More needs to be done to support transgender rights and equality

Published in Hijacked:

2014 was a big year for transgenderism – Laverne Cox from Orange Is The New Black was named Woman Of The Year by Glamour magazine, ABC’s very own Q&A introduced discussions about transgender etiquette in the media and Swinburne became the first Victorian university to install agender neutral bathroom. The increased media attention on transgenderism showed that the movement for transgender rights was on full steam ahead. As 2015 brings us a clean slate, it’s high time that Australia focuses debate on the often silent “T” in the “LGBIT” acronym.

Although 2014 was a relatively positive year for transgender equality, it certainly didn’t end without any hitches. In October last year, The Courier Mail sensationalised Mayang Prasetyo’s gruesome murder case with the cover headline of “Monster Chef and the She Male”, also calling her a “lady boy” later in the article.

The outlet’s use of the terms “she male” and “lady boy” were not only extremely transphobic, but brought to the fore the importance of educating the Australian public about transgender respect and etiquette. A good first step would be educating the broader community on what language is acceptable and not acceptable when talking about the transgender community. For example, “she male” and “lady boy” are offensive and derogatory. More acceptable terms are “trans male” and “trans female” are more acceptable.

When it comes to transgenderism, it’s OK to be confused. After all, our language is constantly shifting, with new terms like cisgender and intersex entering the mix. But confusion can soon become understanding if we integrate education initiatives into our everyday school programs. The sooner the better, right? And the earlier we educate the Australian public, the more respectful society will become. Sensitivity begins with the individual.

Another iconic moment for the transgender community occurred in July 2014, when international model Andrej Pejic spoke out about sex reassignment surgery via People. Andrej Pejic became Andreja Pejic.

“I want to share my story with the world because I think I have a social responsibility. I hope that by being open about this, it becomes less of an issue,” Pejic told People.

Indeed, coming out and announcing who you truly are is a scary yet bold thing to do. There’s something so admirable about being so direct and open about it all. It’s tackling the issue head on.

Pejic was exactly on point when she hoped that her openness of being a trans woman would make transgenderism less of an issue and something that just is – it’s time for the media to stop sensationalising transgenderism as something that is foreign and out of the ordinary. The media, then, plays a huge role in how the transgenderism community is understood. As such, the more the media ‘normalises’ transgenderism and acknowledges its rightful place within social discourse, the easier it will be for transgender individuals to come out and gain support from the public.

Unfortunately 2015 did not begin with a positive outlook for the transgender community (namely with the suicide of US transgender teen Leelah Alcorn in late 2014), but it does not mean that the rest of the year has to continue in this sombre fashion. Like any rights movement, it’s all about taking baby steps at a steady pace, and the new beginning of 2015 is the perfect time for the Australian public to change the very foundations of transgender rights and equality in this country.

Aleczander Gamboa

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