Big Issues

“Obviously Australia Is Not Safe”: The Trans Reality Of Living In Australia

person in trans flag trans hate

Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

The sharp uptick in transphobia in Australia has resulted in an unfathomable amount of hatred and abuse levelled at trans people, according to a groundbreaking report from the Trans Justice Project and Victorian Pride Lobby led by Jackie Turner and Hiero Badge. 

— Content Warning: This article discusses transphobia and mental health. —

Fuelling Hate — the largest-ever project investigating anti-trans hate in Australia — exposes just how pervasive anti-trans hate is in Australia and how it manifests in real-world contexts. The survey had 3099 participants, and 42.24 percent of those surveyed were trans, making it one of the largest samples of trans Australians ever collected. 

The Fuelling Hate report found that in the 12 months leading up to the survey, 1 in 2 trans participants experienced anti-trans hate, and 1 in 10 experienced anti-trans violence. It’s awful, but the report’s findings likely won’t come as much of a surprise to the trans community. The current climate, both in Australia and at large, puts a very real target on the backs of trans people, as conservative politicians, media outlets, ‘activists’, and trans-erasing ‘feminists’ continue to espouse transphobic rhetoric. In fact, 7 in 10 participants of the survey said they experienced an increase in anti-trans abuse and hate in the two months before the Australian tour of British antitrans rights campaigner Kellie-Jay Keen. The same tour that led to Neo-Nazis clashing with trans rights protesters

The result? Trans people experiencing online hate, deliberate misgendering, bullying, doxing, stalking, threats of violence and sexual assault, death threats, incitement to commit suicide, and incitement to genocide. 1 in 10 trans people have reported experiencing physical and/or sexual assault, per Fuelling Hate. 

Media’s role in fueling anti-trans disinformation shouldn’t go unchecked either, especially when what’s being presented has real-world consequences. Pieces like Channel Seven’s Spotlight segment called ‘De-Transitioning’ does nothing but perpetuate a damaging rhetoric that trans people somehow “brainwash” young people into changing their gender. Airing earlier in the month, the episode discussed the “irreparable damage” being forced upon “confused kids wrongly diagnosed as transgender,” and featured images of trans people, including creator Grace Hyland and musician Olivia Gavranich before and after transitioning without their consent. None of the trans people whose images were used for the segment say they regret their transition

(Channel Seven have since issued a correction removing the imagery of trans creator Grace Hyland who spoke out against the use of their imagery in the program on TikTok. Olivia Gavranich responded to the correction, saying to the ABC, “It isn’t enough … The ‘correction’ needs to happen in the writing room, not after the segment has been nationally broadcast on TV.”)

Sure, a few people do regret their transition (often citing a variety of reasons for the regret, including anti-trans harassment) and their stories should be told if they’d like them to be. But to use de-transitioning as a weapon for conservative people to justify their transphobic sentiments is incredibly damaging. Despite the fear-mongering, the percentage of people who de-transition is very, very low. In 27 studies across Europe, the US and Canada, 1 percent of the 8000 people who had gender-affirming surgeries expressed regret, with some saying those feelings of regret were temporary. A small fraction then went on to de-transition. Another study on long-term regret with gender-affirming mastectomies found that the median satisfaction score was 5 on a 5-point scale, and the median regret score was 0.0 on a 100-point scale. 

What reports like Channel Seven’s Spotlight don’t illustrate is the extremely harmful impacts of transphobia and trans hate. In their 2021 snapshot of mental health for queer people, LGBTIQ+ Health Australia found that, compared to the general population, trans people aged 14-25 are fifteen times more likely to attempt suicide and that 48 percent have attempted suicide in their lifetime. The report attributes these findings to stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and abuse they receive on the basis of being LGBTIQ. Researchers in Melbourne recently conducted the first randomised clinical trial on the impact of gender-affirming care for trans people, and they found that it reduced the risk of suicide by 55% for the group that was receiving hormones. 

Quite frankly, it’s reprehensible that we’re living in a time where trans people are scared to live their authentic lives because a small group of very loud people can make them feel unsafe or unwanted. Even more reprehensible is media giving these people, or anti-trans viewpoints, any sort of platform.

Instead of just dissecting the Fuelling Hate report from the Trans Justice Project and Victorian Pride Lobby, I wanted to speak to trans people to put the findings in real-world context. I spoke to Jackie Turner, Jasper Lees, and Navindra about their experiences of being trans in Australia. Here’s our chat: 

A Junkee Roundtable With Trans Australians

Ky Stewart, Junkee: Thank you all for taking the time to chat to me off the back of the anti-trans hate report that came out recently. What do you make of the recent reports that revealed there’s a sharp increase in anti-trans abuse in Australia? 

Jasper: The main thing I take from it is that there’s no time to waste in changing laws. It’s just one of those things where obviously the cogs of bureaucracy move very slowly, but we don’t have time to wait for them to move because it is just getting worse and more violent. We need to communicate to lawmakers that we need something now, yesterday, last year. 

Navindra: I really do hope that lawmakers, politicians, and just people in the community as well really take this report into mind and I really hope it helps change the conversation we’re having about trans people in the media and within our homes. I just hope that it’ll continue the process of making our lives a little bit easier. 

