An Email From the Australian Institute of Sport

AIS slid into my inbox this morning. Australian Institute of Sport, not Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Gotta watch the acronyms when you’re in trans and intersex space, FFS. (For fuck sake, not facial feminisation surgery.)

Back in 2007 a bunch of us dancers were part of the AIS SCOPE programme. I have no idea what that acronym means anymore. It was a pilot development programme for professional and elite dancers. Yup, ‘elite’. From memory they had one for athletes and realised our situation was basically the same. Part of it was about dancers who were transitioning. No, not trans dancers ffs. I swear cis people need to be blocked from using the word transition for about the rest of my life. Dancers who were considering moving out of — what is in Australia a very young person’s game.

I wanted to write about the email I got this morning. It’s the AIS response and apology to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s independent review of gymnastics in Australia. I don’t think the email’s really meant for me, just I happened to be connected to the AIS a long time ago and apparently my email is still in their system. I don’t think any of the support they’re offering is for me either. Lots of reasons. I’m tired and I don’t really want to frame how I’m feeling in the broader structural, institutional, colonial, racist, transphobic, normative blah right now.

End–2007 I was skipping back and forth between Adelaide and Melbourne. I don’t know how it looked from the outside, making work back-to-back in Europe, China, and Australia, but I was doing it hard. Mad hard. The kind of hard where I walk home at night in either of those two cities and had a spot in each where I’d check in with myself and have a realistic convo that went, “You know if it gets too much, you can.” A multi-storey carpark in the former and a bridge over a motorway in the latter. Just checking in and seeing how I was going, how far I could go. No shame if I couldn’t.

Because of the decades, generations of abuse athletes, coaches, and staff — mostly young girls and women — were on the receiving end of, the AIS created a support service called AIS Be Heard. I’m not sure how comfortable I’d feel engaging with that if I’d been seriously, as an athlete, part of the Institute and all. I dunno, shit got mad stirred up this morning.

I got sexually abused by a middle-aged man when I was a kid, start of my teens, every weekday after school for several months. I was already very much not coping with home and school life being a young trans femme back in the ’80s. That abuse broke me.

A few years later, I destroyed him. I went to the police and pressed charges. How that came about in retrospect was something I was pushed into and not in my best interests, but me going in and giving a statement started an avalanche. Turns out he was already known, but you know, same old, no one wanted to say anything; everyone wanted to forget. They found a list with something like a hundred names on it. In the end, I think only four or five actually gave statements and agreed to being witnesses.

I destroyed him. He lost his business, his wife, his home, his standing in the community, had heart attacks, and ended up in prison where, because of the people I knew back then, everyone knew what he was in for.

Those people, who supported me through years of the criminal proceedings on top of the shit in their lives they were coping with. They put up with a lot from me, I was well fucked up.

The case broke me again. It dragged on for four years. The first two I was in conversion therapy, which is a whole other story but deeply bound with all this. It was the direct result of me trying unsuccessfully to get into the gender clinic in Auckland to get on the surgery list after being on hormones for years, and being kicked through a string of therapists because I was a fucked up trans femme, homeless, on drugs, self-harming, eating disorder and whatever else. The second two I’d moved to Melbourne and was in some, what we’d call now, non-binary phase and using dance to survive. Burying everything thought and feeling in pushing myself physically as hard and far as I could go. Apparently I haven’t changed much.

The proceedings ended when I got a phone call. Ended for me, I mean. He got a plea bargain. I was told he would plead guilty to every charge except mine. I was told if I proceeded with the charges, it would go to trial and I would lose. They would use me being trans against me and he would get off. Thirteen year old child obviously asked for it and obviously untrustworthy and crazy ’cos she’s a tranny was their line. I said fuck whatever and bailed. I already destroyed him. He got two years.

He broke me, but those four years, the conversion therapy … I think I would have survived what he did if I’d had really good, caring support. I didn’t. I had very shit, abusive, transphobic, coercive therapy where the threat of being institutionalised was always in the background, and being constantly told I would never be a woman and no woman would ever love me was up front.

I survived that too. A lot more broken. I went to Victorian College of the Arts shortly after, sucked up the shit there, dished out some of my own too. I saw abuse there on the regular. Emotional, psychological, physical, sexual abuse, body shaming, eating disorders, untreated mental health crises, skeevy older male teachers and staff doing all the same things the AHRC’s independent review talks about. Pretty sure a lot of us who went through professional dance training know all about that.

