Open Letter by Pioneer in Australian Sport

I so value the wisdom of my gender diverse elders, an insight into our past gives much perspective to our future. I found Ricki Coughlan’s post so profound I had to share her wisdom. Ricki won the right to be recognised as a woman in sport at a time when equality for transgender people was just a pipe dream.

In 1980 I would never have dreamed that there would be a trans flag much less a thing called the internet, social media and a trans flag emoji ?️‍⚧ We’ve come a long way, but we have also come nowhere. I first met transgender people in 1980-81 in a small room at the top of some stairs in the Kings Cross Wayside Chapel. This was in a group convened by Roberta Perkins. She had formed this group as an opportunity for trans folk to share, support each other and perhaps begin to work towards practical solutions for the struggles which many of them faced.

The stories in that I heard in that tiny room were appalling. Those trans women barely had lives at all. All were on the verge of homelessness. All were unemployed and had no products. All were struggling even with social security. All were struggling with any government office. None had any form of useful form of identification. All were rejected by their families and children. All were battling with their personal gender dysphoria and the ignorance of the wider community (the term “transphobia” didn’t exist back then). All were struggling in one way or another with professional medical support. There was nowhere for these women to turn to other than that small fortnightly or monthly gathering.

In those days I gather that there was the “show girl” trans community, the sex worker “community” and a very small urban community of trans women. Trans men were a total anomaly as far as I knew and I didn’t meet one until 1983. If “non binary” trans folk existed, I was totally unaware of this but I’m guessing that each of these individuals who felt that they could be at all out may have gravitated to various gay, trans or queer communities in search of comfort, community and support.

Since those days we have seen the emergence of laws which favour and support trans folk. We’ve seen the emergence of the trans community and its joining with the LGB community in a much more formalised fashion. We’ve seen greater understanding in science, which confirms the experiences of trans folk. We’ve seen the emergence of a greater understanding of the nature of gender and medical support for increasingly younger trans folk. We’ve seen the growth of reasonably funded support networks. We’ve seen guidelines in most states for the integration of trans children into our schools and we’re now beginning to see those trans children come out into the wider community were some are even celebrated in a time of growing welcome for trans folk. We’re headed in the right direction on many fronts.

However, trans kids are still slipping through the net of support because we don’t have officially supported trans specific education in our schools (though watch this space, as I know that there are exciting developments coming in this area!). Many if not all trans folk are dealing with the lessons about gender and social disapproval for those who don’t fit gender norms from very early in life. At least some of our pain is what others have made us believe about ourselves: that we’re wrong, broken, evil, contemptuous, dirty, fit for nothing but shame. We need to change this narrative and tear down the norms which produce it.

There is still much work to be done in sport. This is a space where transphobia or at least an ignorance of so many things converging around a trans folk, fairness, inclusion, physiology, sex and gender still challenge many, reflecting in many log jams.

Later transitioning folk are still battling with their own inner demons, gender dysphoria, family issues and community and political attitudes. This is not a space where I am qualified to add very much, apart from saying that I see these folk and lament that we have not made much progress in this area. Of course, what we need is actual leadership in our political community for a start – instead of the stoking of othering and transphobia from too many circles. Proper leadership would render many of the bad attitudes towards trans folk as something to be frowned upon and regretted. Meanwhile, in this space nothing has changed in the almost 40 years since I first nervously climbed those steps in the Wayside Chapel and met those older trans women.

I’ve witnessed forty years of baby steps in this struggle but, whilst recognising that much more needs to be done, we have seen massive change, making vast numbers of lives much better. Each of those small changes will continue to add to the aggregate of change and hopefully make the lives of all trans folk a smoother and happier journey where they can all reach for their full potentials.

So now we have the trans flag emoji. Perhaps it signifies all of those aggregated baby steps as much as the work which lies ahead but let’s enjoy the moment and post it with hope and pride

Ricki Coughlin – image curtesy Facebook.
Scroll to Top