This month in Star Observer’s monthly Column “The Gender Whisperer” Katherine Wolfgramme interviews Non-binary trans activist and South Sydney Herald cartoonist Norrie
Norrie has a bubble machine on their bicycle, and they say hearing kids call out “bubble lady” gives them great joy. They don’t correct the kids on using incorrect gendered pronouns, though. They’re just happy to be recognised as a part of their world.
What are your preferred pronouns?
My favourite Norman Gunston moment in Celebrity Squares was when he was asked what ‘she’ referred to in the expression “there she blows”. He replied, “the cat’s mother, and it’s very bad manners”. In public discourse I’m happy with gender neutral pronouns like ‘they’ or ‘them’, or even feminine pronouns, as long as there are no imposed assumptions about reproductive biology coming along with them.
How did you decide on your name?
Before I transitioned, I adopted my middle name, and legally shed my old first and last names. It was linked to my housemate in 1984, who was a computer programmer and only had one name – I think it’s the life mission of computer programmers to make life difficult for other computer programmers; silly computers, programmed to ask for more than one name, when some people only have one. Maybe we were just trying to highlight the huge gap between actual reality and virtual reality?
After a few years I was fed up with being asked for a second name all the time, so I used a joke name, which was initially intended as a querying of identity, before I realised it was also permission for me to be well. That’s how I became Norrie May-Welby.
What are your passions?
Global sustainability and social justice. I’d like to think humanity has a good chance of surviving this century, but it seems the selfish interests of the mega-rich are opposed to this. While it gives me some satisfaction to think of them slowly perishing on Mars long after the people who cleaned their houses on Earth are dead, I’d rather not have most humans wiped out by disasters of our own creation.
What do you believe is the greatest legacy you have given to Australia’s gender diverse communities?
I think that my legacy gets decided by other people after I am dead, I may like to think it was the High Court of Australia case of 2014 that abolished the presumption of sex being always binary (that is, either distinctly male or distinctly female), but it may be that most people remember me simply as the anonymous source of bubbles that changed a dreary day for them. But of course it would be sweet to think that eventually the imposition of binary sex or gender ceased to be a factor for future humanity.
Where do you see the trans community going in the future?
Anywhere they want to go! In a decade or so, being transgender will be as un-noteworthy as being left-handed – statistically unusual, but often unnoticed. Children will be able to access appropriate puberty blockers without having to go to court. And hopefully, with less adverse pressure and more acceptance, more transgender and other sex or gender diverse people will go on to have happy, full, and fulfilling lives, and less will fall to the life-shortening events that we used to suffer in the bad old days.
If you could go back in time and tell your younger self anything, what would you tell them?
Nothing. I’d like to, but I know young me couldn’t be told anything. I would not have believed how my life turned out unless I actually lived through it. The most I could say would be: “You will live through heaven and hell. But you will live.”
Life can be hard for young people dealing with their identity. Do you have any advice for them?
It’s everyone’s right, and duty, to be true to their self. Gosh, did you just accept the pronoun ‘their’ for a single person? You can’t substitute a more apt pronoun there. More advice? You do you, honey, and never think you’re on your own, you’re just part of a huge mass of bubbling cosmic soup.
It really is an honour to be nominated for any award, especially one so prestigious as the Australian LGBTI Awards, I was already so happy with that – imagine my shock when my name was called as the winner of Inspirational Role Model of the Year, and just to add the cherry to my sundae, Wear It Purple won best Community Initiative.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and congratulate my fellow Wear It Purple Board Directors – President Ross Wetherbee, Vice President Marc Field, Treasurer Alex Stefan, Secretary Gemma Allen, Brock Galway, Robbie Robertson, Pete Foley and Brenna Harding.
Wear It Purple is driven by our youth, I would like to also acknowledge the hard work of our Youth Action Council and Executive Committee who have worked tirelessly through the year to empower and bring hope to rainbow youth across Australia, we dedicate this award to you.
I would like to also acknowledge past president Matt Janssen for his tireless efforts last year.
It is very important to also thank our former Wear It Purple Patrons who paved the way and opened doors for our organisation Dr Kerryn Phelps and her wife Jackie Stricker Phelps.
It was really wonderful to see other strong trans people win awards in other categories including Mama Alto for Best Artist, Jordan Raskapoulos for Local Hero and Georgie Stone for Hero, it was a great day for trans visibility, and high time that gender diverse people be finally acknowledged for their contributions to our wonderful LGBTI Community.
For this month’s Gender Whisperer column, Star Observer’s Katherine Wolfgramme speaks with non-binary, transmasculine personal trainer and writer Dibs Barisic Sprem.
An online personality test once described 23-year-old Dibs Barisic Sprem as a Labrador, a description they believe to be the shortest and most accurate. In their downtime, Barisic Sprem loves going on adventures with their dog, riding their motorbike, making “banging” playlists on Spotify, and dancing around the house.
When did you transition, and how did you decide on your name?
I socially transitioned to a close group of friends when I was 19, and was then on hormones a few months before my 21st birthday. My name was actually a nickname from childhood. One day, when I was around ten years old, I realised the initials of my long, Croatian, full name spelled out ‘DIBS’.
Being non-binary, do you feel you’ve experienced intersectional discrimination?
During my formative years I identified as straight, then as bisexual, then as a lesbian, and then as transgender. I certainly didn’t have a cruisy adolescence, but I also didn’t experience the same level of discrimination that a lot of other people have faced in similar circumstances.
How have people reacted to your gender identity?
I have had a large spectrum of reactions over the last four years, ranging from nonchalant to down right transphobic and spiteful. People tend to be very curious and very nosy for the most part. But I don’t mind speaking about all of the finer details because education and representation are the keys to removing fear and prejudice of transgender people.
