real life

'I've been harassed in the boys' bathroom': What it's like to live as trans in Australia.

On International Day of Transgender Visibility on March 31, Mamamia launched a three-part series looking into the reality of the trans experience in Australia. Part one looked at what it's like to come out as trans. Part two looks at what it's like to live as trans in Australia. And part three is what trans people want to see change in Australia.

Warning: This post deals with suicide and mental health issues, and may be triggering for some readers.

Bullying, bathrooms and discrimination.

School was characterised by “a lot of fear and a lot of anxiety,” shares Melbourne jazz singer, cabaret performer and CEO of Transgender Victoria, Mama Alto (she/her). 

“Especially around which bathrooms to use because I didn’t feel very safe or welcome in the boys' bathroom.”

Mama recalls regularly being pushed into the lockers and onto the ground, and occasions where she was physically intimidated or harassed in the boys' bathroom. She was told she didn’t belong there.

“It meant that for most of my time at school, I would just have to hold on [to my bladder] all day. It was for seven or eight hours depending on what study and extracurricular stuff I was doing afterwards, and it was really difficult to try to focus on your education and sports or singing in choir, when you're desperately holding on and then rushing home.”

She adds, “Even as an adult trans person now, there are situations where I feel unsteady and unsafe about what bathroom to use.”

Geelong-based fashion stylist, LGBTQI+ activist and co-host of Mamamia podcast, What are You Wearing?Deni Todorovič (they/them) agrees, sharing that once in a public men’s bathroom, a guy told them to leave because they were wearing a skirt.

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“And those, those moments really hurt,” they said, continuing, “And you think, well, I don't know where I belong, because there's a boys' toilet, and a girls' toilet, and I have a penis, and I've no desire to change that. So then, what toilet am I supposed to use? There's no option for me.”

Access discrimination is not always restricted to bathrooms: Deni shares that they were once denied entry to a nightclub in their home city of Geelong.

Then there are the verbal insults too, while just walking down the street. 

“Why can't I safely walk through my city that I live in without being stared at, or having tradies wind down their window to call me a f****t? That still happens.”

In fact, it happened when Deni was in Sydney for Mardi Gras last month. 

And it continues to happen to 16-year-old Year 11 student, Theo Boltman (they/them) too - regularly - when walking “in cute dresses or outfits” around their suburb in Melbourne’s inner south-east.

“A lot of people scream slurs at me - mostly men. Women’s insults are more subliminal usually,” says Theo, describing judgmental shop assistants, and a recent situation at their casual job, where a woman refused to allow them to make her açai bowl.

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“I was like, ‘Babe, leave then. I don’t need to make it for you then’… Yeah, that was a bit of a surprising one.”

Misgendering and pronoun resistance.

Discrimination doesn’t always come by way of customers - "It's colleagues too," tells Jess Peroy (he/him or them/theirs), who works in the construction industry. 

When his colleague thought he was "just a lesbian... the attitude was 'You're just like one of the boys…' And sometimes it's a little too much. Whereas now, coming out as transgender, it’s different.”

If they misgender Jess and he corrects them, the response usually draws even more embarrassment to him: “Oh sorry. I forgot that you’re a bloke now. This is hard for me.”

Jess’ colleagues often ask him ignorant questions, and his boss complains that it is still a lot for him to grasp.

And so Jess is charged with the load of educating him on what is and is not okay to say - but he still regularly misgenders Jess, often in front of clients and other employees. 

“It gets exhausting, constantly educating against ignorance… and it’s not really my job.”

After Jess’ boss recently called him by incorrect pronouns to a client, the client then approached one of Jess’ co-workers to ask further about his gender. The co-worker said Jess “used to be a girl”.

“I was like, no! It’s not that I was a girl, and now I'm a boy: I am a boy in the wrong body, but don't tell people that because I don't know this guy. And I don't know how he feels. At times I get a bit worried, especially in this industry, because I just don’t know how they are going to react.”

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Musing on the ‘pronoun panic’ observed by many trans people, Mama Alto reflects on the fluidity of pronouns, intrinsically woven into her culture. When she was a child, her Javanese father would often use pronouns interchangeably, addressing her as ‘she’, ‘he’ and ‘they’. 

“Some people make a big deal [when someone changes pronouns]… But for me, I grew up seeing that they were just a part of language and that language can change and evolve, because it's about the people using language.”

Mental health issues and access to quality healthcare.

“There's only ever been two times in my life that I've ever grappled with the idea of suicide,” shares Deni. “And those times, were coming out as gay, and coming out as non-binary.”

It’s confronting and devastating - but not uncommon. 

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According to a report by LGBTIQ+ Health Australia, LGBTI people aged 18 and over were 18 times more likely to have considered suicide in the previous year. 

And tragically, transgender people aged 14-25 are 15 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.

“We’re all inherently born with a desire to be validated and loved… so, when you feel that the people that you love most won’t love you, or that you can’t even love yourself because you’re clouded by anxiety…it feeds into why trans people feel they’re not worthy of a happy and full life," says Deni.

They add that the absence of healthy and positive examples of trans lives in the media also bear a large impact.

The research is clear: There is a disproportionate number of LGBTQI+ people who experience poorer mental health outcomes and have higher risk suicidal behaviours than their peers.

Jess suffers from gender dysphoria and has done since he was a teenager. His shoulders are permanently rounded and rolled inwards, after years of trying to conceal his chest area. And whilst he has not experienced a period more than a “handful” of times, when he did, it affected him deeply.

“I essentially shut down. I wouldn’t go anywhere, I wouldn’t do anything. If I could avoid going to work, I would do that, and I would just sit in my room alone, feeling very dark.”

Gender dysphoria is also something that Theo battles with too - and “sometimes it’ll be really shitty, and sometimes it’ll just be there”.

“As a male presenting person, what’s been really difficult is my relationship to  my body are my genitals, for example; like, it’s something you can't really change unless you go through surgery but when you're a teenager, this is an especially long process, and I'd be waiting long into adulthood before I’d get the surgery.”

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And then of course, there is the matter of gaining access to the correct medical professionals as there are limited numbers of trans-supportive GPs, psychologists and psychiatrists who are well-educated, extensively trained, and truly understand the issues faced by trans people. 

That challenge is infinitely greater for those who are Indigenous, and/or based in regional, rural or remote communities. 

Theo lives in Melbourne. But when they faced a particularly hard time in their mental health over a year ago, they went on the waiting list for numerous psychiatrists, and the revered Royal Children’s Hospital Gender Service. 

They’re still waiting.

What professional support have they received in the meantime?

“None really, if I’m totally honest. I’m just waiting for the waiting lists to clear.”

By September, their mental health hit a real low point, and the only way they knew how to cope was to leave their family home to move in with a trans friend on the other side of the city. They stayed there for a week. 

Despite living on the NSW Central Coast, Jess takes a day of annual leave and travels to Sydney to see his trans-aware doctor when they need to - “She’s amazing… and I’m just lucky to be able to see her, because her waitlist is extremely long.”

As is the process towards top surgery, he explains. 

The procedure is not covered by Medicare, and can cost upwards of $15,000, he says; and there is a long process towards gaining approval from multiple psychiatrists, which is also costly in and of itself.

“And a lot of trans people can’t afford it, so they stay in their depressive state."

"Better access to healthcare could literally be saving lives.”

Read more: 

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue at 1300 22 4636.

Keen to read more from Rebecca Davis? You can find her articles here, or follow her on Instagram,  @rebeccadavis___

Feature Image: Supplied/Mamamia.

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