THE transgender community call it ‘‘passing’’.
Last week Bryson Douglas, from Broadmeadow, was stopped out the front of the Big W at Charlestown Square.
Some hulkish muscle-on-muscle salesman with sunglasses on his head and a lanyard around his neck was spruiking for a private college.
Douglas, 23, was polite, chatted for a few minutes, then bailed.
The spurned salesman was cool about it, maybe thinking he’d grabbed a lead; ‘‘have a good day, my man’’.
Passing, as Douglas explains, is the act of being ‘‘read as the gender you want to be seen as’’, and for him, and many others in the transgender community, there’s no rush like it.
‘‘I just walked away with the biggest grin,’’ Douglas said.
‘‘It’s like the best thing ever, I still just get a rush when people automatically see me as male, it’s so affirming.’’
He’s a member of a ‘‘thriving’’ community of transgender men and women in Newcastle who despite seeing increased acceptance in recent years, are still likely to face any combination of being ignored, misunderstood, or discriminated against in mainstream Australia.
Douglas began his transition in September last year, injecting testosterone — or ‘‘T’’ as it’s called colloquially — every couple of weeks.
‘‘I knew for sure I wanted to start the process in about February of 2013, but I still wasn’t sure about going on testosterone,’’ he said.
‘‘I was out to most of my friends and I stopped wearing bras completely, stopped wearing girls clothes, so I was very much on the road [but] I felt like I had more thinking to do.
‘‘I went to the psychiatrist in May and said ‘look, I’m thinking about this but I’m still not sure’, and he said ‘why don’t you come back and see me a couple more times’, and by the third time I saw him I said ‘let’s do this’.’’
The way transgender men explain the experience of seeing their body and mind change when they first start using T differs from person to person, but everyone agrees it’s dramatic.
The physical changes are pretty obvious: deeper voice, more hair in more places, broader shoulders.
But there are deep emotional and mental changes too, as well as sex.
‘‘Not so much it increased, it’s more that it changed,’’ Douglas said,
‘‘I’m a lot more visual now with my sexual attraction, I’ll see someone and [be attracted] straight away.
‘‘It’s quite weird [because] you’ve got to be careful not to become that guy, the worst stereotype of the biggest dickhead in the club because you do have that over-riding sense of ‘I just want sex’, but you also have knowledge of what it’s like to be a girl and how it feels to be objectified.
In NSW transgender people are diagnosed as having a gender identity disorder before a medical transition can begin, and in Newcastle consultant psychiatrist Dr Larry Brash has been the go-to for that evaluation for the better part of 20 years.
Dr Brash says the evaluation is ‘‘a full clinical interrogation of their development history’’.
‘‘What they were like as a child, which in transgender males is typically extreme tom-boyishness, an insistence on wearing masculine clothes and later in teen years often a difficult time of unhappily trying to fit in as a female pretty unsuccessfully,’’ he said.
Liam York, 23, can attest to that.
Also from Broadmeadow, York grew up in Grenfell, birthplace of Henry Lawson and home of the Big Gold Pick and Pan, a tiny village 50 clicks west of Cowra.
‘‘I remember visiting Taronga Zoo when I was maybe six, and seeing an emu surrounded by these other smaller birds,’’ he said.
‘‘I remember even then feeling like that emu, like I didn’t fit.’’
No one attributed that feeling to his yet undefined gender issues, and nor would they in later years when, suffering from severe anxiety and panic attacks, he began to self harm.
Statistics around transgender issues are still scarce, but studies invariably reveal that self harm and suicide rates are astronomical compared to the rest of the population.
A 2007 survey found one in four respondents had reported suicidal thoughts in the two weeks before.
‘‘I was 16 when I was first admitted to a mental hospital,’’ he said.
‘‘I was hiding a lot of what I was feeling because I felt that I was wrong and didn’t want to tell anyone because I didn’t want to be thought of as insane.’’
For Douglas growing up, his issues with his gender were clouded by other complications.
‘‘I just felt different from as early as I can remember and I didn’t really have a word for it, except for cerebral palsy, I knew I had that,’’ he said.
But he said transitioning has transformed his life.
‘‘I just feel more relaxed in general,’’ he said.
‘‘Before I’ve realised [I was transgender], I didn’t make sense to myself at all.
‘‘I felt like there was something wrong with me and I didn’t know what it was and I felt like I was constantly fighting myself. But now that sense of internal warfare is almost completely gone away which is amazing because I never thought that would happen.
‘‘I had huge self esteem problems, really bad, and I still do but for me transitioning has been such a good thing that I want to share it and if I can educate people by sharing or if there’s someone who’s in the position now I was in a couple of years ago, they hear my story they’ll know they can do it too.’’
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