What field do you work in, and how did you go about finding employment?
I like to say that I’m a jack of all trades, and master of some. For the past 14 months I’ve been a personal trainer, but I always have the odd casual job pop up. It’s my dream to be a professional queer and travel around educating people on diversity, inclusion, and kindness, so I dip my toes in speaking gigs when I can. With my current job, I charmed my way through the interview.
My interview skills are partly due to the massive amounts of confidence I got through being a Pinnacle Foundation scholar. The Pinnacle Foundation scholarships are for disadvantaged LGBTIQ youth who are completing their final year of high school or tertiary studies in a private or public institution.
Are you working on any projects this year?
Yes! Mardi Gras season is going to hear my voice a lot. I’m speaking at Carriageworks on February 23 at ‘My Trans Story’, and I shared a different tale at Queerstories on February 9 at Riverside Theatres. Be there or miss out on some beautiful moments.
Do you think it’s easier to be trans for your generation?
One hundred per cent, yes. The stories that I have heard trans elders relay are quite shocking and the documentaries I’ve watched are really hard to see. Perhaps some cultures who have had trans people seen as spiritual leaders for centuries have felt the opposite effect, as western society reinforces it’s views more and more.
But generally speaking, I think my generation is feeling somewhat safer to be out, depending on so many other factors of course. It’s crucial that there is more trans representation in the media, and in entertainment. As I said before, it’s harder to hate us when you know us so well. The less mystery there is about what it’s like to be trans, the harder it is for cranky people to flat out refuse to believe we exist.
Do you have a message for other non-binary people who are thinking of transitioning?
Trust your heart and your gut. There is so much support out there for you no matter where you live. If you have access to the internet, you have thousands of people waiting to help answer all of your questions.
Article written by Katherine Wolfgramme and edited by Matthew Wade for The Star Observer Magazine.
For this month’s Gender Whisperer column, Katherine Wolfgramme speaks with trans elder, award-winning author, and trailblazing pioneer Katherine Cummings.
Katherine was born in Scotland in 1935, and transitioned in 1986, winning the Australian Human Rights Award for Non-Fiction for her autobiography Katherine’s Diary in the early nineties.
Despite rumours to the contrary she hasn’t sailed alone around Cape Horn, worked as a lumberjack, or modelled for Oscar de la Renta. She has, however, sailed alone around Bradleys Head, worked as a payroll guard, and modelled for Madame Lash.
How did you decide on your name?
I named myself after Katharine Hepburn, a strong, intelligent woman who campaigned for human rights at a time when it was unfashionable to do so.
What obstacles did you face transitioning that may no longer be barriers now?
I transitioned when I was fifty-one and went through gender affirmation. I had had experience in amateur theatre work, where I learned about makeup and various other skills that became useful later. The major obstacle I faced (apart from the loss of most of my marital family) was the fact that transgender people were not protected by the NSW Anti Discrimination Act until the mid-nineties. This made it hard to obtain employment, and my position as head of the Library at Sydney College of the Arts became redundant.
You are considered an elder by many trans people across Australia. What would you consider to be your greatest contributions to the community?
I’m surprised to hear I am thought of as an elder. I think I’m just old. I have contributed to change in some regulations. I managed to persuade the Immigration Department to change my name on my Naturalisation Certificate which had been contrary to their practice, and I did manage to persuade the Income Tax Office that electrolysis was therapeutic and not cosmetic as far as trans people were concerned. They refused to agree for four years but in the fifth year they conceded the point and refunded my previous four years payments. Both of these concessions became precedents for others to follow.
Next year will mark the 20th international Transgender Day of Remembrance. How have you played a role in Sydney’s event?
I joined the Gender Centre in 2001, and was asked to organise TDoR on behalf of the centre in 2003. I believe the day is a useful way to bring trans people together and to involve people of influence who may thereafter be inclined to work for the betterment of transgender welfare. We have heard keynote speeches from politicians, highly placed administrators, dedicated activists, and sympathetic influential police commissioners, as well as various individuals from the community who have brought their personal experiences to the fore and reinforced the need for an amelioration of the general trans condition.
What have been the greatest leaps forward for the trans community, and what do you feel is lacking?
In the legal sector the inclusion of trans in the NSW Anti Discrimination Act stands out and the subsequent attention given to transgender rights by the Anti Discrimination Board. The creation of Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officers in the police force has also been a move in the right direction, and changes to Correction Services policies have also improved the lives of a lot of incarcerated transgender men and women. Socially there have been significant advances, but there is still much to be achieved through education.
What are your hopes for the trans community?
I hope for the day when trans is accepted as a simple variation from the norm, to be neither condemned nor praised. I hope that research will continue into gender and sex diversity and that when truths are discovered they will be publicised, not concealed.
What advice would you pass down to future generations?
Do your best to leave the world a little better than you found it. Remember that you have responsibilities as well as rights and that the aim should be to centre the pendulum, not to push it far over to the other side. Remember that trans is not a closed society but a small segment of society as a whole and that we should aim to make it fit into society, not stand out from it.
You’ve heard of ladies in waiting, but have you heard of leitis in waiting? In Tonga, the smallest kingdom in the world, these indigenous transgender women have traditionally played a central role in society as attendants to the royal family. However, a recent influx of foreign evangelism has seen a rise in discrimination in this conservative island paradise.
Joey Joleen Mataele, a leiti of noble blood who founded the Tonga Leitis Association is leading the fight for equal rights. She’s a quiet force to be reckoned with; hosting the joyful and hilarious Miss Galaxy Queen beauty pageant, challenging the homophobic preachings of a US-backed Tongan televangelist, and addressing a United Nations panel on LGBTIQ rights.
From the team that produced audience fave Kumu Hina (MGFF15), this fascinating documentary is a rare glimpse into the culture of leitis (“ladies”) and their struggle for respect.
