Friday, 12 September 2014 the Future: speech at Health in Difference 18 April 2013


I thought I'd share a speech/presentation I gave last year at Health in Difference 8. Unfortunately, the audio recording didn't quite work; I hope the words can at least give the sense of sense of vision and possibility. And a few things have changed since, but I'll post it as it was delivered.


I acknowledge the original inhabitants of the land, the people of the Kulin nation, and pay my respects to elders past and present.

I also welcome people to Melbourne. As a city that tries to celebrate diversity we arranged that our weather was also suitably diverse for our interstate guests. I humbly apologise to anyone from Tasmania for any remarks I have ever made about it being too cold in the Apple Isle. Seriously, welcome and please enjoy your stay.

Very seriously, I have the pleasure today of talking about building on the strengths of intersex, trans and gender diverse people. As a person who, next Saturday week, will have been out to myself for 18 years– I’m legal - I have seen those strengths emerge in our communities over that time, acknowledging the different degrees of emergence amongst intersex, trans and gender diverse – and for that matter amongst gay, lesbian and bisexual as well. I also acknowledge regional differences in strength around Australia. Overall that strength has improved. Today, I want to look to the future and building on those strengths. What would we like to have achieved in 10 years time for intersex, trans and gender diverse people? What will have changed for the better? Well, let’s get into a car from a well known trilogy of movies and find out.

Which movies? I briefly digress, and have to admit, as a purveyor of 70’s dag culture, I nearly got my cars mixed up. I thought initially of a TRANS-Am...and realised I was thinking of the movies starring Burt Reynolds and Sally Field called Smokey and the Bandit. They perhaps were not a big 10-4. An intersex, trans and gender-diverse-am didn’t roll off the tongue too well either.

So, to get it right, and acknowledging any possible copyright to Universal Pictures and Steven Spielberg, let’s get into the de Lorean instead... it’s actually grown into a de Lorean 747 jet with lots of seats...especially 2 seats for 2 people called Marty and Doc...and an extra seat for Einstein the dog...and...I won’t do the voices all the time...let’s go the intersex, trans and gender diverse Future!
Hang on Doc, before we get going, shouldn’t we make sure we have...paperwork?
Paperwork Marty...where we’re going, we don’t need birth certificates.  Let’s travel to 2023. 88 miles per hour...and

We’re at our first stop - a Birth, Deaths and Marriages Registry. Look, there’s a trans woman applying to change the marker on her birth certificate.
We’ll be here a while she jumps though all the hoops, fills out all the forms, supplies the signed copies of everything...
No we won’t. So many things happened the over the last 10 or so years. It started with the AH and AB case in the High Court in 2011 which upheld the idea that birth certificate laws were about helping trans people, not putting up hurdles for them. Then it went further. In 2014, the UN upheld the case of another Australian trans man who claimed that to have to undertake surgery when concurrent medical conditions prevented that surgery from happening was a violation of human rights. The huge public and cross-partisan support for his case, combined with virtually zero backlash, meant all state and territory governments moved quickly to amend their birth certificate laws in line with the principles of self-determination, with use of the Argentine approach as a model – and this is the same all around Australia. See look, she’s already filled out the one-page form changing name and marker, paid the small fee and now it’s off to a for celebratory lunch with friends and family.
Wow, that’s awesome...hey Doc, just looking around there’s a really busy counter and a really empty counter over there. What’s that about?
That was because once trans and intersex people were really able to get full say in the equal marriage debate, Australia finally got equal marriage for couples regardless of sex, gender identity or intersex status. People were horrified when they heard that just because someone’s body was considered a tiny bit different to so-called ideals of male or female that some intersex people couldn’t marry at all. The good networks built by intersex and allies with a range of lawyers built an impeccable argument that was a game-changer for the whole marriage debate. The vote in Parliament was hugely in favour. The celebrations were huge. And people had 4 spare Saturdays every year because they didn’t have to go to marriage rallies any more.
So what’s the empty counter then?
That symbolises the other side of the coin, the divorce counter. Because there’s no more “forced trans divorce,” no one needs that counter any more.
Any way, next stop...Broome, WA. There’s a person who lives in Hobart, identifies as genderqueer and who’s unfortunately got a dose of tummy trouble while on holidays - I’ll tell you which cafe to avoid later. Anyway, they’re off to the local GP for some medication.
Uh-oh, they’re going to have to go through a big rigmorale explaining genderqueer and pronouns to a doctor over here.
Not any more. Granted this was a huge problem 10 years ago. So intersex, trans and gender diverse decided on an all out approach from both the top down and the grass roots up. They networked the top brass in the AMA and similar bodies. They found every GP they knew and got them up to speed on intersex, trans and gender diverse...and then got those professionals to nominate one other health professional who they thought would be interested in learning as well. Health professionals who were also University lecturers around the country caught on and made sure that intersex, trans and gender diverse was considered throughout all of medical and psych studies and not just tucked into a corner for an hour. The conservatives in the health profession who showed prejudice against this ended up looking dated. See they’ve got their antibiotics and are on their way to enjoy the rest of their break.
Medical types used to be pretty binary on children who were deemed to be intersex at birth as well. Did that change?
For sure! Let’s pop up to the parental ward at the local hospital...see that paper on the wall? It lists contact details for intersex representatives who can make sure every parent or guardian gets to talk with intersex people before making any decisions about surgeries. Giving parents a free and informed choice where intersex comes up at birth is now compulsory for every hospital in Australia. After comprehensive protection of intersex went through the Tasmanian and Federal parliaments in 2013, other states and territories steadily followed. The combination of law and education of health professionals has made a huge difference.

