Emily Trueman responds to last night’s Australian Story episode, ‘About a Girl’.
*Trigger Warning: this article references self-harm and suicide. If you need help, or just need a chat, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Last night’s episode of Australian Story, titled ‘About a Girl’, followed a sixteen-year-old transgender girl, Georgie Stone, and her family, as they went through court processes for puberty blockers. They eventually lobbied for changes in regulation regarding transgender children’s access to these medications. The program discussed the acceptance she’d found at her school when she came out: from her classmates, her principal, and the Victorian premier. The episode brought back memories about a classmate from my primary school who I understand now, as an adult, was transgender. After watching this episode of ‘Australian Story’, in combination with what I know now, and with what I witnessed and experienced as a child, I am more convinced than ever that we need a Safe Schools Coalition program across Australian schools.
My classmate began wearing the ‘boy’ version of our school uniform- a shirt and pants – instead of the dress in late kindergarten or year one. He had always played with the boys, and they treated him like they would each other. On year six camp, he was put into a room with a bunch of the girls. They jokingly put glossy, hot pink lip gloss on his lips, and I remember him coming out of the room looking uncomfortable but laughing, probably at the ridiculousness of it. We were all laughing. But then one of the girls tried to take a photo with a silver, 2006-era flip phone and he got surly and upset, wiping it off. I remember being confused that he wasn’t allowed to be with his friends in the boys’ rooms; I had genuinely forgotten that, biologically, he was a girl.
He used to cut his wrists and hide them under sweatbands. He showed them to me and my friend in the playground once then shrugged when we asked how he had gotten scratches like that. I don’t remember why he showed them to us. He tugged the sweatbands over his wrist again and ran off to play football with the other boys. When we slipped up and called him “he” instead of “she”, he would shrug and say that it didn’t matter. By year six we would all call him “he”. I remember I saw him cry once when the teachers and his mum (I think it was his mum – I just remember she was a relative) forced him to wear a dress on photo day instead of pants. I think by year four, he had stopped coming to school on photo day. I remember my teacher shaking her head about his absence on that particular day for a second or third year in a row.
I haven’t thought about this in years. Especially the scratched, scabbing wrists hidden by a blue sweatband. I couldn’t comprehend self-harm at that age. I was only nine or ten. So was he. And for some reason, it’s only just hit me how fucked up it is that I was fourteen and wishing, even praying (literally, to a capital-g-God I wasn’t sure I believed in), that I would die quickly and quietly in my sleep, so that I wouldn’t have to get up and face going to school the next day.
I felt isolated at high school. By fourteen, I knew for certain that I liked girls (but we’re not going into my masturbation habits lol), and I knew most other girls did not. In fact, at fourteen, as far as I knew, no other girls were like me. At least, no one around me at my all-girls Catholic school was like me. At that age, school is your whole world; you spend the majority of your waking hours there. You learnt, you ate, you talked, you slept, and you breathed school. In all of my classes at school, I was made to feel like a hypothetical – there was no way anyone at THIS school, in THIS classroom, at THIS time could ever be gay or bisexual, or transgender. When we were mentioned in class, it was only to subject our rights and our existence to debate, and I would argue strongly in favour of same-sex marriage, gay validity and gay rights – “I’m straight but I think …”. I would look for support in those debates, someone who would unknowingly stick up for me. Sometimes I got that support. Other times, I had friends say things that I often wonder if they would say now, to my face, as an openly gay woman.
I would like to say that I tried very hard to like boys. I read Twilight and I picked a Team. I liked the Jonas Brothers and I had a favourite. But at the end of the day, I’d go home and there was Smallville’s Lois Lane in red leather. What can I say? Other than that we’re not going into my kinks either? Humour aside, from the beginning of my teens, I felt utterly alone. I felt like a freak to the point where I would withdraw from friends and I would turn aggressive at the slightest obstacle. Somewhere along the road I lost happiness, and I understood why my classmate would want to hurt himself. It was all because nobody ever wanted to talk to me – to us – like we were real and valid. I only got that happiness back very recently.
The Safe Schools Coalition has been pushed off the political agenda for the moment. I would argue that, in some respects, it is even more important than same-sex marriage. When people talk about Safe Schools being a literal life saver, we aren’t joking and we aren’t exaggerating. My classmate should not have been self-harming at age nine. I should not have been having suicidal thoughts at fourteen. It’s fucked up. We were just kids. We were just kids, and we shouldn’t have had to go through that. I know that now. I strongly believe that I would not have experienced this if I’d had the right representation and the right education. I also believe that, with the right education, my teachers would have recognised the pain it caused my classmate to wear a dress and to be recognised by his friends and peers as a girl, the gender that he did not identify with. I believe that, maybe, they would have recognised the signs and that he would not have had reason to cut his wrists. Sixteen-year-old Georgie Stone has had the right support and the right education and look at her now – she’s about to change Australian law for the better.
If you need help, or just need a chat, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.