“Leitis in Waiting is a true gift to the world – mesmerizing and unflinching” – Jeannette Hereniko, President, Network for the Promotion of Asian Pacific Cinema
Presented with Katherine Wolfgramme – Gender Diversity Consultant & Trans Awareness Training in Sydney
To read the full article, see trailer or buy tickets click on the link below:
Even though I wrote this open letter four years ago, the content is still fresh and a reminder of how cruel the media can be when it comes to discrimination against transgender people.
Last week a beautiful young woman’s butchered remains were found dismembered in a very new apartment building in a well heeled suburb of Brisbane. Police found some of her remains boiling down in a pot of chemicals and the rest of her remains in garbage bags around the apartment. Her young husband fled the scene and his body was found shortly later after committing suicide.
The news riveted and shocked the nation. How could this happen in Australia? What is becoming of our country? How could a young woman, a human being be violated in such a grizzly and macabre way? We must do something about the growing domestic crimes against women in Australia.
The very next day, papers around Australia released front page news with headlines such as “The monster chef and the shemale”, “Cooked Shemale”, “Ladyboy cooked and eaten” -suddenly the beautiful woman was now a sex freak, killed by a pervert. Prostitutes and cannibals and sexual perversion.
The memory of beautiful Mayang, a human is reduced to dehumanizing headlines.
To many transgender people across Australia, the crime was greatly disturbing but the degrading labels of Mayang were sickening. The media does not care that to call a transwoman a shemale or ladyboy or tranny in Australia is like calling a black person the “N” word.
Even though the porn and sex industry use the word Shemale and Ladyboy in their product labeling to promote revenue, only a very small percentage of transwomen in Australia are in the sex industry. The media do not have the right to refer to us, a body people as shemales, or ladyboys. We are people, we are transgender women. We must be respected and accorded our human right to respect.
For too long we have suffered at the hands of men sexually exploiting us and sexualising our beauty for their own sexual perversion or sexual gratification. Men openly verbally abuse us in front of their friends to seem more manly. For this cycle to end we must stand up for ourselves and say we are not monsters, sexual freaks and porn stars we are human beings, we have a gender and you must respect us. We alone can say no, we alone can say we do not deserve this.
There is no specific federal law to protect us from gender vilification, which is what Mayang suffered in the media after her death. But we could change that, we could lobby to change the law so we are all protected across Australia, we have to start now, by saying “no” to being labelled so horrifically in the media. We must write in protest to newspapers, online blogs, politicians and rights lobbies, the change begins with us. It is our duty to contact friends who may be able to help or perhaps friend who have friends of influence. If we want the human right of protection from discrimination and vilification then we must ask for and demand it.
I urge you all my sisters to lay down your political differences and unite on this issue, what we do and achieve today lays the groundwork for a more just future not only for us but for the transgender community when we are gone. This could be our legacy for the future that we could all be proud of when we look back on our lives.
Let’s stand together and demand the respect due to us as human beings and refuse anything less of the media.
Transgender Day of Remembrance falls on November 20 this year, in Sydney it will be held between 6.30 and 8pm at Harmony Park in Surry Hills, all are welcome to join us as we remember Mayang and the many other Transgender People around Australia and the world who have been murdered through domestic violence and transphobia and neglect.
Facebook invite to event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/177722666499056/
As the first transgender candidate in 15 years to the SGLMG’s Board, Katherine’s reasons to come forward with her candidacy include, in her own words:
• It is time for a visible trans presence on the Mardi Gras Board of Directors.
• I believe in social equity and that a trans voice needs to be present at Board level at Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras.
• As a Director I would consult with the trans population – both binary, non-binary, gender-fluid and gender diverse and their relevant organisations/groups to help:
Form a better understanding of trans culture.
Ensure and promote true and proper trans inclusion and define what that inclusion would look like.
Address the needs of trans people accessing services within the LGBTIQ community.
Address the definitions of safe spaces for trans people within our the LGBTIQ community.
Reduce the culture of patronage towards the trans population by being present at a decision-making level.
Give voice to those whose voices are not always heard through inviting open communication with all trans people.
Ensure the needs of the aging trans population are considered.
Shed light on the hardships faced by trans kids, youth and help understand ways to support their parents.
Put into practice what diversity and inclusion looks like on paper.
• It is time all trans people to be acknowledged for their true potential as human beings by being represented in all roles in society including leadership roles.
• As an adult, and upcoming elder, I have the social responsibility to send a clear message to our rainbow youth by being a positive presence and inspiring role model and showing them that all things are possible for their future, no matter where they have come from, no matter who they are.
• I am aiming to empower and set an example to all gender diverse people that courage is all we need to take our proper places within the Community.
• Help contribute to the easier accessibility for all community members to events.
• Contribute to the already exemplary record of good governance and financial stability of the current SGLMG Board .
“I believe in inclusion not exclusion, I believe an organisation born as a reaction to exclusion and discrimination should remain an example of tolerance and a beacon and celebration of acceptance, all members of the LGBTQI Community who work in any organisation and their allies should always be welcome and share in the Spirit of Mardi Gras.”
“In my advocacy I have sat on community committees, councils and advisory groups and I am the first transgender woman appointed to the Wear It Purple Board. – My track record clearly shows the spirit of my strong community service and my continuing intention to always do good for my community. Even in the face of adversity I will always endeavour to do what is right with the best of intentions. This is also reflected as my soon to be appointed official ambassadorship of The Gender Centre”
“Although in the past I have acted solely and on my own instinct, I do understand the responsibility of being a SGLMG Board Director and the importance of seeking counsel from all facets of the trans population, including elders, youth, conservatives, activists, friends & foes.”