Jackie, what was the most confronting part of conducting and putting together the research for the report?

Jackie: It was originally meant to be a really short thing. We were expecting to get 600 to 800 responses and to turn it around in two weeks’ time with a small four-page report. What happened was that we got over 3000 responses. I think that shows just how much abuse and harassment that the trans community is under at the moment: they’re looking for an avenue to have their voices heard. 

Some really shocking stories are reflected in the report and we’re seeing people sharing the results from the report and sharing their own stories of being followed and being harassed in a public space.

“Some people are talking about themselves receiving death threats … things that previously they may not have talked about publicly.”

I think that this is also sparking a chance for trans people to share their stories that a lot of people who aren’t connected to the trans and gender diverse community may actually not be aware of but lots of us are receiving this kind of treatment on a daily basis.

Even just reading through the report and what people were saying they’ve experienced as a result of the rise in hate and abuse was very shocking. I’m curious to know a bit more about each of your lived experiences what are some of the things you have experienced living in Australia being trans and gender diverse?

Jasper: It’s a slightly difficult question because I benefit from the great privilege of coming across as a tiny white man so when I’m walking down the street, I don’t get the direct kind of the overt vilification that a lot of trans people get. The worst that I’ve received was when Kellie-Jay Keen was here and I became the topic of her Tasmanian obsession. The online abuse I got from that was pretty far reaching and went on for a very long time. Still now when my name pops up in things there’s the little cabal of UK terfs that jump on, so my [transphobic experiences are] pretty much limited to online abuse. 

I think I first was resilient to this stuff but after a while I just couldn’t go on social media. Everywhere that I looked for at least a month after [Kellie’s] tour my face or name was somewhere and quite often it was very old photos of me and my dead name with very detailed descriptions of my genitals. There were times during the transphobe tour that I did feel like if someone recognised me on the street, it could be quite dangerous.

Navindra: For me, it’s really weird because I grew up dealing with racism at first, especially with the 9/11 hysteria and the neighbourhood I grew up in was very white. So me being one of the only coloured people in that neighbourhood, I’d have people coming up out of their houses ready to fight me if I was walking down the wrong street. Now I have transitioned, the level of threat [of racism] has become a lot calmer but I’m more sexualised now, whereas pre-transition I was much more humanised. It’s interesting seeing that because I was born and bred in the city and to see that transition in society’s eyes as well was very telling. 

“Sometimes I don’t even want to go outside because I don’t want to deal with the very real threat of physical violence if someone does clock me.” 

As for dealing with transphobia, a lot of the time it’s men who are attracted to me. If I’m literally just existing in public and they suddenly clock that I’m trans, they get mad at that. It really has nothing to do with me and it’s everything to do with them. These men are attracted to me and they don’t feel comfortable acknowledging that. They’re afraid that someone else might be around who might know them. That’s when they start yelling at me saying all these horrible, horrible stuff. 

I’m very fortunate that I’m in the part of my transition where I understand that part of the process and I’m able to sort of separate myself when experiencing verbal attacks in public. But walking home at night can be quite nerve-wracking and it’s hard to feel safe being in public. Sometimes I don’t even want to go outside because I don’t want to deal with the very real threat of physical violence if someone does clock me. 

Thank you both for sharing. The report mentions that the Kellie-Jay Keen rally in Melbourne was a pinpoint for a lot of people in the rise of hate and abuse towards trans people. After those rallies, did you notice that there was a sharp uptick in online hate, or was it more in person?

Jasper: For me, it’s almost hard to remember how bad it was before she came to Australia. The main thing that I noticed afterwards is that every news site you go on and every form of social media, you will absolutely find some discussion about the rights of trans people. It’s just become this kind of crucial part of popular culture at the moment, this war about people’s identities and their rights to exist. 

Navindra: Seeing that Neo Nazis were attending those rallies, I definitely then saw an increase of my friends dealing with aggression in public. [Before the rallies] I actually had an incident at WorldPride this year, where this group of guys had started taunting us and taking videos of us after the event finished then it turned into this full on fight. 

“I think it’s so ironic that Australia has one of the biggest LGBTQI+ events in the world, Mardi Gras, and we’re still seeing an increase in acts of violence. I think that’s a whole lot of bullshit.” 

As a trans person, [I find that] people are very confused about the trans community. There’s so much misinformation going out there in the public eye and there’s so many people just wanting a quick headline, whether it be politicians, media, personalities, celebrities, whatever, who just want their 15 minutes of fame. I think for a lot of people that don’t really get the trans community, they’re just taking these quick headlines and forming and using that to generalise the entire community. What happened in WorldPride was a result of all this misinformation that’s going on — same as these rallies — and it’s resulting in actual physical violence towards the community, which I saw and experienced in person. I think it’s so ironic that Australia has one of the biggest LGBTQI+ events in the world, Mardi Gras, and we’re still seeing an increase in acts of violence. I think that’s a whole lot of bullshit.

Well, do you all believe that Australia is a safe place at the moment for trans people?

