real life

As a trans woman, Stef's high school years were 'traumatic'. Now as a teacher, she is making a difference.

This post discusses sensitive topics and may be triggering for some readers

Stef is a high school teacher for Humanities and Legal Studies. She has been in the industry for over 10 years and it's a field she is incredibly passionate about. 

She loves spending time with family and friends, reading, writing, dancing and playing tennis. She adores fashion and her dog Winston is her best buddy. 

Something else about Stef is that she is a trans woman

And her "road to womanhood" has been complex.

Watch: In his shoes. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

From a young age, Stef "knew she was different".

She shared with Mamamia: "My own conservative Sri Lankan and Catholic culture held very rigid gender constructs. My social conditioning didn't assist either, perpetuating the notion that diverging from the script I was destined to play out would mean a hefty price to pay." 

During her adolescence, Stef - like so many - did not have the language to articulate who she really was. 

"As soon as I knew that the way I wanted to be in the world was not acceptable, I was quick to internalise the shame and contort myself into a version that was palatable."

With this in mind, high school was extremely traumatic for Stef. She went to an all-boys Catholic school, and understandably felt a lack of belonging. 

"I was the silent academic child, and during these formidable years I turned into a 'grey rock.' I was trying to survive the best way I could. I always told myself, after Year 12, you can finally be free. But even after leaving high school, unlearning being invisible is hard because you become comfortable with the wrong version of you."

At the age of 22, Stef decided to transition medically. 

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"For the LGBTIQA+ community, coming out can be one of the most traumatic experiences we will ever go through - where we are often forced to negotiate ourselves with the world. I was not an agent in my own coming out story to my family. The autonomy we should all have in explaining who we are was taken away from me," she said to Mamamia.

While transitioning without her family's knowledge, Stef was photographed covertly. The "gossip" at Stef's expense made its way to her family, leaving her feeling completely ambushed.

Of course, being trans 10 years ago was something very different to being trans now. There was little mainstream representation. Societal attitudes were rigid. Simply put: there was no roadmap to follow. Stef found herself in a challenging time, experiencing an abusive relationship and trying to discover her own boundaries.

"Now at 33, I can look back and only smile, maybe with a couple of tears. I have no idea how I've got this far. I feel that I am living in the moment more, I feel a deep sense of gratitude: I am confident in claiming who I am," she said.  

Identity is something of great importance to many trans people. But for Stef personally, she feels "we are more than our labels". 

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"Owning my story is important, but not letting my identity own me is just as imperative. I don't wear my labels because I know I'm more. I am not reminded of my 'transness' daily, and maybe that is my privilege," Stef reflected.

So when deciding to become a teacher, Stef was excited to work with students in helping them uncover how they wanted to be in the world. But when it came to starting a teaching role at her current high school, Stef did feel some reservations.

Image: Supplied. 

"I was going in stealth. In the trans world, this means you hide your trans status."

However, the stealth life, while appropriate for some, especially if it determines your survival, felt debilitating for Stef.

"I was always looking over the back of my shoulder, it would cause me so much anxiety. I was desperate to live my life authentically, so I started to write about my experience as a trans woman and eventually word got around." 

Experiencing a panic attack at this time, it was an incredible colleague of Stef's that reassured her how beautiful her story was. 

"It's amazing how you can find acceptance in places you never thought you would. The students at my school are incredible, there is so much hope for the future. When I sat down with one of my bosses and disclosed my identity, they told me they have never met a person like me before. I was reassured that the school community had my back and I think that is because they saw Stef before they saw 'Stef the trans woman'."

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Of course it's important to acknowledge that not every trans person has this positive of an experience. But Stef's positive working experience should be the norm. According to LGBTIQ+ Health Australia, people who identify as trans are 15 times more likely to commit suicide than the rest of the population. It's a heavy but incredibly real statistic. 

And currently working at a non-denominational school where the vast majority of students and the surrounding community are religious, Stef is an 'outlier'.

But she is also someone who has the ability to make a major difference. As one of Stef's favourite thought leaders, Brene Brown said: "People are hard to hate up close."

“While I would never talk about my transition to students, I like to think that by being at the college, maybe I am changing hearts and minds. We should be able to stand in the same room despite our different values because being connected to our humanity is far more important than what we are divisive on," she shared to Mamamia.

"I remind my students that the chance to choose courage is always on the table."

Image: Supplied  Visibility also accounts for something.

"The more visible we are the more dangerous our life can become. But overall, I know we are moving in the right direction. The more we are visible, the more the illusion of who we are can be demystified. We are real people just having a human experience in a world that has historically tried to erase us. I want to thank the brave souls of the LGBTIQA+ community that have come before me that have paved the way for us all. I hope that somehow I am doing my part to blaze trails and open doors for our youth."

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As for what Stef hopes not only her students, but everyone can learn, is that making a difference can be simple: a little bit of kindness and empathy can go a long way. 

"Holding a space for us, where we can express who we are safely, without judgement is something I always look for. I am eternally grateful for those I have met throughout my personal and professional life, who continue to affirm and love me for who I am. They have held my hand and walked me from the darkest corner of the room and into the light where we should all coexist.

"I want the next trans person to know they should not be relegated to the shadows despite of who they are because the world needs them for exactly who they are."

To see more from Stef, you can follow her on Instagram @the.moderngirl_

Image: Supplied. 

For support or further information you can visit Transcend Australia and LGBTIQ+ Health Australia.

Feature Image: Supplied.