the big­gest mile­stones, he ex­plains, was hav­ing chest surgery, which is when he be­gan to feel most com­fort­able in him­self, par­tic­u­larly at the beach, which is a place he is obsessed with. “It’s one of the big­gest bar­ri­ers for trans men: we miss out on swimming at the beach or in front of peo­ple be­cause of our body dys­pho­ria,” he ex­plained. “So, yeah, that was big for me.” These feel­ings of dys­pho­ria and con­fu­sion sur­round­ing gen­der of­ten re­sult in men­tal ill­ness within the LGBTQIA com­mu­nity, with trans­gen­der peo­ple specif­i­cally al­most 11 times more likely to at­tempt sui­cide af­ter the age of 18, ac­cord­ing to the LGBTI Health Al­liance on­line statis­tics. Tane’s tone of voice be­comes se­ri­ous as he opens up about his own strug­gles with men­tal ill­ness and says that sui­ci­dal thoughts wa­vered in and out for him all through­out his teen years, be­fore he ul­ti­mately at­tempted sui­cide some time be­fore his tran­si­tion. He be­lieves that while most of these thoughts and health is­sues stem from dys­pho­ria, they also stem from feel­ing alone, be­ing un­ac­cepted and not be­ing un­der­stood. “For me, hav­ing a great sup­port sys­tem around me with plenty of peo­ple who un­der­stood, and even plenty who didn’t un­der­stand but still just wanted to see me happy and alive was the most im­por­tant thing ever,” he said pas­sion­ately. When asked about ad­vice he would give to any­body strug­gling with their gen­der and yet to tran­si­tion, he hes­i­tates and thinks deeply be­fore speaking. “First of all, make sure you’re in a safe en­vi­ron­ment. Don’t put your­self in dan­ger,” he said. “In this day and age, there’s so much re­search on the in­ter­net and through so­cial me­dia, I just en­cour­age them to dig deeper into that, and into them­selves, and I’m also will­ing to talk to any­body who is strug­gling and help them through it be­cause I’ve been through it all.” Be­fore jump­ing back on his bike and leav­ing, Tane shares his favourite quote from his idol, Amer­i­can co­me­dian Jim Carey as he smiles: “You can fail at what you don’t want. So you might as well take a chance at what you love.”

If you’re strug­gling, call Life­line on 13 11 14 or be­yond­blue on 1300 22 4636.

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