“I believe I could make an important and valuable contribution to the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Board as it is always a great honour to serve my community and this will present new positive ways through visibility.”
Katherine is a self-employed Gender Diversity Consultant and Trans Awareness Trainer. She has spoken on Panels with some of the most respected female feminist minds in the country from all identities and has been invited to speak at some of the finest corporate and educational institutions in the country. She also works for one of the most popular gay venues on Sydney’s Oxford Street on the weekend, which keeps her in touch with other members of our community for the last three years.
She believes good governance is the greatest legacy a Board can provide an organisation with; and her own research shows that for the past two years Mardi Gras has been excellent in all governance areas. Because of this Katherine would like to endorse for re-election these incumbent Directors and looks forward to working with them and the rest of the Board if she is elected:
• Jesse Matheson
• Kat Dopper
• Christopher Brooke – Treasurer
I have always been fascinated by my own reflection, I do not believe it is because I am vain, I believe it is because I transitioned into a woman and during that journey I struggled so hard, and I fought so hard to achieve my goal that I celebrate that now by cataloguing my evolution from the very beginning going now into aging.
You could say my Gender Dysphoria has become Gender Euphoria!
Many artists have tried to capture a part of me over the years, which has always thrilled and flattered me.
I wanted to share some portraits of me from over the years in different mediums and styles, there are more I may share at a later date.
I enjoy the process of sitting for a portrait, and I find what other people see in me so different to what I see in myself – and that can be very interesting.
Here are a few portraits by artists over the decades.
Yiorgos Zefirou and I collaborated on a series of photgraphic portraits in the Grotesque Style in 2018, I enjoyed the process immensely.
Wear It Purple Day is observed across Australia, the message is simple – If you support uniqueness and diversity in young people wear something purple on Wear It Purple Day to let them know they are not alone.
The mission of Wear It Purple is to foster supportive, safe and accepting environments for rainbow young people, the WIP vision is for rainbow young people to not be disadvantaged by their environments, and for their wellbeing to be equal with their peers.
Wear it Purple is committed to respect diversity and social equality.
The aim of Wear It Purple is to reduce bullying and the feeling of isolation of rainbow and diverse kids in school by wearing purple.
The Wear It Purple theme this year is Empower Together.
This year NSW Police, Government NSW, City of Sydney, NSW Ambulance, SES, Surf Life Saving NSW, Fire Rescue, St Vincents Hospital, Centennial Parklands, major national and international Banks, Airlines, Corporations, Sports and Schools across Australia are celebrating Wear It Purple Day across Australia.
WIP President Matt Janssen writes “Wear It Purple was founded in response to the alarming numbers of young people being bullied and harassed because of their sexuality or gender and identity, and were Ultimately taking their lives”
Around 2009/2010 great concern arose globally around the rise of cyber bullying and the young people committing suicide as a result.
One of these young people was 18 year old Tyler Clementi who was outed by his room mate online, as a result of the online comments Tyler tragically decided to take his own life. Tyler’s situation was not singular with reports of young people experiencing the same situation globally.
“this needs to be a wake-up call to everyone: teenage bullying and teasing is an epidemic…and the death rate is climbing.” – Ellen de Generes 2010
Tyler’s death inspired Wear It Purple c0founders Katherine Hudson and Scott Williams to wear purple as a sign of support to all rainbow children and youth growing up different who may feel different or bullied or alone because of their uniqueness, this movement has grown nationally and internationally and continues to grow every year.
“Wear It Purple is a not-for-profit association that aims to foster supportive, safe, and accepting environments for young rainbow people.” Matt Janssen – Wear It Purple President
This year the Wear It Purple Board Members are: WIP President – Matt Janssen, WIP Secretary Marc Field, WIP Treasurer – Mark Henry, and WIP General Board Members – Alex Stefan, Gemma Allen, Ross Wetherbee, Brock Galway and myself, Katherine Wolfgramme.
Our Wear It Purple Ambassadors are comedienne, singer and advocate Jordan Raskopoulos, actors Scott Lee, Lynne Mc Granger, and Harry Cook, Australia’s Young Person of the Year Georgie Stone, Mr gay World Jordan Bruno, comedian Tom Ballard and LGBTI advocate Casey Conway.
If you wish to support Wear It Purple Day by wearing purple, buy merchandise, wish to donate, host an event on the day, or seek further information here is the link: http://wearitpurple.org
*Trigger Warning* In advance I would like to apologise to any transpeople who are triggered by the word "tranny", I have had to use this word to make my case very clear and I would like to warn anyone that will be affected to not read the contents of this article.
This will be the very first and last Opinion Piece I will publicly write about the problem with the word “Tranny“.
On Friday I was sent a legal letter from a property lawyer acting as a defamation lawyer on behalf of his friend – a certain drag queen by the name of Penny Tration, aka flight attendant Daniel Floyd, the owner of a business formerly known as Tranny Bingo.
The letter extolled a list of complaints the (misled but well intentioned) lawyer told me my actions to expose the word “tranny’ as an insulting and debasing word to transwomen had failed and the legal action I took (sending of legal letters to cease and desist using the word “Tranny”) wasn’t a legal action, “Tranny” was not insulting, also the former Human Rights Commissioner told Daniel he could legally use the word. I legally didn’t have a leg to stand on. The anti discrimination law didn’t protect me. The anti vilification laws didn’t protect me etc. And to remove the Facebook post shaming Mr Floyd.
This letter was in retaliation to my exposing Mr Daniel Floyd publicly on Facebook for his decision to degrade my person by calling me a man and making fun of my proud pacific island lineage on social media while being heavily intoxicated.
