Posse of bullies

Content warning: vivid description of transphobic assault, discussion of bullying, PTSD and suicide.

This weekend the SMH ran an anonymous piece that claims to be written by a mother whose child is preparing to affirm a different gender, worried that the process makes it too easy. Then Chris Uhlmann, federal political news director for Nine, which includes Fairfax, tweeted an entirely predictable attempt to stir up Day Two controversy, referring to trans folk who objected to the piece as a ‘hysterical posse of bullies.’ It’s cynical as fuck.

Chris, let me tell you what a posse of bullies looks like.

Tonight, I was sitting at a bus stop in Newtown by the station, on my way home from work, waiting for a bus that threads its way through Marrickville. A spray of phlegm lands on me. I look up and there’s a chubby kid on a scooter, maybe 14 years old, and he’s glaring at my coloured nails. He scoots around the bench and stands right behind me. I stand up. I’m ready to put him on blast. But I can see he’s with four mates and they’re already arcing up. Shaken, I turn and walk up the road to the next stop.

I came out as nonbinary in 2017 and I came out publicly as trans last week. Smart friends of mine define trans as identifying with a gender other than whatever you were assigned at birth. Even though I understood that definition at an abstract level, it took me a really long time to identify as trans myself, because I don’t experience the kind of daily hostility and outright violence many trans people live with – particularly trans women. I’ve always sought to be careful not to claim to speak for experiences I don’t share.

But when I faced that question, I could recall a never-ending torrent of micro-aggressions, dating back to early childhood and coming from women and men alike, intended to correct my performance of masculinity. Nothing will ever match the relief I felt when I ‘declared bankruptcy’ on masculinity. Not all the aggression was micro, either β€” I was bullied so severely at school I wound up with PTSD. Many trans and gender diverse (TGD) kids don’t make it through: this group has the highest rates of self-harm and suicide of any sub-population. The increased risk shrinks dramatically when kids are supported to affirm their gender.

So when Chris Uhlmann talks about trans people and allies tweeting their disagreement as a ‘hysterical posse of bullies,’ I’d like to draw the conversation back to the ugly fact of actual posses of bullies and the damage they can cause. As that anonymous article demonstrates, the parents of trans kids can sometimes be their worst bullies β€” insisting their life should be made harder just in case it’s possible to coerce them back onto the straight and narrow.

Denin Lawley on Unsplash

Nobody at Fairfax seems to have stopped and thought, if your child is trans, that’s a sickening thing to write about them. Responding to some firm but reasonable tweets, editor of The Age, Gay Alcorn, took the article off that masthead’s online presence, acknowledging it was insensitive to publish it in the same week as writer Bridget Flack has died.

However, as my own experience might demonstrate, trans and gender diverse kids are always under attack β€” initially for ‘failing’ at their assigned gender, and when they affirm a different gender. When is it ever okay to tell the parents of vulnerable children that it’s okay to doubt them, okay to dream of making their path more difficult?