I had a couple of full-on breakdowns while I was there. The pressure between trying to find a way be true to my trans femme self in an environment entirely structured on white, cisgender heteronormativity burnt the fuck out of me. And the un-dealt with damage from my teens.

On their website, the AIS says, “We owe it to every athlete who has been part of the AIS, to feel supported and to get help if, and when, they need it.” Nice sentiment. Cool.

There’s this pervasive, verbalised belief that if you don’t get therapy, or rather what AIS call ‘wellbeing support’ when you need it, shit’s on you. Like all we need to do is make the decision and magically there will be a perfect therapist just for us. The vast majority of therapists are simply not equipped to provide care for the kind of complex trauma trans people have often experienced. Or people who have lived through child abuse.

Speaking from long, long experience here, at best the majority of therapists are useless, and very regularly they cause more harm. I had a therapist tell me he was scared for his own safety when I start talking my history. Bruh. Others have tried to frame me in a way that fits their world, like that lesbian conversion therapist. But mostly there’s just a vast, empty space where good therapists for people like us should be.

Yallah, all of this was also about a therapist I saw because of the AIS.

Back in late–2007 again, I asked the person at SCOPE if there was any counsellors available as part of the programme. I ended up seeing someone who worked with professional athletes as a sports psychologist and saw her maybe 5 or 6 times. The first time — and all this is hazy retelling of memory now — I laid out where I was at, which was a pretty fucking bad place ’cos all that untreated abuse was making me ask that serious question every night I walked home over that bridge or past that carpark. She said something like … I dunno, it’s more of a feeling now, something about it wasn’t what she specialised in, but she worked with a lot of athletes who were struggling to cope with the insanely high pressure of elite-level competition, and somehow she persuaded me to come back and got me talking. And she saved my life.

This isn’t about how the AIS supported me, or how therapy can save lives. It shouldn’t have been on a sports psychologist to deal with a very fucked up person because the entire culture of society failed her. I think about all those counsellors and support staff in sport and dance over the generations who had to become trauma specialists because kids and young adults would and still do show up at their door every day with no one else to turn to.

I had a bit of a cry on the way to the supermarket this morning thinking about all this, how that email hit. Lucky it was raining. I still haven’t found a therapist. Not for lack of trying, but fuck me there is a poverty of healthcare for trans people. And I was thinking how that email wasn’t really for me because I’m trans. We’re pretty much legislated out of professional sport and there’s fuck all space in professional dance for us either.

When I talk about being broken, it didn’t go away. I rarely get into intimate relationships with people (that’s also a euphemism for fucking, just to be clear) because of all that shit on top of the already hostile environment of living while trans. Therapy is supposed to help with the broken part, but we already covered that failure. I was thinking about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified against that skeeve during his Supreme Court nomination. She talked about memory, how “… the trauma-related experience is locked there, whereas other details kind of drift.”

He’s always there. Intermittent. He interrupts and is here more real than any thought or feeling I was having. More real than the room I’m in. I know it’s not me ‘having’ these thoughts, there’s a difference between me thinking about this stuff and experiencing him like this. Him for those months and him later for those years, all bound together with abusive therapists.

Every single one of those athletes somehow has to deal with this, in some way or another. They, along with their friends, lovers, families, communities all have been diminished. The athletes who came forward, who spoke out alone, have done it so hard. We do those things, so indifferently, blandly held in ‘move on’, or ‘put it behind’, until it isn’t. Until we’re reminded and remember it all again.

Last thing. I wanna be really clear on this: everyone knew. Everyone knew way back. Just like everyone knew about my abuser. And wasn’t like no one was speaking about it.

All strength and love to those gymnasts and athletes and dancers who are having an especially tough day of it today.

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Ballhaus Ost

Dasniya had a residency at Ballhaus Ost the last couple of months, thanks to pandemic and pandemic arts funding. I got to see a private showing last weekend, with Tara (yup, Tara!) and Yui. Yeah I’m a long-time fan of her work and Glutamat confirms it.