My interpretation of the question the legal letter posed to me was why should I be so angry? Who do I think I am? How dare I shame someone who disrespects and makes fun of me, a transgender woman on a public forum by shaming him in return? And why should I a transgender woman be surprised that he would disrespect me by calling me a man after running “Tranny Bingo” for 17 years and everything else he caused to debase and dehumanise the trans population? He who claims to “respect trans people”.
Of all his many years of cyber bullying others he has never been so insulted in all his life, the irony was not lost to me.
I fired a very rude letter back telling the lawyer that all I wanted was an apology. Daniel’s (property) lawyer (friend acting as a “defamation lawyer”) told me he advised his client that he could not apologise because that would be admitting guilt – he cannot apologise for calling me a man and making fun of my proud Fijian heritage because that would be an admission of his guilt. Even though he did it, and I have witnesses to prove it, interesting. And very bad advice.
The biased and ill informed lawyer also tried to point out that our disagreements were dividing the community and I was being selfish. And to stop it. I mean how dare I demand to be respected. How dare I show other trans people how to demand respect. How dare I upset the apple-cart by demanding equality?
It all goes back to that word “Tranny”, so I am going to spend the rest of this post explaining why the word “Tranny” is so incredibly insulting to most transwomen in Australia and abroad.
Unfortunately the general public is often confused between transpeople and drag queens, some people cannot see any difference at all, and here lies the problem.
Transgender/Transsexual: Someone who identifies and has transitioned physically to the gender which is opposite to their physical gender at birth. Trans people most often permanently live as the gender they identify with. Some transwomen do drag shows for artistic purposes, but generally they identify as showgirls, not drag queens. The most famous Australian trans showgirl is Carlotta.
Drag Queen: A man who dresses as a woman for entertainment purposes aka female impersonator, drag artist, theatrical or cabaret performer. Drag queens live and identify as men when not in drag. Drag is a traditional art form associated with gay culture globally. The most famous Australian drag queen is Courtney Act.
Female Impersonator: An actor who is male who takes on a female character for artistic purposes. Australia’s most famous female impersonator is Barry Humphreys and his alter-ego Dame Edna Everage. Some drag queens identify as female impersonators but not all.
Transvestite: a person, typically a man, who derives sexual pleasure from dressing in clothes primarily associated with the opposite sex. Often referred to as a kinky pleasure rather than an identity or art form. The best known transvestite would be Dr Frank N Furter from the musical The RockyHorror Show. It is very rare for a drag queen or female impersonator to also be a transvestite.
The Trans Umbrella: Since the amalgamation of T with LGB, Trans has come to represent far more than just binary trans-men and trans-women which was historically the case. Trans now includes non-binary (people who do not identify as either gender) and a very small percent of the transgender population are gender fluid and gender queer (people who identify as every gender and enjoy and vocally celebrate confrontational labels such as tranny as a part of their identity). The best known gender queer person in Australia is Norrie. Some drag queens identify themselves under the trans umbrella and occasionally eventually transition. It is mainly young transwomen and many transmen who find the term tranny offensive, because 1) Young trans-women are exposed daily to the slur as a form of abuse, and 2) Many trans-men remember the misogyny they experienced before transition so understand the connotations of the situation.
Origin of the word Tranny
The origin of the word Tranny is very simple, Transsexual was way too long to say in casual conversation so we abbreviated the word so it was quick and easy, it was never a word we would use outside of the trans community but it was a word we could use to identify each other in a most casual but non offensive way. Nobody outside the trans community used the word twenty years ago. Tranny was never short for transvestite.
The misappropriation of the word “Tranny” was not sudden, it was eventual. Drag queens found it hilarious and fun to say, in fact around 1999 I remember they started calling each other trannies in nightclubs and bars in Sydney, they found it extremely naughty, funny and catchy.
Some entrepreneurial drag queens, who were female impersonators or drag artists – but definitely not trans, decided it would be fantastic marketing for their drag bingo, two-up, and other events designed not for the lgbt community but the general public, after all, Tranny was so taboo and naughty. They were right, the branding did catch on. Their events gave the general public permission to not only use the word but also make fun of the drag queens on stage who were making fun of themselves – as trannies, not drag queens. For 17 years.
Permission for the general public to use the word was not given from the trans community, it came from the drag community.
Two decades on and Tranny is universally considered to be a word which is a derogatory slang towards Transgender Women in most English language dictionaries.
The reason it is considered a derogatory slang now is simple, non trans people will use the word to debase a transgender woman if they are angry with her or they don’t like her, it is also used during physical and verbal abuse as if to justify their hatred and violence towards her. It is often the last word a victim hears before she regains her consciousness in hospital.
The word Tranny is now used as a weapon of hate towards transgender women.
Language is important,and language can hurt, it has been used as a weapon to oppress others since the dawn of time.
Time and again trans people and trans organisations came forward to let Daniel know this was offensive to trans people, in public they would say “we are open to discussion” in private those requests fell on deaf ears.
Daniel and Tranny Bingo first gained media attention in 2014 because Indiana Edwards, a trans activist decided to take them on, she organised a picket protest and challenged them on TV and in the media – Even then, Daniel (dressed as his sparkly and fun alter ego Penny) said “we are happy todiscuss this”. Unsurprisingly when the cameras were off nothing happened.
The media were very unkind toward Indiana, who was just trying to do the right thing.
One Tranny Bingo hostess wrote to me last November “I hated standing up for Tranny Bingo whenever a trans person would come up and complain to me, because I hated having to stand behind something I didn’t support, and the thing is I know you’re fine using the word if its used amongst sisters, but using it the way Penny was it was not ok because non sisters were using it”
A former bingo hostess privately wrote in an email ” I have not been a part of those events for over 12 months and a lot of soul searching in that time has led me to the truth that if the word hurts so many it is not my right to use that word – its not ok”
Why I Took Legal Action Against Friends.
