As queer Indigenous people we know a thing or two about days of action – IDAHOBIT
May 17, 2019
Author: Associate Professor Sandy O’Sullivan
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Today is IDAHOBIT, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia.
This year, at the age of 53, I came out as a transgender person. For many years I’ve identified as a lesbian and I’ve written about the experience of being Aboriginal and queer but I never expected to be faced with a realization about my gender this late in life. It was terrifying and wonderful.
Specifically, I have come out as a non-binary person, where I don’t identify as either female or male. I am transgender, because I was assigned the wrong gender at birth. Through work I’m undertaking, this is now being corrected.
In coming to this realization later in life, I am supported by an engaged family and community and by colleagues who have worked to understand. I’m fortunate that I have a secure job and that I am at time in my life when I could work through the difficulties at my own pace. When I’ve asked colleagues and family to refer to me as ‘they/them’ rather than ‘he/him’ or ‘she/her’, I’ve been met mostly with agreement and support. I’ve got a supportive workplace where they accommodate all of my needs. And my family are unfailingly present for me.
Even so, it’s been a struggle. Although I felt that the revelations were new, I’ve come to realise that for all of my years of writing about queerness and having the language to explain myself, coming out late in life was connected to suppression and denial.
When I was a teenager in the early 1980s, I fantasised about coming out. At the time I had no job, no stable home-life and no clear support, with homophobic messages from all corners. At the time being queer was illegal in the state in which I lived: Queensland. So, I stayed in the closet, and felt I was alone.
In my 20s I realized that I couldn’t continue pretending to be straight; I had to make a change. I came out as a lesbian in the 1990s because I thought it was the only option I had available to me on the queer spectrum. I always knew that it wasn’t quite right, and I came to think of myself as a lesbian who didn’t quite fit in.
Cherokee scholar, Qwo-li Driskill talks about being Two-Spirit, and living between genders. Driskill writes of the challenge for many First Nations’ communities forced into these binary gender-types. These binaries of male and female reflect the colonial project and invader stereotypes imposed through religion and cultural annihilation, with colonial practices that deny the multiple genders found across many First Nations’ communities. If I could send a note to my younger self, I’d tell them to read the rich work on Two-Spirit presentations from our First Nations’ cousins on Turtle Island. I’d tell them to pay attention to stories from Samoan Fa’afafine people, and understand the challenges to binary male/female presentations that they hold.
I’d also tell my younger self that the colonial project will never deliver answers, and that it will always cast diversity within their own understandings. While I can’t go back in time, I can urge anyone reading this to think about the limitation of gender binaries for people like me, and to join us in challenging – through a day of action – the phobias that cast gender into a rigid colonial binary.
Finally, I want to promote the power of us telling our stories and being as open as we can. My younger self might not have had that agency, but old ‘me’ does. Earlier this week I recorded a video as a part of my coming out process. I wanted to let my family, friends and community know about the changes and understand my position, and also to let them know that I’m okay. It aimed to be straightforward and to celebrate the change, but it was still a surprisingly difficult experience. The more that those of us who are able, can tell our diverse stories, the better off the whole of our community will be. For what it’s worth, here it is: https://youtu.be/9R960eQaTpo
Since its inception, IndigenousX has been celebrating queer-identifying Indigenous people. In 2017 when the marriage equality postal survey was held IndigenousX took the position that we would support our queer mob, who were fighting for their right to be treated equally in marriage. IndigenousX has supported queer Indigenous people and has sought to amplify their voices through the rotating Twitter account, with featured articles here on the IndigenousX website.
The following are a selection of some of these articles.