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Apparently I Wrote A Novel

Okay, 4th draft on top of whatever I was calling assembling it before it was drafts, and 18 months to get it to this. But done in the sense it goes start to finish and got heaps of pages (which is what makes it a novel yah?) and when I finished this read-through which I’ve been on since late last week, it felt … something sparked in my guts, like this, yeah, I wrote a novel. Brought some big offering into the universe. Alhamdulillah.

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30+ Years Trans Femme

All that talk with Vass about Veneno reminded me I had a photo or two from way back then.

Young teen transsexual meet old auntie trans femme. Thirty-ish years between these two photos. Sometimes I need reminding.

That me back then … she survived.

Veneno

I ugly cried watching Veneno. Ug. Ly. Cried. Also laughed my guts out. Hissed — hisssssed!!! at Cristina’s mother and family and all the other cis cunts who fucked with her and straight up I would cut without a second thought.

When Pose came out, that was the first time since Paris is Burning I’d seen myself in some recognisable way, and known it was us in front and behind the camera. It was America though and similar worlds, yeah, but very different ones too.

Veneno though … this was real. Truth. Painful, angry, joyful, hilarious, terrifying, spiteful, sad, beautiful truth. I love seeing us on screen. Old us who did it hard, survived, loud and foul-mouthed and cackling. Young us who have so many more possibilities for lives without harshness and exile, yet still know those all the same. If we are trans, if we are trans femmes, trans women — transsexuals, transvestites, the old words you don’t use anymore and we grew up with — this is our life. This is our world.

Veneno — 1: Flip me over. I wanna talk to my friends
Veneno — 1: Flip me over. I wanna talk to my friends
Veneno — 2: Jeez. He slammed her door
Veneno — 2: Jeez. He slammed her door

Pose Was Straight Up Robbed Right Here

I rewatched both seasons of Pose the other day. Fuck the Emmys and fuck cis people.

It’s not about the awards. It’s about the awards. Even being nominated opens up possibilities for better pay, working conditions, opportunities, longevity, recognition, not only for the person or show nominated but for everyone involved. Not just for them but for those in the audience who need to see themselves or people close enough to themselves to feel seen in return for once.

It’s about representation for us. For queer and straight cis people it’s seeing trans people – especially Black, Indigenous, Brown trans femmes – as something other than sex workers, drug addicts, corpses, and things to be laughed at, seeing us as people with full lives and communities and love. For the majority of cis people – queer and straight – they don’t have any trans people in their lives, let alone Black, Indigenous, or brown ones. What they do have, if they even think of us, is cis people talking about and representing us and portraying us, standing in our places like we’re not good enough, like we don’t exist.

Billy Porter being nominated twice while none of the trans women and femmes in front or behind the camera have ever got a look in, that’s a lesson right there in who’s valid, who’s seen as real and legitimate. Similarly, Zendaya being nominated while Hunter Schafer wasn’t. And straight up, I love watching both her and Billy and yes, they deserve it. But if they deserve it, if Euphoria deserves it, so does Pose, so do Indya Moore, Mj Rodrigiez, Dominique Jackson, Hailie Sahar, Angelica Ross, so do Janet Mock, Our Lady J, and saying their names so do Trace Lysette, Bianca Castro, Cecilia Gentili, Leiomy Maldonado, Brielle ‘Tati’ Rheames, and so do the hundreds of other trans women and femmes in front and behind the cameras.

Almost every day I see another Black trans woman or femme murdered in the US and another white cis man pushing to legislate us out of existence. That’s one country, and don’t think it’s not the same or worse in your other countries. Season 2, episode 4, “Never Knew Love Like This Before”, where Candy is murdered and the aftermath of that, fighting to claim her body, scraping money together for a dignified funeral, her parents misgendering her, the grief and loss and anger, all that is way too real. And let’s not forget, Pose is a fantasy, it’s a story where the reality of trans women and femme’s lives is not shown like a documentary, we don’t need to see that brutality when we know and live it. If it was doing realism, it would have scared you straights and cis queers right off, and there wouldn’t have been a Season 2 ’cos most of the cast would have died between 1987 and ’90.