I entered Sydney’s drag community in 1995, I was a showgirl and did drag shows in clubs on Oxford Street, I have always loved and had the greatest respect for the drag community because it is somewhere I have always belonged and been welcomed. Most trans showgirls within the drag community don’t find the word Tranny offensive, even I didn’t until very recently.
In 2017 a young transwoman and member of the social group I was Admin for posted her outrage about a large sign saying “Tranny Bingo” outside a hotel in Balmain. She said she went in and asked to speak to the manager, she told the manager that the word Tranny was offensive, he replied it was ok because the drag queens hosting the event were “trannies”, she said no they are not, and she was trans and she was offended – to which the manager curtly said “The sign is staying up”.
Complaints continued to be pathologically ignored and the word that is so expressly insulting to many was displayed in public for all to see on a busy road. This may not seem outrageous to non trans people, but to transpeople who are regularly maligned and oppressed verbally by the word, this triggered not only bad memories but also sent a sense of dread and helpless outrage through a community who were already marginalized and defenceless. It was insensitive and insulting to people who had already made their feelings very clear and had been pathologically ignored. This sign stood for oppression to many transpeople.
A new admin to the page of the group I adminned also posted something about it on our public page, he cited his outrage and his partner’s rage who also confronted the manager, I told him he couldn’t do that on the page because as admin we had to remain neutral, he would not back down so I deleted his post. I was very uncomfortable being placed in that position without my consent, tranny was never a word I personally had a problem with. That is until just before this incident when I was verbally attacked on Oxford St by a group of men hurling a string of abuses at me which included “f___ing filthy tranny, nothing but a stupid tranny, disgusting tranny you should be ashamed of yourself”. Those thugs left me quite unsettled, never before had I heard the word “Tranny” being used with such hatred and violent fury.
Afterwards one of the senior hosts of Tranny Bingo and former friend privately messaged me and personally thanked me for defending them, I said it was something that needs to be discussed to which she replied “we are always open to discussion”.
I realised then, that I had heard this dialogue four years ago on television, in newspapers and on social media – they definitely were not open to discussion, otherwise the past complainants would have been heard.
It was the sheer arrogance of a non trans person telling transpeople where, when and if they would decide they were going to continue insulting them or not that I found most astounding.
The problem was none of the complainants were known to the LGBT Community so their complaints could quickly be swept under a carpet or they could just be called trouble makers and their complaints were soon forgotten. Change could only happen if someone with a voice from within our community came forward.
So, I decided to do something about it.
On my behalf, pro bono, three lawyers from Allens, a major commercial law firm sent legal letters to all businesses advertising and holding Tranny Bingo on their premises and the owner of Tranny Bingo to cease and desist using the word because it is offensive and hurtful.
I was not going to nicely ask a non trans person to stop using the word Tranny, because the establishments and Daniel Floyd had been asked very nicely for years to no avail. The other reason I did not ask was because the word did not belong to the drag community, it belonged to the trans population – because they were the tran(nie)s.
Some older transwomen are proud to call themselves a tranny, they fought very hard to exist in a time when they were not allowed to, and all power to them, but they generally wont accept strangers calling them that. I too am a stakeholder of the word as are all other transpeople, I don’t have issue with transwomen wanting to take ownership of the word, if it empowers them then fantastic. But it doesn’t empower all transpeople, only a few, and to my way of thinking , you cannot own a word until it is taken possession of it from those who had hijacked it.
When I talk about ownership of a word think about the “N” word. Some Afro Americans have decided to call each other “N”s – but they wont hear of anyone else using the word.
There is also a parallel to “blackface’, white people covered in black boot polish and dressing up as afro Americans and making fun of themselves – they are not making fun of white people, they are making fun of black people. So too was tranny bingo, they were men DRessed As Girls calling themselves Trannies and making fun of themselves.
What I was demanding was very simple. I was demanding respect, which is the equality everyone is spouting about.
Again Daniel used the opportunity to promote his events claiming he was a victim and 17 years of tradition was at stake and the Aussie Battler was under threat, lapping up the media attention with newspaper, online magazine and radio interviews. Attempting to confuse the public by claiming to be a transvestite. Even one of the hotels stated they would “fight on”.
A former Human Rights Commissioner told him he could legally use the word, that there was no law stopping him from holding the event, this is quite different to the Human Rights Commissioner telling him it wasn’t insulting or hurtful, or morally wrong.
There was definitely a furore on social media among our friends who didn’t, and shouldn’t have to take sides.
I had never been publicly called a troll, a bitch or a trouble maker before. I was called militant,a word Nazi and many other things from a piranha to a worm.
Quite Ironic considering for almost thirty years prior to this I was considered by the very same people to be kind, beautiful, understanding, genuinely nice and always coming from a good place.
By some I was misogynised, by others demonised but most importantly by most I was sympathised with – to them what I was saying made perfect sense.
The final Outcome
Whilst dealing with the stress of social media attacks and so many friends being furious with me for upsetting the apple cart, I remained strong and stood by my actions.
Gradually all the main organisations within the LGBT Community acknowledged that “Tranny” was indeed derogatory slang used to debase transwomen.
Everyone now knows this word is offensive, and when they use it they do so with the full knowledge that it is hurtful.
There are no longer any businesses in any state in Australia hosting events using the word “Tranny”.
The trash media persists in using the derogatory slang in their headlines and that is to sell more papers at the cost of persistently dehumanising women within the trans community. But one day very soon they too will have to stop. It is such a shame that it will be under force and not by their own volition.
Language changes, some words that were once acceptable in polite society are now considered awful and inconceivable to most young people that these words could ever have been found to be acceptable in the first place. That is evolution.
I gave a voice to those people within the trans community who did not have the courage or aptitude or public profile to stand up for themselves, I bought this issue to everyone’s attention which was previously swept under the carpet for nearly two decades.
