Culture

‘I own my gender identity, and no one can take that away from me.’

Ollie was assigned female at birth, but only now do they feel comfortable with who they are.

By Ollie Gatfield

Culture

Ollie was assigned female at birth, but only now do they feel comfortable with who they are.

By Ollie Gatfield

When you look at me, you assume I’m a woman. When I walk into work, you call me a lady. When I go to a restaurant, you point me to the female bathrooms. When I book a haircut, you ask me to select a gender. You misgender me every day because we live in a society that determines our gender from the moment that we are assigned sex at birth.

That’s why International Transgender Day of Visibility is so important. On 31 March each year, Trans Day of Visibility celebrates trans pride and awareness, recognising trans and gender diverse experiences and achievements. It creates a safe space for our community. It gives us a platform to share stories and start conversations about the barriers we face.

Trans and gender diverse people make up about 2 percent of the population. The term describes those people whose gender is different to what was presumed for them at birth. This includes people who identify as non-binary, genderfluid, genderqueer, trans masculine, trans feminine, agender, bigender, or something else. Trans and gender diverse people are more than five times more likely to be diagnosed with depression and more than half (53 percent) have reported experiencing sexual violence or coercion.

Australian and international research shows that trans and gender diverse people have distressingly poor mental health and wellbeing outcomes. More than one-third (35 percent) of transgender people in Australia have attempted suicide in their lifetime, with young trans people 15 times more likely than the general population to attempt.

Rethinking the gender binary is about more than pronouns. It’s a matter of national urgency.

Growing up I was conditioned to fit into the role of a woman – a role that never felt right. I wanted to play with the boy’s toys. I refused to wear dresses. I played in the boys’ soccer team. I wanted to walk and dress like a boy. Eventually, I started to wear make-up. I straightened my hair. I tried feminine clothes. I fought for women’s rights, and I refused gendered slurs like ‘boys will be boys’. For 22 years, I tried to convince myself I was a proud, feminist tomboy.

Except I wasn’t. I’m not.

I have been perceived as a woman my entire life all because of my assigned sex at birth. The identity that had been carved out for me by a world that enforces a rigid gender binary never fit. Now, in between two genders, I confront different questions. If I am neither a male nor female, then what am I? I do not fit into the binary social structures that society has created. And these structures make it hard to escape the feeling of isolation.

While it should not be downplayed, this struggle also does not define me. I am proud to call myself a transmasculine, non-binary person. This means I was assigned female at birth but am now non-binary and identify more with a masculine identity. I love my presentation. I am confident in who I am. I own my gender identity, and no one can take that away from me.

After coming out to my friends and family, I feel accepted and truly seen. I can finally understand what it is like to be proud of who you are, and to have everyone love you for it.

So today, I encourage all allies to listen to the trans community. Use their pronouns without question and correct those who don’t. Be patient and open with anyone exploring their gender identity and remember that every journey is different. And finally, make an effort to notice how the gender binary defines our society. Find ways to challenge it – whether it’s the survey you’re writing for work or the bathroom signs at your cafe.

These actions may seem small, but they are key to ensuring trans people feel safe, included, and visible.

Ollie’s pronouns are they/them.