You all want RuPaul’s Drag Race, you want Yaaas Queen Slay! and you want Shaaade! but you don’t want to learn anything. You want LGB but only when it’s palatable and the T ain’t that. You want the glamour but not the politics. You want the glamour but only on cis men’s bodies. You want women but not when they serve like Pose does. Seeing Black and Afro-Latinx trans women and femmes living for themselves, centring themselves, defining femininity on their terms, defining queer and LGB for themselves, you can’t accept this. You can’t reward this. You need to deal with your discomfort, and yeah, your racism and femmephobia and transphobia and transmisogyny and misogynoir. You don’t even know how amazing these women and femmes are off-camera. We celebrate them for all they they are because of all this.

Moments Of Waking Up In Dread The Last Decade

  • Brexit
  • Trump
  • Scott Scummo Morrison winning an election Labour ‘couldn’t lose’
  • Boris Johnson
  • Waking up on January 1 as Australia burns

I wrote that this morning after I got up, haven woken twice in the night with that pit in the stomach inescapable dread I’ve had too often in the last ten years. Nothing on that list was a surprise. That doesn’t mean each of them aren’t individually and collectively an avoidable tragedy. It’s far from an exhaustive list as well. Indigenous deaths in custody, trans women being murdered and ‘bathroom bills’, ICE and detention camps everywhere, Muslims being targeted globally, who remembers Christchurch was only last March, on and on and on, all the things that gave me sleepless nights and left me grieving.

And waking up through this night, more of the same is coming: straight white people taking and taking, not giving a shit, destroying the world, and destroying anyone not like them. All that suffering we could have avoided. That’s our past and that’s our future.

I love how young trans feminine mob are throwing d…

Status

I love how young trans feminine mob are throwing down ‘transsexual’ these days. Very here for this reclaiming of our word.

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2019

It’s been twenty years.

I usually let this day pass, and have done consistently since 2008. I don’t go to any vigils, mourning happens every time I read of another death. Another murder. Over the years, the reasons have changed, but primarily TDOR is a day for my aunties, sisters, siblings and cousins and I don’t want to be around cis people or masc people performing mourning for what is overwhelmingly a list of people murdered for being feminine. Feminine and Black and brown and Indigenous and sex worker.

22 in the States. That we know of. 331 worldwide. Again, that we know of.

We know those numbers do not reflect reality, just like official numbers of how many of us there are. I was reading the report Being Transgender in Belgium yesterday, published in 2009 (and its followup published in 2018), which came up with figures of such rarity, the entire trans population in Belgium would almost be wiped out by those 331 murders. Which proposes two questions: If the incidence of trans people is so staggeringly low, 1 in 10 or 20 or 30,000, why is there so much attention on us from medical reports and legislation and experts having opinions over decades, and the vast corpus of published research, for a few hundred people out of eleven million? And why are cis people — mostly male, but let’s not forget feminist cis women and their history in this — so determined to not just murder us, but erase us from existence and memory?

I say, ‘us’, knowing there is legitimate disapproval and frustration especially from Black and Latina trans feminine people (21 of the 22 murdered in the US were Black) with white-presenting trans people claiming ‘us’, and I know how pale I am. I’ve been writing back into my history recently, spending a lot of time with those aunties and sisters in Aotearoa, back when we were called transsexuals, trannies, shemales, and the only job open to us was sex work. I remember them on K’ Road and Vivian Street, Māori, Pasifika, and a couple of Pakeha women. Women, not trans women or trans feminine or anything else, ’cos that’s what we were and that’s what we aspired to be, no matter how hard the path. I remember fists and guns and knives and iron bars, and the constant fear, or just being hit by the disgust or hate or ridicule. I was lucky. I got out. I have dance to thank for that. But there were a few occasions if things had gone slightly different, a cop car hadn’t cruised past at that moment (on more than one occasion, also ironic, no?), or friends in a car hadn’t, or something to interrupt what was about to happen, I wouldn’t have made it. So, ‘us’.

A difference in recent years is we’re no longer just being remembered and talked about on one day of the year for having gotten ourselves murdered. Every day I see my beautiful sisters and feminine siblings utterly shredding it, and truly, that it’s possible at this moment for them to live their lives so fully and openly and to be loved for all of their selves brings me much joy. And I want to remember my aunties and sisters from whom I learned to live my truth (as we say today), and who burn brighter for me the older I get. Some of them probably made it out, quite a few wouldn’t. The other violences were AIDS and drug addiction, and these ravaged us. Doing the remembering, then. Each one of these deaths hurt. All the deaths that shouldn’t have happened and lives unable to be lived hurt.