That’s why I sleep well at night, because I did the right thing.
Daniel at the end of the day also did the right thing, he changed the name of his bingo event to Gender Bender Bingo.
True equality in the workplace begins with respect, and this is especially the case with trans and gender diverse people.
The first and easiest way to convey your respect is to use their correct pronouns, and if it is not possible for you to recognise that person’s pronoun, it is best to ask.
Identity is everything, especially in terms of gender to a trans person, so it is very important to use their proper pronouns.
The gender pronoun is as presented. A trans woman is she, a trans man is he, and a non-gender specific person is they.
A non-gender specific person, also known as non-binary, is a person that does not identify as either gender, or perhaps, they identify as both.
Understanding their situation is far less important than respecting their gender identity.
It is a well documented fact that a happy employee will yield higher productivity in the workplace, and this is the case for all genders.
Humans are fixated by appearance, it is natural and inherent to all of us. The problem for many very highly educated and experienced trans people who have recently transitioned is that they may not be perceived by employers as acceptable enough because they don’t pass as men or women, and some never will.
The greatest problem with this way of thinking is the sheer waste of human equity and expertise in professionals across all fields of employment, which in turn forces more strain on social welfare and taxes.
Something important to remember is that all people are human, irrespective of gender diversity, and their value to the workforce is exactly the same as it was before, irrespective of their appearance now.
So how do we ensure this virtually untapped commodity is comfortable remaining in or returning or to the workforce?
We begin with respecting who they are, by respecting their gender identity.
Katherine Wolfgramme is a trans and gender diversity consultant, presenter, and adviser.
I’m very proud to announce my appointment to the Wear It Purple Board.
Wear It Purple Day falls on August 31 and the theme this year is Empower Together.
“Wear it Purple has a simple message: you have the right to be proud of who you are. Sexuality or gender identity does not change this.
The idea is simple: wear it purple if you agree.
Through the public outpouring of support, the aim is for rainbow young people everywhere to know that their support-base is far greater than they could have anticipated. As more purple is seen yearly at school, in workplaces, on the streets and online, we are saying to rainbow young people everywhere: you are not alone.
Don’t see young people in your workplace? Your participation can join Wear it Purple Day’s massive virtual support network.”
As I watched my dear friends say their vows, uncontrollable tears fell silently down my face, I beamed with all the love inside me for these two humans who have loved each other for over two decades.
For me this was the culmination of the Marriage Equality Campaign in Australia, this is the right the LGBTQI population won with quiet dignity and determination in the face of almost forgotten discrimination and homophobia.
I ignorantly believed the High Court of Australia would decide the non compulsory plebiscite proposed by the government, would be discrimination against a minority group, and parliament would have to vote it out behind closed doors.
How wrong I was.
Our youth had learned at schools and from their loved ones that it was ok to be gay were suddenly told by some of the most prominent people in the country that they were second rate humans who had no right to love. Our LGBT elders went through so much so our youth did not have to suffer, yet in horror we watched our cultural safety unravel.
In Sydney, a plane wrote “Vote No” across our sky, gay parents took their children indoors and tears and outrage was shared across our community and shared on social media. Vote No advertisements appeared on television, in newspapers. There was nowhere to escape to.
Many religious groups preached hate and fear and homophobia, until they were silenced by the anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws – suddenly they felt gagged and bullied. The irony was not lost on anyone.
Most people do not want to protest, I personally do not like it, but we were forced as a community to walk together to demand the right to love. I wasn’t sure how many people would march that day, all I knew was I had to march with my loved ones, didn’t matter if there was 300 or 3,000 we had to march.
As I left my apartment building that day, I watched people of my community wearing their Vote Yes shirts and rainbow flags walk with quiet dignity towards the city.
30,000 people from our community felt the same way, the rally began at Sydney Town Hall, the city streets surrounding the town hall was also packed, the atmosphere was calm. We walked as one, quietly and with love. To date we were the largest protest in Australia’s history.
Major protests were held in every capital city in the country.
Australia voted yes, and we had won.
As a community, through the whole debate and campaign we shared our pain, our anger and our hurt. Once again we came together but on this day we came together with love and joy.
It is taking time to forgive, as I write this post, the memory still makes me emotional. And quietly angry.
It was a joy to watch my dear friends marry, it is the first of many weddings to follow over the next twelve months as our loved ones legally declare their love for each other.I hope I cry at every singly wedding, I personally fought for the right to!
The shocking truth is, per capita, thirty five percent of transgender people attempt to commit suicide, the percentage is even greater among trans the youth population, why you may ask?
A transgender child who remains in the home, protected by their parents and family will grow up to be a happy and healthy adult. These, I believe are the roots that are fundamental to human development and mental health in a person.
During the Marriage Equality Campaign, misinformed parents feared their children would be infected by trans children and their children would want to change sex too. This contagious argument, though ridiculous, was once applied to children from divorced homes, ethnic minorities, gay people, people living with AIDS, Jews, etc. We all now know this misunderstanding is just uneducated fear.
Parents of trans children who have chosen to love their children and keep them safe at home have come under immense scrutiny and criticism by other parents, religious groups and also spiteful writers who wish to sell newspapers. Through the internet, these same parents have found each other and can now find sanctuary in peer support. These brave parents are not over indulgent, they know their children are trans. And come from a place of love.
A trans child is not created, a trans child is born.