Off we go again...
Hey this looks a bit’s a jail!
We needed to come here. People used to be housed pretty much on a surgical basis often with tragic results. Now, following some overseas models, every intersex, trans or gender diverse person who sadly ends up in custody is housed on their merits allowing for their wellbeing, with respect to the person’s own input, the wellbeing of others in custody and custodial staff. An intersex, trans or gender diverse person sits on a committee along with prison brass and grass roots staff and helps work out the best course of action. Violence against these groups in custody has dropped by 75%, STIs amongst them by 90%. There’s at a least a more equal chance of getting a fresh start after custody. The shock-jocks still try to make a big deal out of it though...unfortunately some things haven’t changed.

Can we go somewhere a little brighter now?
Sure...he we are: Charleville primary school and the happy recess playground.
OK, let me try this time Doc. I can see kids of what looks like lots of gender identities playing kick to kick on the oval and others, also of lots of gender identities just quietly chatting nearby and it’s all of the year six students is talking with friends about starting puberty blockers next month...the friends are sharing the excitement...awesome...
You’re getting it Marty. Educations departments, schools and principals realised that affirming people in every way was important, it helped make classes happier and more interesting as well as being better of course for the students. Bottling things up never helped. And that year six student’s 2 dads don’t have to spend thousands going to the family court to prove what the family already knew. Thank the brave family who went to court to challenge that and change things.

What happens when the young person gets to 18 and if they need to go through with surgery? Won’t someone still be out of pocket for thousands of dollars then?
Not any more. A good combination of getting the government to work with private health insurers meant the out of pocket costs that used to be huge are now far least no more than for other people who stay in hospital for an equivalent length of time for any other operation, which ended up as a fair and equitable outcome.
So, no more fundraiser parties to help people to pay for surgery costs?
Oh don’t worry, there’s still lots of parties; where the parties are fundraisers there are lots of ideas to keep building intersex, trans and gender diverse communities so they go to greater heights. Let’s go to a party now...

Lots of people having fun together here...
...and look, there’s a trans woman who hasn’t had surgery yet who seems to have just met a special someone. They’re off home. Thanks to all the sex positive education that was fully inclusive, people now know how to have safe, consensual and respectful intimacy with anyone of any body or any identity. More love in the world and less loneliness...that’s the power of’s all good.

Next’s the office of an HR executive consultancy where a person who went through intersex surgeries earlier in their life has just sent in their medical history as the final step before landing a big job.
The recruitment consultant’s just totally turned past those pages in the report.
Yes, they know it’s all in the past, it’s not relevant to the person’s ability to do the job and not relevant how well they’ll get on with their colleagues and everyone else. Once governments, philanthropic bodies and others got the message of how prevention was a better idea than being reactive and funded education and training, everything changed. Employment, housing and accommodation, the lot are all done far more equitably now. Not perfect, but if least if mistakes happen, they get fixed pretty quickly so that’s ok.
We’ve got one last stop...
Why are you setting the time machine to go to 1973 Doc? ....Police strip searching trans women to see what underwear they have on underneath their outer clothes? Amazingly gifted people who can’t get the job they want? Rows of homeless trans people facing alcohol and drug abuse? What do we want to be reminded of this for?
I just want to be sure that we respect where we’ve come from and that we never go back there. I want to be sure we honour those who faced great difficulties and did their best with huge courage to live or change things for others or both. We always need to learn across time and across generations to keep that respect going and avoid complacency. Human rights and human dignity can only be improved with effort. Let’s use the past as a spur to make sure things keep improving, but let’s not be trapped in the past either.
In which case, I’m setting the time machine for 2.30 PM 18 April 2013.

And we’re back.
I hope that ride to the future proved we can help achieve healthier bodies and healthier minds, not only for intersex, trans and gender diverse people, rather for everyone in every stream whose lives we discuss in the next 2 and ½ days. Maybe there was some artistic licence in that trip to the future and some of the ideas. That’s OK. In the words of Einstein  - the human one  - “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”  With imagination, innovation, love and hope, I wish everyone every success in building on our strengths for HiD 8 – and to quote the final words of Back to The Future 3, “your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one.”

Have a great conference everyone!

PS. With a Victorian state election coming, there's a chance to make the future on some of these issues!
Watch this space...

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