Jackie: Yeah, that’s a hard question. I think the reality is that things have gotten a lot less safe over the last few years. We know that the anti-trans campaigns in the US and the UK are having a big impact on the trans community there. I think what I would like to see out of this report being released is that this serves as a wake-up call and shows that we still have a window of opportunity here. We don’t have to go down the same track as what we’ve seen overseas, but to do that, we need allies and our elected leaders to stand up alongside us and champion our right to thrive.

Navindra: I don’t see that [happening] as well. I think Australia is definitely in a much better place than some other countries and we do have certain privileges here that other countries simply do not have. As a Sri Lankan Australian woman, I really acknowledge my privilege of being born here compared to being born in Sri Lanka because it’s much safer for me to transition here than it ever would have been in Sri Lanka. 

However, in saying that, there’s still a lot of faults when it comes to the privileges that we have gained in Australia. Like Jackie was saying, I think it really comes down to a pendulum. In history whenever you progress forward eventually that progress is going to swing back a little. People don’t remember what originally was the reason why we fought for our rights and that’s why it’s important for people who are community leaders to keep holding that line and to keep pushing for trans rights.

Yeah there are some good [trans] stories here and there, but the reality for the whole community is not representative of those few good stories. So it’s really important to recognise that, yes, while there is progress, it is eventually going to start swinging back, like we’re seeing in America. Oh my god. How many times have we been at a rally here in Australia and someone’s mentioned Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera and the fact that’s happening in their own goddamn country? It’s just really upsetting. 

Jasper: Just add to that, obviously the UK and the US are really bad, but if there’s one thing that particularly the Melbourne rally showed us is that obviously Australia is not safe. It really depends who you are and where you are and for a lot of trans people it is just rolling the dice every time we leave the house. 

“Absolutely our culture and our society is unfair to trans people and you can come across people that will want to hurt you.”

So we can look at these other places and go ‘Gee, that’s really fucked up,’ but if you’re born in a country town in Australia, you are pretty much just as unsafe as if you’re born in a country town in America just maybe Australians don’t have easy access to a gun. Absolutely our culture and our society is unfair to trans people and you can come across people that will want to hurt you.

What would you like to see be done to improve the lives of trans people here?

Jackie: I would say first that the trans community is an incredibly organised, resourceful and resilient community. We’re already doing the work to change things ourselves. I think the big role here is that we actually need a big show of solidarity from allies and organisations; people in the community to stand with us. 

We talk about anti-vilification laws that can protect the entire community from hate; better regulations; for governments to be working together with social media companies to stop the spread of anti-trans disinformation [and] limiting the spread of anti-trans hate groups on those platforms; and community-led interventions to curb extremism. The final thing is actually more funding for research.

Jasper: Trans healthcare needs to be covered by medicare. The economic barriers … can’t stay that way if we want trans people to live. You are basically hit with a student debt-level cost [to medically transition] and a lot of people can’t [financially] recover from it if they do get it. 

Navindra: Being a woman of colour and being an activist for six years, one thing I’ve noticed is that people of colour are kind of getting left behind in the community. Many of us aren’t even being accounted for and have been a real oversight. It’s a real shame if we are not really getting everyone in the community seen and pushing for everyone’s rights.

What are your hopes for the future of trans and gender diverse people here in Australia? What do you hope things will look like? 

Jasper: Big question. If I think back to before I transitioned, to my childhood, I didn’t have any strong trans role models to understand that who I was was alright and normal. That made growing up quite traumatising. So one of my main hopes would be that going into the future, there are happy and successful trans people in and around the media and in public positions that can show queer youth that they’re alright, they’re okay, and things can turn out great for them. There are places for them in society. 

The other [hope I have is better] research into trans healthcare. There are so many times I’ve walked into appointments and had to educate them on trans issues and how trans healthcare should work and it seems like every trans person is having to go through trial and error with their doctor and how to do it in a way that’s right for them. So I hope there’s an effort to study the lives of trans people, the physiology, how our brains work, how hormones interact and how we can have a more individualised model of how someone can medically transition if they choose to. 

Navindra: For me what I hope to see is just a lot more compassion and empathy for the trans community. As someone who is a trans woman who has worked in schools, these kids are really just so much more open [now] and my pronouns weren’t even a problem. They just got it and they were never disrespectful towards me being a trans woman, so it gives me a lot of hope for the next generation of kids coming up and the next generation of Australians. I’m hoping to see that we have a more open and empathetic and loving generation, because at the end of the day, we all bleed the same. That is my hope. 

Jackie: I want to build a future where trans people feel safe in their communities and we all have the same chances to build good lives as everyone else. I think it’s not enough to hope, we have to get organised. That’s why I’m building a movement to push back against the anti-trans lobby and work to build that future where trans people have equality, safety and are treated with dignity and respect. 

Editor’s note: This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. 

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14. QLife also offers free LGBTQ+ peer support and referral on 1800 184 527. 

Read the Fuelling Hate report in full here, and find out more about the Trans Justice Project here

Ky is a proud Kamilaroi and Dharug person and writer at Junkee. Follow them on Instagram or on X.

Image: Unsplash