For at least 1,600 years Christian trans youth have been forced to leave home and seek out survival on the margins of society as a vulnerable people. And at least 30% of them committed suicide, many others were murdered, died of accidental substance abuse, starved to death – how they died is merely a sidetrack of the shocking fact that they were allowed by other Christians to die at all. As Christianity spread across the colonial world, more trans people were forced to survive outside of society and on the margins because their ancient positions in cultures were taken away from them, becoming beggars and prostitutes as their only means of survival. The Hijra of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were forced off their valuable lands granted them by the Moghul Emperors and stripped of their privileges as priestesses and teachers. The Raj created anti-Hijra laws and made all them criminal tribes, under the Criminal Tribes Act. All because their gender did not comply with the British Empire’s religion. This is just one example of what befell trans people and their cultures with the rise of dominant religions through Empire. It is my belief that it is not true Christian behaviour to allow such a long term and widespread injustice to have occurred.
I believe the bishops of our world will one day stop and realise we are all children of God, and it is God’s will that we are created, otherwise the transgender population would not have existed as a naturally reoccurring phenomena in humans in every culture since the dawn of man.
If society supports parents of trans children, society will win. The government will save millions, definitely billions of tax payers’ dollars in the long term – because the children will have roots. Their parents will force them to go to school, get a job, and tech them life skills, just like other sons and daughters in other families across the world. This will reduce the strain on social welfare, through drastic reductions in unemployment, mental health, youth homelessness and suicides, and the benefits to society will be long term. It really is a win-win situation.
This issue is important to me emotionally because I was once a trans child, and my parents thought they were cursed. I was the source of all their shame – A heavy burden for an 8 year old child.
I left home at 18 so I could transition. My roots were severed, but by sheer force of will, determination and the love of my great grand parents, my roots slowly grew back, just enough to give me the will to survive and flourish, just at the same time that many of my peers lost their will to continue.
I don’t blame my parents, it was the early 1970s and our situation was beyond their comprehension. There was no peer support or readily available access to information for them, but there is support and information now.
As a trans adult who was once a trans child, I promise you these parents are telling the truth. If they ask for support, please support them, when they speak, please listen, if people refuse to acknowledge them, please, give them a platform.
In the second half of 2015, I was asked to admin Trans Sydney Pride’s online group page because it had been hijacked by anarchic stereotypes. The co-founders Penny Clifford and Peta Friend felt I was best suited to sort everything out and create order out of chaos, at the time it was a small social group that met for drinks once a month, and were not equipped to deal with online trolls, militant extremists and bullies , who were coincidentally, trans identifying too.
I swept out the anarchic element and structured the group with strict written rules on online social behavior, and as an example, anyone who broke these rules were thrown out immediately. Soon a respectful social behavior developed where everyone learned normal and acceptable communication, a very important thing to learn for many who were used to isolation and dysfunction . Politics has always been divisive, so discussing any politics was banned too. The Peace allowed members to be heard while others learnt to listen and converse without fear of criticism. Many members began to blossom, new friendships were forged, and the social group developed, and grew as a community. This is wonderful because Trans Sydney Pride have some fantastic and successful role models for inspiration – there was great potential for Trans Sydney Pride to do more than just meet socially.
At this time I was studying Community Services, and Community Development was my favorite subject, so I was able to apply what I was learning to the group.
It was my vision to see TSP participate in Mardi Gras – but for me it was solely as a community building project. To achieve this goal members had to raise the funds, share ideas and pull together resources, rehearse and plan group activities – just like a community.
I produced our first exclusively trans run and operated fundraising event, Q&A: Transitioning & career Success. The guest panelists were 3 successful career women who managed to stay employed through their transition process, the event was a part of Sydney Pride Festival, the sellout success of that event, led onto our first “Trans Stories” the following year, and the rest is history.
The group independently of me started organising other fundraising events.
Peta organised and led the TSP float for Mardi Gras, and the sight of group members proudly marching as a group was a touching moment for me to watch on television, they had achieved this moment together as community. I was one of the faces of Mardi Gras that year and was a part of the opening, so unfortunately I couldn’t share in their debut at Mardi Gras.
It was also my vision to hold Sydney’s inaugural Transgender Day of Remembrance Candlelight Vigil at Taylor Square, to add it as an important date on the LGBT Calendar and to bring the trans community closer to the gay and lesbian community, I initiated and personally produced the inaugural event.
Coming from a place of duty, what I didn’t realise or foresee was The Candlelight Vigil is in fact a safe space for trans people to come and congregate, and to remember their friends who had died. The atmosphere was so sad, so emotional, yet beautiful and undeniably powerful in its quiet dignity.
I also created Trans Sydney Pride Family and Friends, Trans Pride Groups Interstate, founding Trans Melbourne Pride, and taking the names of the other states for future use as the group expands nationally (which was another vision).
Twice I tried to move the group to a not for profit charity status during my tenure.
I was guided and supported by my many friends within Sydney’s LGBT Community who have ensured TSP’s long term success.
Community service is a thankless task, but I am rightfully very proud of the work I did for Trans Sydney Pride, and the legacy that I have left them to continue.
Visions, ideas, and directions change, this too is an important evolution for any group, and I wish Trans Pride Australia and its many diverse members every success as it moves into the future, as a community of people. X
I love the trans flag, when I see it flying, it touches me, because it represents my identity. It instills in me a sense of trans history. When I look at the flag, I think of all the other generations of transgender men and women who struggled and fought, and died so that one day, I could enjoy an unprecedented level of human rights that trans people in Australia enjoy today – and it really does fill me with PRIDE.
The Trans Flag flies especially on special occasions on the transgender calendar, it is particularly prominent on the Transgender Day of Remembrance aka TDoR. This is a sacred day for most trans communities internationally, where we a acknowledge trans people around the world who have been murdered, I personally also acknowledge those who have died from suicide and substance abuse- because in a way, the path that led them there was their reaction to transphobia and their experience of life on the margins. Trans people don’t begin transition as drug addicts, but many trans people become substance abusers because of the way they have been treated by society – and this is sad.
There are lists of transgender murders posted annually online online, here is one: