(Intro quotes set to Simona Castricum’s The Half Light) Darcy: Welcome to Transdemic: Trans and Gender Diverse Experiences of the Global Pandemic. Sandy: Online was my lifeline. Emma: I was full of hope and excitement and then COVID happened. Yves: Life is easier to be by myself Roz: God, twitter is the scourge of society Nate: My car was looking like a good place to live. Randos: What the pandemic has done is really tease out what's important and what's not important. Gemma: We are recording this episode on the stolen land of the Wurundjeri and Boon wurrung people of the Kulin nation. We pay our respects to their elders past, present and emerging. Sovereignty was never ceded. This always was, and always will be Aboriginal land. We’d like to particularly acknowledge any brotherboys or sistergirls who are listening, and the work of Black Rainbow, the national advocacy platform and touchpoint for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, Transgender, and Intersex people. Head to http://www.blackrainbow.org.au/donate/ to donate. Gemma: We would like to acknowledge the support of our gold partner, Drummond Street Services’ Queerspace, who provide counselling and peer support for LGBTIQ+ people, and professional development for organisations who work with LGBTIQ + people and their families. Queerspace is also the proud home to some of Victoria’s leading LGBTIQ+ community advocacy groups including Transgender Victoria, Parents of Gender Diverse Children and Rainbow Families Victoria. Contact 03 9663 6733 or head to queerspace.org.au to find out more. Darcy: We’d also like to thank Maribyrnong City Council’s “together apart rapid relief fund” for their support. Sam: Just a note before we start: this episode contains references to mental health issues, suicide and difficulties accessing gender affirming healthcare issues that some of our listeners might find distressing. If you need support, contact Qlife on 1800 184 627 or lifeline on 13 11 14. Sam: Welcome to Episode three of our four part series: Life Under Lockdown. Gemma: But first, some quick introductions. I'm Gemma Cafarella, I'm a cisgender woman, a radio presenter and podcaster. And I'm also a community lawyer. I live in the western suburbs of Melbourne, Sam: My name is Sam Elkin, and I am a trans masculine writer, podcaster and community lawyer living in Melbourne. Darcy: My name is Darcy I'm a trans masculine person working as a doctor in rural hospitals. Social Isolation Sam: So, life under lockdown, it’s been a massive change from what things we like this time last year. Gemma: Yeah with the notion of lockdown, really the first thing that comes to mind is how quickly we’ve had to adapt to a world in which lockdown means something. It’s a word we throw around pretty frequently, and we’ve had to adapt to too... basically this whole new world. Like I was thinking, what is a lockdown? What did it mean to me pre-COVID? If I am being honest it meant something that happened in a prison when there was a big incident or a big threat. That’s the limit of what I would’ve thought of when I thought of a lockdown. But now it’s just something that as of March it’s something that we’ve come quite accustomed to and we’ve become used to having our freedoms curtailed, and quite significantly limited. Sam: Yeah I remember when the pandemic first started there were some advocates that were like “Woooh, what is going on? Why is everyone giving up their civil liberties so easily without a fight?” And it is a really interesting question, curtailing people’s rights and liberty’s in order to control a massive health risk to all of us. Where are the lines and what are the limits? And I think we can tell when they’ve gone too far. Like I think they went too far with the public housing towers (nervous laugh) in North Melbourne, I think a lot of people in the community agree with that, but then, you know a lot of people don’t as well, so it is really a contested space. Gemma: And I think one of the things that must be acknowledged from the outset is that the pandemic has been experiences differently by minority communities, that has been racialized and classed based policing of the lockdown, as we discussed in the last episode. Sam: And there’s a lot of other new terms that we’ve had to get used to in 2020, like social distancing, what does that mean? I would of thought it meant some sort of introverts manual to become… less of a weirdo? Gemma (laughing): Sam identifies as an introvert, and that is not Sam having a go at introverts. Yeah there’s all these new terms, some of which are just very wrong, like social distancing. It’s not social distancing, it’s clearly physical distancing, staying away from each other so we don’t all infect and kill each other. It’s not about socially moving away. Sam: But it has to be said that the restrictions have had a huge impact on some people’s social and emotional wellbeing, and that’s what we are really going to focus on in this episode. Gemma: It really can’t be overstated how upset people have been during the COVID-19 pandemic, how upset they’ve been by the social isolation. This is what Emma from Sydney, had to say. Emma: If I tried to explain how isolated I felt during this period to myself six months ago, I would have thought, oh my god, you histrionic winter, how ridiculous. I felt so alone despite being surrounded by really great people just felt, yeah, as isolated as I can possibly imagine exists, which is histrionic. Yeah. That's how I felt. Media Gemma: Emma also talked about the impact of following the news on her mental health. Emma: Yeah, the media perish about stuff that we can feel anxious about everyone should be feeling anxious about. I overdosed on that real early. I got my nerd on really early about COVID and found myself shouting organizations that was related to about how they needed to lock down. Bridges Am I work teaching Britain with British organisations and bridges a game where people pass petri dishes around the room and most of them are over 70 and they sit they breathing on each other for hours at a time and the organizations I was working with relax, lead in in moving forward to stop having live broadcasts basically, really into it really early like campaigning and talking to people about shutting things down. And by the time sort of three weeks into lockdown it come along, I I just stopped reading the news, like literally turned it off. I was an overdose. So early on, I went crazy with all the information because I got involved in all that stuff. And afterwards I kind of turned Off the anxiety machine, aka the news. And what I was doing on the internet instead was finding trans spaces places where trans people were sharing stuff about their experience grew a little I guess I found a little community on there, which made me kind of happy but over the last few weeks with what's going on in the USA, and hopefully what's going on around the world in terms of some social change around racism, in particular, in reading a bit of news again, and now instead of feeling anxious like I did with COVID I'm like full of anger and hyped up and ready to go. I guess in order of events media out there has made me first of all anxious when COVID started, then comforted and held when I started engaging with trans folk online, and now angry. Is that three little little buttons you can press on Facebook is there an anxious face Gemma: My experience of that was at work, I feel like my colleagues were trying to cope by sharing every single detail of every other service and how they were dealing with the pandemic, when all I wanted to do was just bury myself in work, and I just absolutely couldn’t. Darcy what were your first experiences of lockdown? Darcy: I loved it. I loved having an excuese to just stay at home and not do anything. Now I really, really want to go out dancing, but yeah, obviously not an option. Sam: I remember there were reports of illegal rave parties in Germany somewhere at the beginning of the pandemic, and I was like, oh you couldn’t pay me to go to a rave right now, I am so glad those days are behind us! Darcy: (laughs) Gemma: The other thing that I really remember about the beginning of lockdown is while living with Sam, Sam would just find anyway to weave into conversation just how much they were loving the lockdown and how much they felt that life had gotten immeasurably better, and I as an extrovert was having a really, really hard time, and I felt like Sam was just rubbing salt in the wounds. Sam: I got really into historical accounts of the pandemic, I read a diary of the plague year by Daniel Defoe, and I really got into accounts of the Spanish Flu, so I really wasn’t into the social media stuff so much of what’s going on in the hear and now. But to be honest, I couldn’t find that many people to talk to about it. Gemma: (laughing) what you couldn’t find a whole bevvy of people who wanted to talk about the Spanish flu with you? Sam: That’s right, that’s the thing about social media. Everyone just wants to talk about the latest outrage of what someone said on the internet. No one wants to talk about the historical experiences or Daniel Defoe’s accounts of the life of a saddler in the pandemic in London, do they? Social Media
Gemma: That’s a great segue Sam, let’s talk about social media during COVID-19, Sam how have you found it? Sam: Well I’ve been trying to find social media from the other side, you know how you’re meant to be in your own social media bubble now, and you know there’s the algorithms where you only see the content you already agree with, so I’ve become quite interested in looking at American conspiracy theory memes of COVID-19 not being really real and stuff like that. So yeah I think social media has gotten really weird, and I think it’s a tool that’s going to descend us into fascism. I know that’s an unpopular view… Gemma: I think one of the other outcomes of the pandemic is that people have more time to be on social media and people are also feeling a bit more anxious and upset, and I think that there’s been a few more social media pile-ons lately, particularly on twitter. Sam: This is Roz from Archer magazine had to say… Roz: The internet for me has been more of a way to connect and even like to self serve it ever has before and ever since the internet was created when I was like, I don't know, yes, every year, right. I've been like pretty obsessed with it. And I did like my honors thesis on it on queer people on the internet. And it's always been something that I've been like interested in as a topic, but also how it's played out in my life. For me, one of the main ways has been through Twitter. And even though like so much of the time when I'm telling my partner something from Twitter, she's like, God, Twitter is the scourge of society, get off Twitter. It's terrible. And I'm just like, No. and No matter how bad things get on there, like there's just something that keeps me coming back. And I've made like Twitter friends and have like great conversations in the DMS that like, keep me laughing no matter what else is going on. And so I think for me, like it's been a wonderful way to find community, even things like people's Twitter BIOS, and like the details they choose to put in there and Not it makes it like so easy to find trans and gender diverse people and connect with them. I think at certain points, like, even if I'm like, in a bad mood or upset or feeling down, it's just like being away to like, I don't know, it's like this, like confidence support, but also like validation there. Because I think a lot of us who are like Twitter obsessed, we tend to do a lot of oversharing and then we get a lot of validation back like, Oh, don't worry, no, no, I do that all the time. And so that has been like just something that's kept me going like very consistently throughout Sam: Gemma, you mentioned that there were a few twitter pile ons, possibly because people have more time on their hands, have you been trolling online in the wee hours? Gemma: I haven’t, I was actually the subject of a twitter pile on. I posted something about a quite prominent twitter user who is quite prolific in the Australian politics hash tags, and who is a prominent academic and also a trans exclusionary radical feminist. And I just posted about that fact, and was then the subject of a quite extraordinary twitter pile on, so yeah, that was my experience. Which was pretty upsetting, given that there are a lot of other things going on to be worried about, namely whether me or my family is going to get COVID. So yeah I’ve been a bit more cautious about what I post on twitter online ever since. Sam: Well I’m not really a twitter user, but I do use facebook quite a bit for The Shed, which is a trans masculine peer support group, and it really is genuinely one of the best things on the internet for me. You know people generally ask the same questions over and over again, like where can I get hormones, what’s the deal with microdosing, and can how much does chest surgery cost and can It get it right now, so yeah I think a lot of people in the trans and gender diverse community use the internet for that important social support. Sam: This is Kat, a user experience web designer from Geelong, who we first met in Episode 1 had to say. Kat: It's been amazing. So uh I don't know if you're like me, I find a lot of trans people have a similar experience to me, especially who are in my like kind of age group, who might have grown up a little bit with the internet, jumped on super early and we might have gotten involved in Myspace or LiveJournal, or even more recently Tumblr and found access to those little communities. Like, I myself was superduper into an Avril Levine forum when I was younger. I mean that- that's not necessarily a community, but found community in that. So, I definitely look towards communities online a lot more and it was easier for me to find those online. So there was definitely heaps out there and being able to realise that ah different communities sort of spring up in different social media worlds. I mean, there's different types of Twitter, there's design Twitter. I mean, people have heard of Tumblr and the different communities that are inside of Tumblr. And that's really interesting too um, that's where I was exposed to the world of the gender spectrum and the fact that I didn't necessarily have to be a man or a woman. Um and I wasn't necessarily either and there was a space for that too. So digital communities have been amazing for me and I always try to talk about them and elevate them, encourage other people to get involved in them. Um and as toxic as some online communities can be, they are also a really, really great place to connect with others and find safety and community as well. Darcy: Lore and Darcy talked about their social media use to interact with LGBTIQ communities during the lockdown…. Lore: I was already in a few groups on through Facebook. And I tend to use those fairly often anyway because it's convenient and I don't know a huge amount of trans or Ace people in person, although that's improving, which is fantastic. But I have definitely reached out to those groups and to social media much more often. Darcy W-R: If this was happening in a pre-internet time, the experience would be much more difficult particularly for those of us who are marginalised. Sam: Yeah so can you imagine a COVID-19 world without the internet? This is what Daniel Defoe’s book Diary of a Plague Year is all about, like they didn’t have the internet, they just sat around playing cards. And they were literally shut in, you know the government, comes with boards and shuts up your doors, and write something on your door that said something like “Blessed are the damned” or something like that. And there would be someone who stood out the front of your door, and they would be tasked with getting you more food or whatever. And if you tried to sneak out, they were allowed to kill you… Darcy: Kill!? Sam: Yeah kill. Darcy: A bit like what’s going on with the towers. Sam: Yes, and those people out the front were called the watchmen, which is like that movie The Watchmen, I think they were riffing on that idea. And they could get bribed by rich city folk who wanted to escape to the country, which is like, pretty much what’s going on now too. Gemma: Which is not to say that people didn’t get sick of the internet. Sam: This is what Roz had to say about trying to organise some of their neighbours on the internet. Roz: So I made this comment that maybe that would be helpful just to get like even the email address or contact number for people on the street and put it together. And one of the neighbors got really worked up and said, as long as you don't make another social media group like, I will not be part of even one more whatsapp group or one more Facebook Messenger group, getting messages about things, even if it is the community and even if it's like essential services, and at the time, I was just like, oh, okay, sorry. But then, I guess later, I'm almost at that state of like, there's so many groups and so many things going on at once that I now understand that a little bit better. Sam: Gemma have you gotten sick of the internet yet? Gemma: I’ve had a complicated relationship with the internet. It was quite remarkable how all these big courses were suddenly available, and it was unfortunate because I didn’t feel in a mood to utilize that at the time, and it was frustrating to see all that institutional knowledge that is usually locked away behind an expensive paywall. Darcy: Jinghua and Roz talked about accessing the queer scene online… Jinghua: It was like, quite a different use of the internet, especially during the first part of the lockdown when I think it was still a little bit novel to be, you know, like, I think I was more enthusiastic about it at the beginning and I was like going to, you know, these like queer parties on zoom that were hosted in, you know, like Toronto or wherever, you know, but just people all over the world in places where where it was their nighttime, right so turning out to his queer parties in like London or Toronto or wherever, when it was actually like 2pm or something and I was like eating my lunch or my breakfast. Went to a couple of parties club quarantine and booster collective I think which is like BIOS for us which is I think like a people of color like club night basically on the zoom and they were great you know it was a real good feeling and even just like the chat in all these spaces being like kind of pervy, and I would be in, you know, like my flannel pajamas or whatever, but like people really dressed up for that stuff. And so you'd be seeing these people like in their cute like club outfits like twerking on camera. Roz: Yeah, I really liked it. I kind of engaged a bit too much at one point, I was like, Okay, I have to pull back now. And my partner and I realized we were socializing so much more than we normally do. And it just kind of got to be a bit too much like it got to the point where even something that sounded quite fun. It was really like, Oh, God, can I do my fourth zoom or whatever today? I think one thing that stood out to me maybe was sometimes like feeling in the community. I'm not sure where my place in it is. Exactly. And so my participation is a lot of it is online, like through social media, or like through the editing that I do it Archer and I have a lot of contact with different people, but less of the social side, just because I'm not a huge person for nightlife and drinking drugs, any of that stuff. I've really enjoyed the opportunity to socialize in a way that doesn't involve those things in that way. As an example, the queer community that I fit into is quite involved, the club scene and unicorns, parties and all those kinds of things. To me, it just sort of like That whole thing makes me kind of nervous in that sense. I remember saying at one point during the pandemic, I feel guilty saying it but that I kind of loved that everyone was stuck at home in a way because I got to engage with people where I normally just think our ways of like socializing and going out are just too different and not compatible. And it found like it made a lot of like very extroverted people that kind of against their will have to socialize from home. And so in that way, it kind of worked quite well for me. Sam: Cedar mentioned queer and trans events being online instead of in-person easier to attend. Cedar: Because so many things are online, like some of the things that I might have been to socially anxious to kind of go to, um sort of poetry events or performance events, queer things like that, like, I have gone to more of? Being able to kind of join something on Zoom and turn my camera off or like join a live stream has felt kind of something that I- yeah can sort of participate in more without feeling- having to kind of gear myself up for that sort of social interaction and being in this public space being perceived and stuff like that. Gemma: Yves explained that peer support online for trans communities was going well too. Yves: Darcy: Jax talked more about the unexpected benefits of more accessible spaces for some during COVID-19…. Jax: Yeah, I mean, for me personally, as a queer wheelchair user, um it's broken down some of those barriers in terms of attendance. Because you know a lot- a lot of our fabulous queer parties are up a flight of stairs in a dark room because that's where we can get cheap rent and- and that's where we can find each other and find ourselves and have that hot pash on Saturday night. But that's- that's not what- where I've been able to find access to my community. So having online, you know, gigs or events, even with a screaming toddler when I'm on mute, has kind of allowed me to have a greater access to community. But that's only with my particular impairments. Like I would say, for queer Deaf people, you know, when there's no Auslan interpreter or live captioning, what's their access like to free community now? What's the access of somebody who's got an intellectual or cognitive disability? Or who lives in a group home where those places routinely don't have internet access or phone access in the very homes people live in. So for those LGBTIQ people with disabilities, they have been totally shut out of their access to their community that they might have fought really hard to have in their NDIS plans or with people supporting them in their lives. Darcy: Some people find online communication hard, and it’s made it harder for them to access their community… Emma: I have social anxiety and in particular, like anxiety around conversational pragmatics and interacting with people in digital forms that is doubled and tripled. Yeah. So in a face to face conversation, the pragmatics going on that give me the ability to feel confident and comfortable with the person with other gesticulations and their facial expressions and subtle tone of their voice intonation and all the things that you absorb. When you're face to face with someone that you don't absorb in a digital format. You get a little bit of it if you're on a video chat. I think everyone who's tried to have a zoom meeting for work is like the limitations. I feel that really immensely I glean a lot from the physicality of humans in my space and whether what our conversations doing and whether it's okay, physical presence makes it much better for me. Gemma: Simona also mentioned the limitations of online socializing. Simona: Essentially those- particularly things like Zoom parties or, you know, Zoom meetups, they're all about invitation. You know, and if you're not in the- in the group of five friends or the group of 10 friends for the Zoom party, then you know, you- it's not like you can just like, you know, walk in- walk into the bar and participate in that sense. It's not like just walking onto a dance floor and letting spontaneity take its course you know, You know, you're literally kind of left lying on your bed staring at the ceiling. So- and that's a pretty- pretty drab picture to paint, if that's what you were doing before COVID anyway. So I worry about that. It's interesting, if I was going to the local shopping center, you know, in the early stages when I, you know, got the mask on and, you know, wearing whatever I'm usually wearing and- but as a trans feminine person passing through public space, uh, it's really important. Yes, sometimes in order for me to get through public space, I've got to be rocking so- a look, you know, I've got to be rocking some lipstick or whatever and I want to do that a) because that's the look I want to rock, but 2) sometimes, like, you know, like wearing some makeup and wearing some lipstick might be the difference between um being in a public toilet or being in a public space um and having someone not do the bathroom panic on me. You know? So when you're having to really cover up, when you're wearing a mask, when you're wearing all of this stuff, which was happening early in the piece, I was just like really concerned about people just reading my body shape, reading my height, reading my size and reading me as- as- as a man or reading me as masculine. So I found that a little bit stressful to start off with, you know? I was like, I was at the deli and I like took off my mask to like order some- some food. And she was like, 'Ah, I really like your lipstick. It's a really beautiful color of pink.' I'm like, 'Ah, thank you.' I was just like, um yeah, then I had to put my mask back on and it was just like, ah you know. You know I really rely on um my expression of my- my gender and also my expression of my sexuality I think too. And- and COVID just sort of, you know, sort of took- took- took that away for a little while, which I found a little bit disempowering. Sam: One thing that I found really interesting is the different ways that people felt stifled or freer to express their gender during COVID-19… Emma: this is huge. If someone had tried to explain this to me before I noticed I was trans, I would have sort of shook my head and tried to understand but not got it. Like the process that I imagined and experienced for a really short time before COVID was dressing up femme and going somewhere. And in that somewhere, I mean, the inner west of Sydney, so there's lots of queers around and in that somewhere, I would get validation from all the people around me about what I was doing and how I was expressing myself. And that just helped me step by step to feel okay about who I was becoming with COVID that just doesn't exist. There's going up to the shops, but the shops are dead. There's going down to the cafe, getting a takeaway, but you can't sit in there and mingle with the staff that you love, and have a chat to the other customers. And if you do this, like this nervous social isolating that everyone's doing or distancing that everyone's doing it For baby trend, some of that feels like they're distancing because they think I'm freaky or weird. And I know that's not something that would worry me if I had validation pouring in from other spaces. But that validation doesn't exist because we're also locked down and everyone's hiding at home. That lack of humans on the street in places going to places is a lack of a resource that I think is really important for me and I've struggled with that. I Only got to participate in the kind of queer world that made me feel safe. I mean, I've been queer for a long, long time, but I have not had an identity in that queer space that I felt was right. And in a couple of months before COVID I really loved that space, the queer out party experience, and there's a bunch of those places that I feel nervous, never going to be the same or won't exist, or Yeah, I feel exactly that anxiety that that joy might not exist again. Sam: On the other hand, Cedar felt freer… Cedar: I felt like leaving the house and like figuring out like what to wear is like a struggle a lot of the time. Um and I'll kind of like go through lots of different outfits and kind of like, I don't know, be upset and then leave the house and feel really uncomfortable all day and like watch people perceiving me or like see people perceiving me um and be really kind of preoccupied with that? And that's sort of like been a big part of the way that I interact with social space or space. And so I feel like not having that and having my interactions online um or on- over the phone mostly has been quite freeing or good in terms of that sort of thing? Sam: And it was interesting to hear how established queer groups managed moving online. Cedar: I am part of the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Chorus. And um it's like queer choir times. And that's been-they've been sort of keeping going during the pandemic. So I feel like that's been another space that like- that I've been interacting with weekly that- I was before, I'd just joined it, I'd been for like a month in person and- but that's been sort of- we have like choir every week and then there's sort of social catch ups through that as well. And so I've felt quite connected to that space. And like obviously they've sort of been going through trying to work out how best to use that online space, especially there's a lot of older people in the choir who- um I think getting everyone to participate in the platform and stuff like that has been something that they've been working on. But like, yeah, I've definitely found that I have felt connected to different arts and culture things in a similar way, even maybe more so than I was engaging with just before the pandemic. Gemma: Roz talked about the way the distance between people living interstate broke down during lockdown… Roz: So some of my friends organised a catch up like every Saturday night and we- we participated in it. And they live in a different state. And so it was really nice, like we reconnected with them, kind of like we're back in each other's lives in a way that we hadn't been able to do properly for a long time. And then like the second that state went out of lockdown we like- we stopped doing these but there wasn't even any discussion about it. We just like- no one mentioned it ever again. And like on one level, I felt relieved because it was like every Saturday night we're having to jump on Zoom and do this long thing. Um but on another it was like, 'Oh okay, so like things like that really are just going to go straight back.' And those friends like went straight back to going out as much as they could and that kind of thing. Darcy: But while it was easier than ever for many people to connect overseas, it could also be really difficult to provide meaningful support. Jinghua I think once lockdown started, um it was interesting to me that it sort of both narrowed distances and- and changed our perceptions of space because everyone felt kind of equally distant from each other. So, yeah, I have been in contact with people overseas more so than I would be normally. I was sort of in contact with everyone the same way through video chat and text and email and whatever else. Darcy W-R Honestly, it is really hard at the moment with being in touch with my spouse overseas. Their situation is a lot more precarious than mine. So their- their living situation is quite precarious and their access to technology in order to be able to actually talk to me is on and off. They've also gone through some issues with violent housemates during the time so that's been really challenging. It's been really hard being here and not being able to support them beyond sending them some money when I'm able to and chatting to them and stuff and having this- these incredibly like glitchy and fragmented video conversations. Sam: Darcy W-R also talked about the impact of COVID-19 on romance and dating. Darcy W-R Honestly, it is really hard at the moment with being in touch with my spouse overseas. Their situation is a lot more precarious than mine. So their- their living situation is quite precarious and their access to technology in order to be able to actually talk to me is on and off. They've also gone through some issues with violent housemates during the time so that's been really challenging. It's been really hard being here and not being able to support them beyond sending them some money when I'm able to and chatting to them and stuff and having this- these incredibly like glitchy and fragmented video conversations. Gemma: Lore, who were first met in episode 1, also talked about dating during COVID-19.. Lore: Online dating, which is a whole other thing, being a ace person. But that's kind of- that's become more active because people have been wanting and seeking connection in general. And their website actually sort of suggested, 'Oh, do you want to open up to the entire world? Since everyone's at home at the moment anyway, you might as well.' Um so that was kind of cool to have some conversations with people from like Istanbul and different countries. And I- I did meet one person because they happen to live in the same suburb so we went for a walk which- which was cool. Weird, but cool. But that's, I mean, I- yeah, meeting in person, I find anxiety stuff anyway. But it was good, all that considered. But yeah, that's been an interesting- it's been a nice distraction as well. You know, the excitement of getting to know a new human is always- I find people anyway, a mixture of fascinating and scary and inspiring. Sam: I spoke with Nevo, who was keen to share their interesting experiences around new etiquettes in dating and romance during COVID too. Nevo: Sam: Nevo also talked about the way COVID-19 restrictions have given us greater permission to talk about our emotional and physical needs. Nevo Darcy: Jinghua also generously shared some experiences. Jinghua: I was hearing from like single friends being like, 'Am I going to be single forever? If I start hooking up with someone now does it have to be monogamous?' Yeah, everyone's trying to assess risk in all these different ways which is- kind of makes a lot of things feel maybe a bit more heavy or a bit more laden than you want at the beginning of something? Like it's quite hard, I think, to do something casually. Especially if- if casual normally means like, not talking that much? During that time, I started sexting someone off Lex, which is like a text only platform. Yeah, I think I put up an ad that was like 'sext me' basically. I got some really fun responses and I think it um felt to me really like that kind of lo-fi, text only internet from, you know, like 2000 when I had shitty dial-up and you know, no one had like the internet speeds to be video chatting? That kind of like really emo, like intense, wordy, overly intimate, overly sentimental vibe. I'm kind of into it. I was like a real like, Zinester/LiveJournal kid. So yeah, it- it felt good to me. And it felt like real fanfiction-like as well. So I started sexting this person and I think it was like quite an interesting exchange because we're both genderfluid and we're having this like text-based conversation where we didn't know, you know each other's like names, we didn't really make reference to our real bodies. It was kind of fictionalised in this way. And it kind of felt like, you know, half like cyber sex and half like we were writing this extensive fanfiction together? And you know how slash is like really pervy and really dorky at the same time? It's intensely dorky because it's all these like little bookworm-y kids trying to have sex through words. And I- I just love that dynamic. So that was really fun. But then I feel like, as it went on, everyone was experiencing, in different ways, this sort of like disjuncture with reality and the unendingness of it. And I feel like- yeah, I don't know. There were both positives and negatives I suppose in that kind of isolated, overly online interaction.
Everything that happened during lockdown feels both real and kind of like bracketed in this way where it does feel kind of discrete from the rest of reality I suppose. So, there was a point where I was like um- I had this person, like, I guess doing various tasks on video that they would send to me, right? And that was really fun, but that's just like not something that's gonna continue, you know? I feel like the time for that has passed, the feeling of whatever that was. I don't know, so we might like continue to interact but that type of like online domination or whatever, it's like not something I really have energy for, you know? It was like a real specific-to-COVID thing I guess. Gemma: Many of us were studying when COVID-19, and plenty of our interviewees discussed the huge impact has had on tertiary education. This is Randos and Yves. Randos: My name is Randos Korobacz and I live in Dysart Tasmania in the Southern Midlands. I'm attempting to be a sociologist by trade specialising in masculinities. I spent the last 15 years working in mental health hospital. Studying this type of human event is my bag. Sociologists study these massive human events. So this has been really professionally distracting beyond words. I'm meant to be doing my thesis on something else, not COVID-19 and the impacts of health and aging and the agism that's come out of it, for example. Or the riots. Or whatever. Because this is a once in a lifetime event. And for me, it's just all data. It's exhilarating and devastating at the same time. So for me, it's been a very hectic, full on time, but just in a different way. And this is the year of the body because this is a time where everyone is acutely aware of their body because of the dangers of COVID-19, but also the agism that's taking place. They've decided to open up the United States at the expense of their older population. Personally, I find it quite sick and disappointing. But it tells us where we're at, what's the priorities in terms of the economic organisation of the world, you know, they're going to do that at the expense of their people. Yves: My name is Yves. I think it's been incredibly challenging, um educationally. So many of us have come to realise Zoom and other video conferencing software, even, you know, even in the best of times is no substitute for face-to-face interactions. And, you know, the kind of teaching I do in the discipline of history is very much based around conversations and debate and unpacking ideas and fleshing them out and testing assumptions. And it's really just almost impossible to get that kind of sense of ideas flowing and kind of sparks flying and, you know, connections being made in a Zoom seminar, which is what I've been running. So, I feel really badly for students studying this year. I think particularly for students who are isolated or marginalised in other ways, whether they're gender diverse or trans or have uh parts of their identity that make university a challenge, I think the kind of extra isolation and the extra challenges with learning online has made this yeah uh, yeah pretty close to a write off in some ways. Sam: We also talked about the lockdown and how that has affected peoples drug and alcohol intake. This is Kat talking about smoking. Kat: Yeah so uh million percent they went way up and then I was like hey I can't breathe and got paranoid about having- having COVID and got tested and since realised oh obviously I'm smoking much more than I was before because like, you know, I'm not in the office where you can't smoke, I'm just puttering around my house and going out the back and you know being outside so I can. So definitely was smoking more and since realised and then trying to cut back obviously. Gemma: Randos talked about the impact of the pandemic on drug use and the impact it’s had on people experiencing problematic drug use. Randos: (COVID) caused a lot of problems in the men's sex scene in terms of the consumption of drugs that's spiked through the roof and addicts are really struggling at the moment because the price of gear has gone up. And so even though they're- if they've missed the gap of getting the extra income from the government, a lot of them, but for the addicts who just haven't been able to get it together in time and capitalise on getting a place to stay, their addiction has just gotten a lot nastier for them because their drugs have just gotten a whole lot more expensive because of scarcity because there's no planes coming through. So you know, all the dynamics in the criminal world has changed up as well. It's really interesting. Gemma: And of course one of the biggest impacts of the pandemic is the amount of time that people are spending at home, and how that’s changed the nature of their relationships with housemates, family members and their neighbours. Nevo: Emma: I am so lucky to live with most amazing person who gave me a space to feel safe enough to come out in the first place and has lots of trans friends and just knows how to be. But a few friends who know how to be she's like on another level, her compassion has just made it possible for me to learn who I am. So having gratitude for where I am the anger part of it is I think I was just beginning to discover a chosen family when COVID happened, but the way that was happening was going to events and running into people and seeing them and you know, seeing them for the second time in the third time and finally exchanging details, but the finally exchanging details thing I just never got around to because no one said you're about to go home and get locked down. So I feel cordoned off from the chosen family that I was about to create, and that makes me frustrated and angry. Cedar And so I um was living in a share house at the start of lockdown, but then I came to stay with my gran. And so I'm still here, I've been here for the last kind of three months or so. Um because she's sort of, she's almost 92 and um was living alone and I wanted to I guess sort of support her during this time. Her Bible study started off on Zoom and so I've kind of helped been getting her onto Zoom weekly to go to Bible study. So that's been quite nice. I think she's really appreciate- she's really appreciated me being here. Yeah, so that was something that I was quite interested in at the start. I was like, 'Oh my gosh, how am I going to do this? Like, this is the weirdest time to like go on hormones when I'm literally like living with my Gran.' Um, that felt very interesting to me and um like a bizarre thing to happen. But I guess like at the moment that hasn't been things that have happened as a result of T where I've like needed to I guess kind of have it as a discussion, so I haven't spoken to her about it. Um like yeah, I don't know, I think we've been- it's interesting with like her with gender stuff, she- I never expected her to be okay with things and I've been really amazed by how on board with stuff that she has been? Like I, yeah, just wouldn't have necessarily expected that. And she like- but she really- she just loves her grandkids a lot and is really um- yeah cares about doing what makes them happy. And so I think it's kind of hard for her with things, like she is quite good with my name, um is less good with gendered language because she uses things like girl um a lot when referring to me? And I kind of have started, I don't know, I'll correct her and I correct her in this way of like, 'Oh! Not a girl!' whenever she uses a girl word, like 'darling girl' or something and she started being like, 'Oh yeah, you're not a girl,' and then using a different term or like she'll kind of self-correct. It's still like- it's interesting because it has been- I don't know, I really feel very touched and very proud of her as well for being able to, at like 92, shift that kind of way of understanding things and speaking about someone through- with like little resistance? Um even though it's like so different from everything that she has ever thought. Darcy: Many people talked about the impact COVID-19 restrictions has had on their access to family and culture. Tarneen Yeah, so I- so this one I guess it's a funny one, like when I was- I was living in the western suburbs until- and then we moved mint um, iso like isolation. And we- I was really- like I was really struggling. I go work in- like I worked in an Aborigianl organisation. But we were working from home and I'm a social worker. And so that was really difficult because I was also living with like my partner and their like- and our friend um and they're both white. And I've never um really like lived with white people ever. Like this is my first time living with white people. And I think being in isolation and only seeing white people was really really difficult. I really was missing um like my family and like my community. And missing um the like social interactions between blackfellas, not in the way that we talk and our humor and ah the way that we care for each other is very different. And I- yeah, I think that- yeah, I struggled a lot. And particularly being on the other side town, where all of my family are kind of like in the northern suburbs? And so it made it even like more like difficult um to see people as well, but I was already like, pretty isolated being in the western suburbs? Then- when I moved- when I moved over, but then being in isolation as well made it more difficult. And I think I've just realised um that for myself, I really do need to be around my community and blackfellas. And it's nothing like against um obviously my partner and our friend but it's just really- it's just a really different um being around white people so intensely. When you're spending all day and all night with people and not having any social interactions with um others physically. So we met, we moved mid-iso and we like moved to the northern suburbs. And it really changed um my interactions with my family, which was really good. I see my family a lot more now. And even um my family helped us move. I felt really- it was just really lovely to be honest, just to see them and hang out and like because you know, you're allowed to help people move. It just felt really nice and like I had my family visit and we were breaking iso but it was just really lovely and I am really glad that we did get to move. So I guess it was just like some negative parts of the- of the restrictions and also just my pos- the positive parts as well um so yeah. Jinghua You know, social distancing is really important. But also like there's a lot of assumptions in the laws and- and in a lot of the advice given about how people interact, how people find support, what their families and communities look like, and obviously that affects queers. But also it affects a lot of people whose social support networks might not look the way that the government expects, I suppose. I actually found it really beautiful to- to go out into the sunshine and see people were masked up and they had their hand san but they were still like sitting around the rocks like gossiping. Um, yeah, like all the old men who are just like always in Nicholson Mall… Gemma: Thanks for joining us. See you next time for our final episode of Transdemic, Home Economics.
TRANSCRIPT: EPISODE 2 (CLIPS to set to background song: Simona Castricum’s The Half Light) Roz: I was walking my dogs one of the days and they were driving around the neighborhood like kind of slowly checking everyone out… Travis: I haven't had any interactions with legal people. Thankfully. Introduction Darcy: Welcome to Transdemic: Trans and Gender Diverse Experiences of the Global Pandemic. Sam: We are recording this episode on the stolen land of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin nation. We pay our respects to their elders past, present and emerging. Sovereignty was never ceded. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land. This week we’d like to particularly acknowledge the work of Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, who you’ll be hearing from throughout this episode. You can donate to them at https://www.facebook.com/WARcollective, and we’ll put their bank details in our episode transcript (Melbourne: WAR/RISE ANZ BSB: 013128 Account: 220584933). Gemma: We would like to acknowledge the support of our gold partner, Drummond Street Services’ Queerspace, who provide counselling and peer support for LGBTIQ+ people, and professional development for organisations who work with LGBTIQ + people and their families. Queerspace is also the proud home to some of Victoria’s leading LGBTIQ+ community advocacy groups including Transgender Victoria, Parents of Gender Diverse Children and Rainbow Families Victoria. Contact 03 9663 6733 or head to queerspace.org.au to find out more. Sam: Just a note before we start: this episode contains references to mental health issues, suicide and difficulties accessing gender affirming healthcare issues that some of our listeners might find distressing. If you need support, contact Qlife on 1800 184 627 or lifeline on 13 11 14. Sam: Welcome to Episode two of our four part series: Policing the Pandemic. But first, some quick introductions. My name is Sam Elkin, and I am a trans masculine writer, podcaster and community lawyer. Darcy: My name is Darcy I'm a trans masculine person working as a doctor in rural hospitals. Gemma: And I'm Gemma Cafarella, I'm a cisgender woman, a radio presenter and podcaster. And I'm also a community lawyer. Sam: And we’re recording these episodes in in Naarm, or Melbourne, in July 2020. So in this episode we’re looking into the way that the governments and justice system in Australia has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gemma: And even as we are recording this things are changing fast here in Victoria, which, unlike the rest of the country, is dealing with a significant spike in COVID-19 infections. Darcy: Police enforcing lockdown measures were always more present in poorer areas, despite numbers initially being higher in more affluent areas. The Victorian government has specifically targeted residents of nine public housing estates by putting them in detention without warning in their units, for up to 24 days. In the wake of the black lives matter movement, it appears that the government has not been listening to public sentiment around the injustice of targeting and over-policing certain members of the community. Gemma: One of the most telling aspects of the government’s class and race response to the government’s response seems to be that while the residents of the nine locked down towers are being guarded by armed police, people in private houses nearby those estates are being trusted to just comply with the stay at home orders that much of the state is experiencing. Sam: It has been quite a shocking change of affairs here in Victoria, yeah and I feel like we’re still really reeling from it. I mean, there’s been new suburban lockdowns and criticism that the northern and western suburbs are being unfairly locked down when they weren’t the ones that originally brought the virus in and the wealthier areas of Boroondara and Stonnington that weren’t locked down initially, but this is a whole new level of…scariness, basically (nervous laughter). I mean I can’t imagine this happening in one of the big posh housing complexes on St Kilda Rd, you can’t imagine 500 police being stationed there, so it really does smack of racism and classism, it’s hard to know how else to think about it. Gemma: There’s actually a really long history of troubling policing in and around the estates that are being locked down. So for example in 2013, there was a big legal case where the police and the state settled with a number of mainly men African complainants, who had litigated around the issue of racial profiling. And so that’s the context in which we now see 500 armed police officers turning up in these apartments with absolutely no notice and having police stationed on every floor. It’s a really troubling development. Sam: It’s also leading to some interesting discussions that haven’t really been had that seriously Victoria yet, including for example the union movement and its relationship with the Police association. So, Victoria Trades Hall Council’s Migrant Workers Centre initially set up a fundraiser to provide direct support to people in the towers, and people questioned, quite fairly, well “Why is it that Trades Hall Council is focussing on direct material aid, when they are actually a direct recipient of Police Union affiliation fees, maybe they should be pushing the Labour government here in Victoria harder to actually not over police these communities, and to actually stand down the police and implement a health response, instead of a police response. Gemma: It is also worth noting that these are the updates that we have right now, and things are changing every day, and indeed sometimes every hour… Transition Sound effect COVID Safe App
Gemma: So a few months into the pandemic the Australian government that they had developed and were releasing a new app for peoples phones that would track their movements and be able to provide information either if that person tested positive or if they had been in the vicinity to someone else who had tested positive. It was something that was really controversial. Civil libertarians were quite opposed to the app on the basis that there wasn’t sufficient protections for peoples personal information, and a lot of minority communities were certainly unwilling to give the Federal Government who has a pretty bad track record on the way that it deals with different communities a whole bunch of personal information, including obviously their movements. Sam: Have either of you downloaded the COVID safe app? Gemma: I didn’t. I felt really conflicted about it, because, you know, I want to feel as though I am a good person and that I’m doing the right thing and helping to keep the community safe. But I also frankly don’t trust the Federal Government with my personal information to that degree. I’m a person who lives pretty openly online, and I have my full name on a lot of my social media accounts, which people are always telling me is a bad idea (laughs), and so a lot of people were saying “Well you give your information freely to all these social media companies” and I read a really great article that pointed out that these social media companies might have our information but they don’t have the capacity to use that information to bash our front doors in in the middle of the night and arrest us, which the state does. So I haven’t downloaded it, and now that I’ve read that it hasn’t detected a single case of transmission, I don’t feel bad about that. Sam: This is not the first time that trans and gender diverse people have had issues with a new app or government support, there was the My Health Record debacle (laughs) that happened over the last 12 to 24 months. I think a lot of people in the trans and gender diverse community were very hesitant to have a my health record because they were worried about the way that that data would be used to discriminate against them when accessing healthcare. So I in the spirt of not wanting my health record, also didn’t want to sign up to COVIDsafe, because I thought, well this government doesn’t have a great track record with trans and gender diverse peoples information, and also there was that super (Superannuation) scandal that happened the same week where fraudsters managed to hack into the ATO (Australian Tax Office) super funds and heaps of people lost their money, so that was another reason. But I asked Asiel who you heard from in the last episode, who is a doctor at Northside clinic, what they thought of the app. Asiel: I think there's a lot of mistrust of anything that kind of comes from a government level um in the community in general. And you know, because the- particularly the trans and gender diverse community, you know, have a long history of being targeted, ostracized, discriminated by the government. So there's no guarantees that the information there might- might not be used for other means that you might not necessarily be aware that you're consenting to or that you might not have consented to period. Um I think there is a lot of anxiety around using the app. And for the most part, the- the few people that I've spoken to, because it's not something that I necessarily bring up in- in consultation, um have been very hesitant to- to use it. Um again, particularly for the trans and gender diverse community. So I think that the um kind of discussion and the discourse that happened around My Health Record is- is very much still hanging around. Um and there's still a lot of concerns around, you know, how is that information going to be used um and whether or not it's going to be detrimental to myself. Um and again, I do share some of those concerns. And it puts me in a really conflicted spot because on the one hand, I'm like, aw it'd be great to actually have this- this information to be able to- to help the contact tracing and you know, um containing some of the- the breakouts if they do happen. And uh- but at the same time, yeah, I completely understand where people are coming from. Sam: These anxieties were reflected in many of the conversations I had with the 25 trans and gender diverse people from across Australia, particularly those who had been touched by interactions with the psychiatric systems. Emma: Two friends who've been involuntarily incarcerated for psychiatric reasons in the past brought up their anxiety in a conversation online about the- the COVID safe app. And I noticed this huge divide in the people responding to that were the people who were really cautious about it either had been incarcerated or felt like they could be incarcerated against their will. There was a- there was a really clear line about people who didn't- didn't want to install it and people who did. And the people who didn't want to install it were like either, 'I have been incarcerated against my will and this app scares the shit out of me,' or 'I really think that this app is going to be used in order to round me up at some point.' Yeah, and those people were scared and people who didn't worry about that weren't scared and so were happy to install it. Sex Work
Sam: So when I originally decided I wanted to do this podcast, probably the first thing on my mind was wanting to find out how sex workers were experiencing the pandemic, and particularly trans and gender diverse sex workers. Dylan: My name is Dylan O'Hara, my pronouns die and then I'm a trans masculine non binary person from from New Zealand originally now living on the unseeded lands of the Kulin nations. I'm a sex worker and I am also a committee member for vixen collective, which is Victoria's sex worker only care organization. Dylan: In terms of the restrictions on sex work specifically, look, it's- it's been really, really hard. In Victoria, there's been really conflicting messaging from government throughout the whole lockdown about what kinds of sex work can and can't happen. In terms of in-person sex work, brothels are closed. But with a- people who are private sex workers, so who- who are working by themselves and going to see clients and things like that, whether they can work or not- there's being directly contradictory information released by different parts of government to our community, which has been really, really challenging. You know, it's this time that's so stressful for so many people, right? But, then sex workers in Victoria are already in general- are already discriminated against in so many ways, and already live in Victoria with this kind of arcane and incredibly difficult to navigate legal system of licensing that doesn't provide any support for sex workers. The lack of communication, where you've had police saying something, you've had one part of government saying another thing, another part saying something different. It's honestly been kind of a slap in the face is how it's felt. It's just huge confusion and anxiety for people who are already really, really struggling. You know, sex workers don't have sick leave, we don't have holiday pay. And now we're at a point where there is no clear return to work date or plan for brothel-based sex workers in Victoria. And it's hard not to view that simply as discrimination and stigma at this point and not having really a lot to do with any kind of evidence base. Because you can get a Brazilian wax now, right? In Victoria, you can get a relaxation-based massage. But there's no information about when brothels can return. And the information now and- that the department, DHHS, has put out about this on their website, that private workers can work, that it says specifically that escort services can operate. And so if that can happen, and these other kinds of personal services businesses can operate, you know, with plans in place, then why is that not the case for sex workers? It's also deeply demoralising. And because of the messaging that has been confusing from the government, it's been confusing to the extent that the police certainly- the Sex Industry Coordination Unit (SICU) and also broader VicPol have been operating on information that private sex work is not permitted- until very recently that seems to be what they were operating on. And so they have been contacting our community. And people have been getting messages from- from police that they have to be in contact and told that they're- that they might be breaking the law. People are very confused, because they don't know what- if the government's telling you one thing and then also the government is telling you a different thing, it's very hard to know. So I think sex workers have been operating in good faith and have been really proactive with the pandemic actually. Sex workers have been operating in good faith. It's not a coincidence, I don't think, that the two states with no really return to work date are Queensland and Victoria, the states with licensing systems. Already operating in a system where many workers are forced to work non-compliantly because we have this two tiered legal slash- compliant and noncompliant- or sometimes described as illegal industry- I would say compliant and noncompliant. So- and then now we've had the situation where sex workers are operating in good faith trying to follow the COVID-19 restrictions, but have been getting mixed information and have been being, you know, have been being um contacted by- by police. And I think that's really upsetting. I think there are so many reasons why it's damaging for sex workers, and particularly sex workers who are also people of colour, sex workers who are disabled, sex workers who are trans and gender diverse. There are so many reasons why that level of police contact is damaging, even if it doesn't end in a fine, right? Even if there's not a consequence, an infraction issued at the end of it, but still having to deal with police. It's really anxiety inducing. It's really scary. I know that anytime that I see any kind of communication from the police, even if I know what it's about and it's nothing to do with something terrible, my whole body freezes up. I immediately feel nauseous. I honestly feel that it's really negligent. And if it's the case that actually private work was supposed to be allowed this whole time, that actually means that the government has allowed part of the community to just be contacted all the time by the police for no reason, which to me feels discriminatory and negligent, honestly really upsetting. I'm in a role in an organization where, along with other sex workers, I've spent a lot of time responding to stuff like this. And I'm a sex worker myself as well so this is also my life. Yeah, it's really upsetting. I feel really angry about it. It is possible that they have suffered loss of income. And it's also possible that they've been contacted by police and told that they are breaking the law. Incidentally, if any sex workers are listening to this, private sex workers in Victoria have had contact from police during this time, please reach out to Vixen Collective to talk about it so we can support you through that process. It's just been like a Kafkaesque nightmare, honestly. But the information on the website simply says that escort services can operate. It doesn't have a start date. And there's been an interpretation of the restrictions the entire time that said that private workers could work, but there's also been- from government, I should say, but there's also been an interpretation that they couldn't. And because the police had the information that they couldn't, that's the interpretation that has been enforced. So, if it's in fact the case that that was never the intention, then yeah, I think that's a pretty big deal. This is what happens to sex worker communities. It's pretty common.
Policing the Pandemic
Teddy: There has been an increased level of fear particularly I think among trans people who are living in the world visibly trans or who manifest their gender expression in wonderful ways that might draw attention to themselves by police, and- and also people who- whose name and gender isn't reflected on their legal documentation- fear that they will be more likely to be targeted if they're going to work. And you know, and we- we also know that trans people are much more likely to be underemployed and working in environments that perhaps have continued during this time where they've been more at risk of acquiring COVID-19. So there's been, I think, a real- um a real focus and fear on being picked up by police as they're going about their day and being questioned and being very concerned about being vulnerable to- to violence over surveillance. Simona: Policing of space has been- I've just had to be really hyper aware and if I am going to be out, what's my reason? I better have a really good reason because if I am going to get stopped, is my transness going to make me more suspicious? And I guess anyone else would have felt that they needed a good reason, but as a trans person being stopped by a regional cop, I wasn't gonna risk it without like a really good um you know, like a letter from my psych saying, 'Well, this is why I'm driving where I am.' You know, that- that's just something that comes I guess out of the trust, you know, in the- in the community, I think has significantly been eroded of law enforcement officers. Simona: I mean, the interesting thing that happened is at the start of COVID was that ye- there were three real knockdown incidents that just really took away, I guess, trust in law and justice and policing was the George Pell verdict being overturned, the findings into Nik Dimopoulos' assault by Victoria Police, no criminal charges or weren't in breach of, you know any standards apart from his human rights of course. And then there was the Dean Laidley incident and I think there was a moment where like what's going to happen next? Dylan: I think that fining people tends to be a pretty ineffective tool. And it tends to, of course, disproportionately punish poor people, marginalised people who are more likely to be targeted in the first place and then more likely to really struggle to pay fines. And for people who are less likely to be targeted or are better off, it's not really a big deal, right? You know, if you look at like a- an individual fine of 1652-something-whatever-it-is, on the spot, individual fine- if I got to fine like that, speaking personally, that would be a big deal for me, like that would be a big problem. I don't have 1600 dollars. But you know, there are obviously people for whom that probably wouldn't be a big deal at all, who have more money. I think as well, it's like, if you look at fines, where fining its used in different jurisdictions for sex work, fining is really stupid, right? Because if you're working because you need money and then you get caught working noncompliantly in some way, or you're working in a fully criminalised environment and then you get fined, then what are you going to do to pay off the fine? You're gonna go out and work again, right? And so people actually get stuck in these horrible cycles of- of getting fined for something and then having to do it again to pay off the fine and then they get- might get fined again and you know, so on and so forth. I think we can see what happens when fines are treated in terms of- in Western Australia with imprisonment for fines. So I think- personally, I think it's a terrible public health tool and not a very helpful tool at all. Courts and Prisons
Witt: So my name's Witt. I am 32. I identify as trans non-binary. I use they/them pronouns. I live on Wurundjeri country in Brunswick in Narrm. And I am a social worker by profession? Yeah! Witt: I am a social worker at- within the Police Accountability Project. Since COVID kicked off, the government has had a- a kind of a punitive and carceral approach, particularly in Victoria and New South Wales. What we've witnessed is over-policing and sort of the abuse of- of those powers by police, particularly in certain areas? So, particularly in the West and in Frankston, in Dandenong. And when you look around whose getting fines, who's receiving fines, it's certainly specific to people of colour, Aboriginal communities um that are being targeted and communities that are already marginalised. And I think that's not surprising of policing anyway but also reflects a lot of- about privilege- who can isolate, who has safe housing, obviously, you know, there's a lot of also issues in terms of family violence, and that really, for trans and queer people that can be a really huge issue. So in terms of being able to be safe at home, have a safe home to go to. And then if you base rules off access to those kinds of spaces then of course you're gonna see particular groups heavily targeted and misuse of police powers target those groups. Data is being collected around that and it'll be interesting to see in the next six months the reporting around it. Certainly all stories are indicating that- that police have misused their powers and have used COVID as a way to- to criminalise certain people. Sam: I asked Witt how COVID-19 has been affecting courts and the kinds of services that people interacting with courts might access. Witt: It's drawn out a lot of people's court matters, particularly if there's family violence court matters, its extended things. The weight on people when they're waiting for things to proceed, it can be quite traumatic as well in itself, like the anxiety of waiting for those things to go ahead? Sam: I also asked Witt about the kinds of services that people interacting with courts might access. Witt: All rehabs at the moment, all detoxes and those sorts of facilities, most of them have halved their beds because of social distancing requirements. So, say you've got one of the few detox facilities or one of your rehabs that maybe has 80 beds typically now only has 40. And that has a really flow on effect for what people's support options are, particularly for people that are seeking parole or trying to get out of prison and they don't have those options at the moment. That was a- has been a really big issue. And crisis accommodation is in the similar boat, really limited resources and in- in a time when everyone's in crisis. Who would agree but then when you've been criminalised or you're homeless or dealing with addiction- it's been a real pressure cooker for people, is how I'd describe it. Sam: Witt has also had a lot of contact with trans and gender diverse people in prison. Darcy: What is the general situation for trans and gender diverse people in prison, I know a lot of people aren’t sure which prison a trans woman, say for example, would get put into. Gemma: Yes it’s not generally like Laverne Cox’s character in Orange is the New Black. Most trans women are still incarcerated in men’s prisons in Victoria and around the country, and there are calls to change this. Witt: For people who are incarcerated, especially for trans people, it's you know, it's already so incredibly isolating and unsafe. So, the conversations I've had with people is it's created that pressure cooker effect being locked down for several days at a time, not knowing when lockdowns are going to end, difficulties around accessing- so, in some facilities, people having to use detergent or whatever's around, not being provided with the right preventative equipment. I haven't heard of anyone being released despite calls for that. And the other issue is that even though we're seeing a reduction in the restrictions in the community and an easing of these restrictions, we're not seeing it in the prisons. And there's real concern about- well now that some of these things have come into play in the prisons are they going to reduce restrictions or are they going to keep holding it up? I don't know if it was raised down here, but certainly in New South Wales, there's concerns raised- there was restrictions around mail going in. They were saying you know, that mail was a safety concern in terms of- of COVID being transferred. And then that flowed on to them saying, 'Oh, you know, mail can often be used as well to allow drugs into the prisons.' And then it was a conversation about, well, maybe they'll ban mail long term, like personal mail. It makes it easier for more control mechanisms to come into play and for human rights to be pushed back for people. So that's a really big concern. And I think it's really important that we keep a close eye on what's happening in the prisons, because I think it's easy for us to just forget about- and when we're in the community and when we're already part of groups that experience marginalisation, we can forget about people in the prison system that those issues are even more amplified in those very punitive, very gendered environments. So, I think it's really important we keep an eye on the prisons and hold them accountable, and make sure that people's human rights aren't violated. Sam: I asked Witt about the risks to people in prison and COVID-19. Witt: We've seen it in the US and the UK and there's been death because once COVID gets in, it spreads quite rapidly and the general health of people in prison can be not particularly great. There's a lot of complex health conditions that people may be experiencing already. In the States it certainly really impacted elderly people in custody. And there's been a huge amount of- of death in the prisons. And it's also a tricky thing too, because prisons are very good at protecting themselves and so information that- when family are already restricted from contact and that sort of thing, I think it's been hard to get information about what's been going on. But yeah, there's been horrific footage of makeshift hospital- been very fortunate there haven't been a- a widespread outbreak, not that it isn't a potential risk at all times while the virus still exists. They were making makeshift hospitals in New South Wales prisons anticipating outbreak and they did that in the States and you know, people were sort of just locked up in and segregated in these- their own little wings, you know, left in a lot of ways to battle this virus. And when it gets into the prisons, it's horrific and the health care in prisons is so appalling anyway, that for a virus like this to hit a prison is terrifying and yet people- a high risk of people losing their lives. Darcy: And this is something Tarneen, another social worker, who will we’ll hear more from shortly, echoed, when recounting comments made by female prisoners. Tarneen: (the prisoner said) “We don't know who's bringing what into this prison. All we have to do is trust that youse have been self-isolating on the outside because they don't give a fuck about us and they won't care if we die if Coronavirus gets in here.” I think that's telling about the health services in there and the lack of care that women get in prison. I just don't want to be one of the reasons why the Coronavirus gets in there. And obviously, the prison guards in that pose a huge risk to the people that are incarcerated. And I just think that they don't care about Aboriginal women particularly but also women that are incarcerated. They were able to get soap at the canteen, they would have to purchase it. It's really good that they were able to access it though as there wasn’t much of a supply in Australia, but the thing that sucked is that they had to pay for it in the first place. This is something that the government should have sent the bill for since we're in a pandemic. Sam: I asked Witt about what the experience of prisoners have been who have been in lockdown. Witt: The prisons don't give much information to people at the best of times. I think it was pretty scary. You know, if you think about being locked down, not knowing how long you're gonna be locked down for, seeing people walking around in um PPE and there's this quite an immediate response from the prison and you have no control over what's going to happen. Yeah, that's pretty scary. Scary situation. Witt: One person actually said that she liked elements of the lockdown because she felt safer. Because typically she experiences so much sexual harassment within the prison as a trans woman that it was one of the few moments where she didn't have to worry about that. Which, you know, of itself is horrific that that's her experience because she is trying to survive in a men's prison. She shouldn't need to be locked down to experience safety. Incredibly detrimental on a long term basis for someone to be locked down in a cell. So that's, you know, really disturbing actually. Racism Darcy: Another big issue we’ve seen during COVID-19 is an upsurge in anti-Chinese racism. Jinghua: My name is Jinghua. Uh my pronouns are ey/em/eir. And I live in Footscray. And I am a writer. That's probably all you really need to know about me. What's been really frustrating for me is that like a lot of the conversation around racism, even from media outlets that I think are- or from journalists, who individually I think are like quite sympathetic to and attentive to racism as a systemic issue, a lot of the coverage of Sinophobia has been around, you know, these assaults and public attacks without much discussion on how first like the media has- the Australian media has um had a huge role in promoting racist discourse by- I think, primarily by like not really disambiguating between the government of the People's Republic of China and Chinese people and letting that blurriness persist in- in public discourse for years now. Which I think we've seen in- in every conversation. So I think that's really frightening. That to me is much more frightening. The prospect of being a Chinese Australian living through a cold war between China and Australia, that to me is a lot more frightening than the individual incidences of being screamed at. I don't know, I've been screamed at my whole life. It's not- like that's not to say it's not a bad- but I know not to take that personally. Whereas the kind of sustained suspicion towards Chinese people in public discourse, that's something that I think has escalated pretty noticeably and that affects me a lot. As a writer, as an activist, as you know, a person who sometimes has opinions like on the internet um, you know being yeah harassed every time I post, that's affected me more. In Australia, there's like a real tendency to only look at a racist screaming on the train and- and I think also like to look at racism coming from poor and working class people more than the racism of people in power. That's very much like the dynamic that Sinohobia has been. Yeah, that's really structured how Sinophobia is understood and discussed in Australia. Black Lives Matter Sam: And then of course there’s the incredible unfolding of the global black lives matter movement. Witt: It's a huge moment in history in terms of critically looking at the systems that we have and the police and carceral responses. And we are seeing, you know, in Minneapolis, we're seeing the defunding of the police. We're seeing, in New Zealand, the disarming of the police. We're seeing, you know, just over the weekend, organisers, Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, organising some of the biggest protests we've ever seen on this continent against police violence. So I think we are in a very interesting time where we all need to be reflecting on what kind of world we want to live in and what it means to live in a world without police and prisons. I think now the questions that we're asking now- we've jumped ahead a bit and it's conversations now about abolishing police, which is very interesting and also necessary 'cause reforms we've seen haven't worked and people are still dying. Black people are still being killed by the police. And Aboriginal people here, we know that 437, I think, is now the- the number of Aboriginal deaths in custody. That's risen just this week. Aboriginal man died in custody during the Black Lives Matter protest on Saturday in a prison in Western Australia. So it is time for serious, not just imaginings of- of possibilities, but actual action in relation to the world that we're now living in. You know, and that relates to COVID, but also, you know this is the build up of so many things of- here, hundreds of years of colonisation and white supremacy and we- as a white person, I- I know I need to be accountable so that we all- as- white people need to be accountable to what that- that violence has meant for Black people, Aboriginal people globally. Yeah, we all have a responsibility to be listening to Black Lives Matter, to the movement and what's being asked. Asiel: COVID-19 in a way has been um used as a political tool to highlight some of those power imbalances. So for example, in the way that it's fed into things like white supremacy, in the way that it's fed into um incarceration, in the way that it's fed into um refugee and asylum seeker rights um yeah has been- has been quite- quite interesting. And um in a way used to kind of amplify those- those kind of human rights violations really. Teddy: One of the things that is so incredibly important at the moment is how we're showing up for sister girls and brother boys and other First Nations trans people and people of color who are trans and who are most vulnerable and marginalised across all of the populations of trans people. You know, we see people who are Aboriginal and trans and people of color who are trans who are being murdered overseas on a daily basis and who are living in environments that are absolutely unsafe and not okay. And as a community, it is our responsibility and our purpose, I think, in many ways to ensure that we are raising the profile and elevating the voices of people in our communities who- who must have a voice and who are so important to our movement. And our movement being that of full autonomy and self determination for every trans person in the world just casually. So, in this time where people are taking to the streets, ceding seats, holding a- an intersectional view of all of the things that we are doing has never been more important. I'm very proud to stand in solidarity with sister girls and brother boys, other trans indigenous and First Nations people and trans people of color and will continue to do so in my work. Tarneen: Hi my name is Tarneen Onus-Williams and I'm a proud condition Gunditjmara, Bindal, Yorta Yorta and Torres Strait Islander person and I live in Melbourne, I use they/them pronouns. And I guess a little bit about my gender identity is that I feel more comfortable being called a black woman instead of just a woman, I feel as though those things are very starkly different, I think because the way that white people express their gender is much different than ours as a community. And that is why I use they/them pronouns, particularly for non-Aboriginal people. And also because I just feel like I don't fit in to the constraint of womanhood in a white way. And I think that the roles of women in my community are very different. And I think they're much more masculine than that of white women in this country or around the world and I’m trying to recognize gender in my culture. I express myself in a way that is through being Aboriginal and the way that I've tried to feel more comfortable in my body as a black woman rather than just a woman. Darcy: Tarneen went onto explain their interactions with Victoria Police. So I have had no interactions with Police, I guess until recently, I think I was really lucky in that we were kind of living in a really nice uppity suburb. And so I was speaking to other people who live in Reservoir and there was lots of Police pulling people people over and my experience living in like a fancier area than some other people meant I didn't experience that and didn't have interactions with the police. My interactions with the Police were in the start of June when Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, which is a group that I am a part of organized a Black Lives Matter rally after the death of George Floyd. And we really wanted to draw attention to the black deaths in custody in this country and to the Aboriginal people who have died and really give voice to the Aboriginal families who have had family members die at the hands of police in prisons. That was really important for us to do that. And we had national critique for organizing this rally. And that was really difficult because the Police were really heavy handed, and there was news that broke that a senior member of government had said that there was going to be spitting at the rally, but we organized 50,000 masks from the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, which is an Aboriginal community controlled health organization, so we had all these masks to protect people from Coronavirus at the rally. We took all the precautions so for the government in place to say that there was going to be spitting and the police were trying to give reason through the media to be violent and to try and ban our protest was really difficult. And we ended up getting fined from Victoria Police. The three organizers that got the fines and they were $1,652, which we think is really ridiculous because we are the only people in the country that got fines for organising protests, even though there so many around the country, neither did the 5G protesters, they didn’t get fined either. So I know that now we've been fined, there's the brumby culling protesters and the refugee protesters as well, and they have all been told that they're going to be fined if they've organise rallies this weekend, and if the protests go ahead this weekend. Aboriginal people were the testing ground for these Police fines to be issued which is really disappointing and really racist considering other people didn't get fined. This was specifically targeting Aboriginal people and Aboriginal women. So this is something that shows that the police intentionally and publicly being racist towards us for fighting for Black Lives in this country and around the world. It makes me really frustrated because the police have just proved the point of why these rallies have to ahead because we have been telling people that these rallies are an essential service, and we hundred percent support this essential service. If I'm able to be a social worker, if there's hospitals open, then we should be able to hold a protest against the killing of black people in this country and around the world. Darcy: Tarneen went onto explain the amazing job they did of getting personal protective equipment at the rally. Tarneen: I think that's one thing that Aboriginal organizations are incredibly good at is harm minimization. We do really good harm minimization for drug use, we do good harm minimization for sexual health and physical health, thse are all things that Aboriginal Health Services take the lead on. And this was just another way that Aboriginal Health Sector showed that they are serious about Aboriginal people's health, and that they're serious about protecting our community. And, and they really actioned that and supported us. And they came out with public statements, and they really went above and beyond and they had their staff out there on the streets handing out hand sanitizer and masks. It was a huge win for the Aboriginal health sector, to show that our communities can be protesting and “this we're going to do to support them”. I've asked the governments as well, if there’s going to be protests, what is government going to do to protect people instead of criminalizing them? And I think that's what this country is really good at is criminalizing people right? Instead of minimizing the harm. Sam: I asked Sandy what they thought of the black lives matter movement. Sandy: And it's interesting because when the horrible events of the last little while- the death of George Floyd as well as the- the reminder of what's happened in terms of deaths in custody in Australia, for the broader public, suddenly it was okay to be talking about that again in the context of the pandemic. And it's not like you don't ever stop being Aboriginal or transgender. You know, you don't stop being those things. Sam: I asked Sandy what the emergence of the black lives matter movement had done for their mental health. Sandy: It's been better. I've been feeling better because the- the momentum that has happened over the last couple of weeks with Black Lives Matter protests around the country, but also people seeking information has meant that I could do some agentic works and work to really build agency. Roz: For me, the protest felt essential, whereas other people have gathered for religious purposes, which may feel essential to them. And I guess it just gets into some like philosophical debates and stuff that I wouldn't even begin to unpack right now. But I am aware of it and all- like all of the conflict in it, all the tension there… Darcy: Thanks for joining us, see you next week for episode three, which will be about Social Isolation and Love Online.
Darcy: Welcome to Transdemic: Trans and Gender Diverse Experiences of the Global Pandemic.
Gemma: We are recording this episode on the stolen land of the Wurundjeri and BoonWurrung people of the Kulin nation. We pay our respects to their elders past, present and emerging. Sovereignty was never ceded. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land. We’d like to particularly acknowledge any brotherboys or sistergirls who are listening, and the work of Black Rainbow, the national advocacy platform and touchpoint for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, Transgender, and Intersex people. Head to http://www.blackrainbow.org.au/donate/ to donate.
Gemma: We would like to acknowledge the support of our gold partner, Drummond Street Services’ Queerspace, who provide counselling and peer support for LGBTIQ+ people, and professional development for organisations who work with LGBTIQ + people and their families. Queerspace is also the proud home to some of Victoria’s leading LGBTIQ+ community advocacy groups including Transgender Victoria, Parents of Gender Diverse Children and Rainbow Families Victoria. Contact 03 9663 6733 or head to queerspace.org.au to find out more.
Darcy: We’d also like to thank Maribyrnong City Council’s “together apart rapid relief fund” for their support.
Sam: Just a note before we start: this episode contains references to mental health issues, suicide and difficulties accessing gender affirming healthcare issues that some of our listeners might find distressing. If you need support, contact Qlife on 1800 184 627 or lifeline on 13 11 14.
Sam: Welcome to Episode one of our four part series: Trans healthcare and experiences of disability during the pandemic. But first, some quick introductions. My name is Sam Elkin, and I am a trans masculine writer, podcaster and community lawyer living in Melbourne.
Darcy: My name is Darcy I'm a trans masculine person working as a doctor in rural hospitals.
Gemma: And I'm Gemma Cafarella, I'm a cisgender woman, a radio presenter and podcaster. And I'm also a community lawyer. I live in the western suburbs of Melbourne, Sam to kick us off, why don't you tell us a bit about why you wanted to do this podcast?
Sam: Yeah it was actually an unsuccessful pitch to Midsumma’s Living in the Queerantine project, which was calling for people to create work about expressing queerness during the pandemic during the first phase of the lockdown back in April. But yeah, decided to push on with it and I’ve now had twenty-five conversations with trans and gender diverse people from across so-called Australia about their experiences, and I really can’t wait to share them with you all. Episode 2 will focus on Policing the Pandemic, Episode 3 is about Social Isolation and Love Online, and our final episode is called Home Economics, about experiences of home and job losses during COVID-19. In our first episode, we’ll look at trans and gender diverse people’s experiences of healthcare and disability during the pandemic. So we’re very lucky to have Darcy with us, who’s a doctor who’s been working throughout Victoria during COVID-19. Darcy, what’s that been like?
Darcy: Yeah, it was scary at first. I was really paranoid and when I get home at night, I would go into my backyard and I strip naked. I wouldn't bring the clothes inside the house.
Sam: Has there been enough PPE (Personal Protective Equipment?)
Darcy: Yes, a lot of it's been changing brands a lot. Definitely of varying quality. I remember a photo of you in some scrubs, I think that looked like they were maybe from the early 20th century. Yeah, I still have like that where they were from they had hyperbaric unit printed on them in sort of Correctional Facility font. I have theory they were from a Navy hospital. Hyperbaric units treat people; divers with the bends. Anyway, they were unusual looking scrubs made a horrible rough fabric. I did email a few people at the hospital to work out who got them and where they were from. But no one replied.
Gemma: It doesn't surprise me. I'd like to think that hospitals were focusing on things other than the documenting the history of their scrubs! Before we kick off into the experiences of our guests, I want to ask you to for a bit more of a personal take, as to trans slash gender diverse people who have experienced the first few months of this pandemic, what's the first thing that comes to mind about what it's been like for you specifically, as trans people?
Sam: I think when the lock-down was declared, I got really frightened because my doctor's appointment to get my script of testosterone was also cancelled at the same time. And I think my particular doctor was just unwell. But that kind of led me into the spiral of concern that, you know, I wasn't going to be able to get my script because I ran out of T (Testosterone) and was quite anxious about getting it. And I've had some difficult experiences with like mainstream GP’s in the past. So I'm very conscious of trying to book in with a specialist, gender affirming GP or somebody has a track record of being able to provide that care in a respectful way. So yeah, I was scrambling around to try and find an appointment with another kind of inclusive GP that was over on the other side of the town and that was over in the city of Stonnington, at that time, that was where the most of the outbreak was happening. So that was a bit of a kind of weird experience. And I think since that time, actually, probably most of my fears haven't been realized. I've been able to get appointment since and that's been really good. But yeah, I think that there's very, like high level of anxiety for, at least for me, because I'm very, very selective about who I want to get healthcare from. So I think the experience of COVID has just made me really anxious about that and when you see images of healthcare systems being overwhelmed across the world, it really does create a lot of fear.
Gemma: When you say that you've you're kind of wary about the kinds of people you seek treatment from. And you mentioned that you've had some negative experiences with healthcare, what are you talking about there? What does a negative experience of healthcare look like?
Sam: Oh, well I went to a new GP over in the western suburbs where I live because I thought I should stop trying to take a spot from you know, one of the very few trans and gender diverse specific health services that are available go who service the TGD (trans and gender diverse) community. But unfortunately, this new GP service completely up my data, you know, my data records wrong so I was listed as female on their health records, and they got my name wrong so they wrote Elkin as my first name and Sam as my surname, which I think might have just been a data error, but I think they thought my preferred name was Elkin, I just think they got extremely confused about the whole trans thing. Then I had this sort of peculiar experience where I was trying to get a mental health care plan about a completely unrelated thing. And, you know, the doctor I was speaking to asked me if I wanted to put the reason for the referral down as being transgender. And I was just like, no, at what point did I even mentioned that as an issue? You know, it's just that sort of low level stigma, I suppose the idea that you know, your trans history has anything to do with your presenting mental health concerns that really frustrated me, particularly because, you know, it's a service that I expected more from so yeah, it just makes me hesitant because when you go to a doctor, you're probably not having a particularly good time already. And then, you know, having a shitty experience like that just makes you not want to go at all.
Gemma: I guess the equivalent us sees people out there as I've never asked, I've never been asked by a doctor whether I want the reason for my visit to be recorded as being cis you know? And if that happened, I would just be so confused and blown out! So, you know, very weird. Darcy, what about you? What are your experiences of the pandemic? I mean, it's a bit weird given the conversation we've just had I guess in in many ways you're just people who have experienced this pandemic and perhaps me asking you this question is a bit akin to the doctor asking whether you want your visit recorded as being trans. But what have your experiences been in relation to gender etcetera?
Darcy: Look, not much has changed because I've been going to work as usual. Yesterday got asked if I liked Ellen, so that was weird.
Sam: The only question worth asking anyone! Well, let's get on to the conversations that I've had with over 25 trans gender diverse people across Australia. I think the thing that we should start with that affected many trans and gender diverse people is the cancellation of elective surgeries.
Gender-Affirming Surgical Healthcare
Teddy: My name is Teddy Cook. I'm ACON (AIDS Council of NSW) manager of trans and gender diverse health equity. I also moonlight as an adjunct lecturer for the Kirby Institute sexual health program at the University of New South Wales and I'm a board director on the Australian professional association for trans health also known as Auspath. I live in Sydney on Gadigal land which sits in the Eora nation. Elective surgeries… but even the word elective makes it seem optional, but it just means not urgent. We’ve seen elective surgeries be postponed or cancelled across Australia, and even though they’re starting to come back, very slowly and in a staged manner, I know chest surgeons in particular, but other surgeons who do other surgical interventions, are in regular contact with people on their waitlists. It is harder for people who are trying to see a surgeon, trying to get an appointment, and that’s just not happening really at the moment.
Johnny: My name is Johnny Valkyrie. I'm 23 and I live on younger and terrible land in Queensland. My pronouns are they and he. I am gender queer, trans masculine, transgender, homosexual and intersex. I come from the Eora nation or Sydney in New South Wales and I've been living in Queensland for almost 10 years now. I have a background in education and community service and I am a history writer for transgender, gender diverse and sexuality diverse people and cultures in history. I waited to have this procedure from the time that I realized I was uncomfortable with the way that my body was developing. And it was not until two months ago that I was able to have this. My surgery happened one week before. COVID-19 restrictions were put on what was called elective surgeries. So I really got lucky. I am glad because I had actually anguished over this, I wondered whether my affirmation procedure was going to be postponed and how long for if it was then at least I could stay indoors and not have to bind because one of the main reasons I had this procedure was due to chronic pain, not only dysphoria, but the chronic pain of binding. In Queensland it gets really hot. And so if you're wearing a binder in Queensland , you are going to sweat you are going to get rashes, you are going to feel uncomfortable 99% of the time, at least I could get away with not binding in the comfort of my own home while social distancing in quarantine. That's what I thought to myself, but it became increasingly urgent for me to have this procedure and I called my doctor a couple of times that week and she said, ‘I don't have answers for you, but we'll do everything we can’. And so I packed my bag, not for the surgery but for the psychiatric hospital. Because if I was not able to have this surgery that I worked hard to pay for, that I needed for my mental health and for my sense of self and connection with my body, then I wasn't sure what kind of state I was going to be in. So I was preparing for the worst. And then I got the call 48 hours before my surgery date to say that there had been no restrictions placed as of yet and it was going to go ahead and the relief was incredible. I knew that I didn't have to wait any longer. And I was going to take one of the first steps to aligning myself with myself.
Lore: Hi, my name is Lore, my pronouns they/them and I live in Melbourne. I am actually preparing for a hysterectomy on the 30th of June, which just snuck up. Because when the pandemic stuff hit, there was obviously a lot of uncertainty about anything that had been scheduled surgery wise for everyone, and I just sort of didn't think about it because I didn't want to be shocked by it not happening. So I just assumed it wasn't going to happen and didn't think about it at all, because there was no point sort of wasting precious energy on worrying about it. So I very neatly compartmentalized that away, and then only recently sort of had the phone call going, “Hey, we can do this if you still want to.” I've had some very helpful comments from people who have gone in for blood tests or to get the COVID swab come back and say that they actually feel safer in that environment because they’re so on top of it. So risk wise, I'm feeling good. I'm more worried about the sucky part of the surgery itself, which was always going to be the case, which for me is the invasiveness of it. I've heard that the initial sort of waking up and recovery process is a lot tougher than top surgery, which I also had last year.
Sam: So Darcy, Teddy there was talking about the name ‘elective surgeries’. What do you think about the name? Is it? Is it a bad name, and should we should we give it a different name because it's annoying everybody?
Darcy: Yeah, maybe. I mean, we can all hear the conservatives in the background, saying that, you know, that we shouldn't be having these kinds of surgeries at all. So when I say elective, I hear, we (as a community) hear ‘unnecessary’, you know, they're not even publicly funded. We really sort of have a difficult time arguing for the surgery. Is it a treatment for a mental health disorder? Or is it you know, an avenue for gender-bending joy, or just to make life easier? The decision for surgery means something different for everyone. So, you know, I'm not sure that the term would ‘elective’ would carry so much with it if we were talking about a different surgery. Elective surgery just means that it's planned. It might be urgent, it might be life-saving, but no one has to jump out of bed in the middle of the night to perform it.
Gemma: Darcy, obviously people have been quite upset by having, ‘elective surgeries’ pushed off or delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Why is it that medical staff might try to delay a surgery like this? What kind of risks are there for having people in a hospital while there's this quite contagious disease floating around? I'm sure.
Darcy: Sure, there are a couple of reasons, I think for the delay of surgery is one of them was that hospital resources were all being pulled into COVID. So various things were shut down, some electric surgeries just for in one of the hospitals I was working at. We just needed the ventilators that they would usually use in surgery, we needed the space to isolate people. And then another reason was the risk to staff. When someone goes in for surgery, and they get a general anaesthetic, you know, that involves controlling the airway. And it's sort of a lot of the virus can be sort of put into the air during that process and can be very high risk if they do have COVID.
Access to HRT
Sam: So people also talked about the concerns about the possible impact of COVID-19 on accessing HRT, Darcy, can you give us a very, very brief rundown on the absolute basics of hormone replacement therapy?
Darcy: Yes, and this is absolutely basic because I would like to point out that I have no specialist training in transgender medicine. But HRT stands for hormone replacement therapy and everyone needs some kind of sex hormone because outside of manifesting secondary sexual characteristics we develop in puberty or medical transition. They also have other important functions such as maintaining bone health. So trans people and cis people lacking sex hormones because of the removal or dysfunction of the ovaries or testes need sex hormones. And even if you don't have a shortage of hormone replacement therapy can also literally replace your existing hormones roaming in your body as the hormones you take as medicine can suppress your body's own production of sex hormones. Both estrogen and testosterone come in a variety of forms injections, pills, creams and gels.
Sam: Now Gemma, as someone who’s accidentally transitioned, anything you want to say?
Gemma: Sam, you're being very funny. So just to give our listeners some context, I was concerned that I might have accidentally exposed myself to Sam's testosterone or T, because they were using a cream, and we would often muck up our towels in the bathroom, and I realized that I was starting to get more hair on my body. Sam has pointed out that as someone with Italian heritage and pushing into my mid-30s, that what's probably actually going on is that I'm just turning into all my old Auntie's! But I was a bit concerned for a little while that my additional hair was the result of accidentally transitioning. But everyone replays to know that my additional thigh hair is probably just me following in the footsteps of my Auntie Deanna, and my Nonna before her!
Sam: Good to know! So you know, in terms of actual shortages around hormone replacement therapy, I've heard people talking about shortage is around access to estrogen.
Simona: My name is Simona Castricum. I'm a musician and architecture academic at the University of Melbourne and my pronouns are she/ her. I know that there has been some chat around shortages and but it isn't something that has directly affected me yet, and I hope it doesn't in the future. But it is definitely my concern, a huge concern. If there's a bit of sort of spike chatter around that kind of stuff then this has the flow on effect of, I guess, hoarding. The last thing we want is for people to hoard medication, in that sense. I just read on social media last week that Equinox had said that there's a shortage on Progynova- two milligrams. I went into a bit of a panic about Okay, where are my scripts, and what’s my local pharmacy got and what doesn’t it have? And also just like scrambling into my drawer to see how much I had too. So I guess that's the consequences of that information going out.
Gemma: And that was Simona Castricum who provided us with her amazing track The Half Light to use as our theme song.
Sam: For many, it meant a delay to their plans to start HRT.
Cedar: My name’s Cedar, I use they/them pronouns and I identify as non-binary I live in Wurundjeri country, in Melbourne. I do some academic stuff and I do some creative stuff as well. Finally, like I finally had my appointment then I had two more appointments booked that were going to be within a month and then I was going to be on T. But then the pandemic happened and that kind of got sort of indefinitely moved forward or definitely like, move it back. I guess it's the better way of saying that. Yeah, sorry, I kind of at the start was like it hit kind of like the end of March, I think is that sort of the end of March and I was like, Damn, I was, I would have been on T today. Like, if this was not the pandemic and that and I don't know when I will get to do this thing now. And so that was kind of pretty stressful at that time, but then yeah, I had like a phone appointment by the like, they sort of got things together by the end of April. And so then by the end of April, I was having kind of phone appointments. And that was really smooth and really nice. Like, the front appointments that I had. I found them easy and maybe like, even easier than being having in person appointments, really, to talk about these sort of things. And yeah, after that it was really smooth and yeah, really lovely.
Yves: My name is Dr Yves Rees. My pronouns are they/them and I'm a historian at Latrobe University in Melbourne. The beginning of lock-down coincided with me sort of deciding to pursue medical transition, which is something I've been endlessly debating with myself for the past two years or so. I had socially transitioned last year at work with friends changing my name, but I hadn't undergone any medical treatment. In the early months of this year, I decided that that's what I wanted to do this year. And so for me, one of the kind of first trans experiences of lock-down was this realization that wasn't going to happen immediately or, you know, perhaps not for the foreseeable future. Because so many health clinics shut down, you know, elective surgeries were suspended. I had this real sense of the 2020 I planned for myself falling away, and there was some sort of grief attached to that. But then I kind of also quickly found that in many ways, the experience of complete lock-down was incredibly beneficial to my mental health because not really having much contact with other people meant I wasn't really being gendered or misgendered by them. It was one of those experiences of really kind of realizing how incredibly relational gender is, that when I was alone in my apartment, you know, just bonding with my cats and my plants, my gender just ceased to be a source of stress or worry, I could just be me, I could just be a person. It was very similar to experience I've had in the first week of January this year when I went on a five day hike by myself in Wilson's Promontory. That hike was one of the best experiences of my life for many reasons, but one of the things that made it so incredible was this sense of just being completely free from the trappings of gender, just being a living creature out in the forest and the trees not giving a damn what gender I thought I was or they thought I was just being a human and it felt very similar during the period of lock-down because you know, prior to that, I would be misgendered every single day, you know, I'm a trans masculine non-binary person, the world in general really struggles with the concept of non-binary people. So even people who know my gender identity and know my pronouns, they still misgendered me every day. And for the world in general, I'm just still read as female 100% of the time because I have a high voice. I don't know for whatever other reasons they read me as female, I haven't, you know, I still have hips. And so it was just, it was actually just divine. To be just a person living in the world with my cats so in many ways, lock-down was a really beneficial experience and a kind of clarifying experience that it enabled me to just be with myself without input from other people interpreting me and telling me how my identity in the world. So it gave me a sense of calm and stillness and ease with myself that I haven't felt for some time slash ever, but I think it also put into question my desire to medically change, because I had decided to do that on the eve of lock-down, but with this kind of new ease in my skin, I felt it during lock-down, it sort of made me reflect on how much of my desire to medically transition to take testosterone was just a desire to become more legible for the world, to step out of the messiness of incomprehensibility of a non-binary identity and I don't know if I want to give it in that way? I'm not saying take medically transitioning for people is giving in but I felt like maybe for me, it was a kind of response to finding being non-binary so hard and what looking for sort of an out thinking, Well, you know, being not a woman, it's untenable to be read as female, maybe it will be easier to be read as male. Maybe I'll just do that instead, when you know, the truth is I'm not male. I'm non binary. You know, I'm going to be placed in a binary gender box one way or another. And so maybe it's okay for the time being just to kind of say who I am.
Travis: One of the factors in why I stopped taking HRT was “what if I can’t get access to HRT at some point in the future? So there were a few decision factors but yeah that was one of them. I’m really concerned for people who are on it but are unable to access it because it is so important.”
Sam: I asked Travis if he’d thought about situations like this happening before.
Travis: Situations that I thought were really outlandish, like the collapse of global supply chains or being in a country where I couldn’t go overseas for an extended period of time. I’m not a full prepper but I thought there might be a pandemic and then LOL, it’s never gonna happen, and then it happened, so…:
Sam: I've noticed that my cream Androforte is made in Mount Lawley in WA, which is quite funny to me because I'm originally from WA, and the idea that my gender-affirming healthcare is coming from there and quite ironic to me now, given that I found it to be such an unsupportive place when I lived there. So we've always got Perth!
Trans-specific allied health
Gemma: One thing that has popped up on my social media, you know, and in other places a lot has been people complaining about this seemingly trivial topic of not being able to get their eyebrows waxed or, you know, not being not being able to go to their hairdressing appointments and the like. But one thing that is interesting, Sam, is that these allied health, and also, you know, things that we would describe as, as beauty treatments and the lack can actually be really essential for people who need to use them to affirm their gender. What has happened in relation to those kind of other allied health supports and the like, what are people saying about their experiences of that?
Sam: Yeah, well, I guess for a bit of context, with electrolysis, I guess a lot of trans feminine people use electrolysis to reduce body hair and to aid them in their goals around transition. But also, what people might not know is that for trans masculine people that are intending to have a phalloplasty what you would usually do is get the skin from a forearm. So trans masculine people actually also have to access electrolysis in order to get basically remove all of the hair from the forearm, before that surgery takes place so that the skin is is hairless. So it is more like a typical penis type of skin. I spoke to Teddy about that: Teddy: Certainly things like electrolysis and other more intimate type interventions that people might say and when I say intimate, I mean interventions that happen very close to another person, i.e. someone leaning over your face, for instance, if that has been and will continue to be restricted.
Sam: Another big issue for people accessing gender affirming healthcare is access to speech pathology, particularly for trans feminine people.
Asiel: My name is Asiel Sanchez. I use they.them pronouns. I’m currently in Wurundjeri country in So-called Brunswick. I am a GP at Northside clinic, which is down in Fitzroy North and I work predominantly in queer healthcare, I suppose. And that covers all aspects around trans and gender affirming care as well as sexual health, HIV, Reproductive Medicine etc. It’s a fantastic, fantastic job to have. I’m also an academic and researcher at the University of Melbourne and my primary work is centring on LGBT health and medical education for future doctors to ensure that hopefully one day there’ll be an opportunity for all trans and gender diverse people to walk into any healthcare service centre and receive appropriate and affirming care. With speech pathology, the waitlist was already really long, so it was just made longer for speech pathologists specifically working in the transgender space.
Sam: One thing that a lot of people mentioned was Telehealth. Darcy what is telehealth exactly?
Darcy: Telehealth is basically getting your healthcare needs either by video call over the phone can involve sending pictures. It's obviously being used a lot in this pandemic and Medicare have allowed GP’s to bill for it.
Gemma: I've personally found it for many things to be really quite useful and easy. Like when I just need to go and pick up a script or something. It just means that I don't actually physically have to go to the doctor when I'm not feeling great. I also know that there's been times when I really just wish I could just actually physically talk to my doctor and not feel quite so alienated, which I think Sam, correct me if I'm wrong? Has sort of been what's come out of your discussions?
Sam: Yes, for some, it had some real benefits, particularly for GP appointments.
Cedar: It's funny because I generally don't think of myself as someone who likes to talk on the phone. But I was able to kind of be walking around the park while talking about these things. I found that quite good, rather than sitting in a doctor's office, like yeah, looking at this person looking at me and being like, ‘Oh my god, am I how am I moving my body? How am I like seeming in this appointment?’ Like I have to be a certain way or something. Whereas I didn't feel that on the phone. I just, like, had my information kind of in front of me. I don't know, as I said, I was walking around a park, but I like had sort of printouts of things I had like a notebook with a list of things that I wanted to talk about and just felt pretty comfortable, and I felt less comfortable, I guess, in person.
Travis: Just the other thing, being someone who works full-time, just time out of work is hard because all of those appointments always happened during work hours normally. So it made it actually a lot easier for me to manage those things because I was I have higher healthcare needs than the majority of people who I work with, so you're kind of aware that you are that person who is going to all of these appointments quite frequently and you have to kind of explain it every time you get a new manager or whatever. It's kind of good to just go well, this is only going to take an hour out of my workday rather than this is going to take two hours. Being in a regional capital city; access to healthcare was not amazing in the first place. Actually, what I found and what I saw a lot of people particularly people in the disability community saying when the lockdown came and doctors started offering remote health care and remote appointments by default that suddenly it was like well, now we can access health care that much easier than we could before. But for me for my specific mental health problems like severe depression and anxieties, leaving the house getting to an appointment physically is the challenging part. If I'm really unwell going to get to a doctor is super difficult. And because I'm privileged enough to have access to an internet connection, a home and a computer and a phone as well.
Sam: I also spoke to a bunch of people who'd moved into an online format either via zoom or just over the telephone for their mental health support, and that was much more mixed in terms of the response to that.
Travis: Attending, if I'm really unwell attending a psychologist appointment is super difficult as well. Just the fact that suddenly I didn't have to really worry about the stress of trying to leave the house.
Roz: My name is Roz Bellamy. I use they/them pronouns. I live in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. I'm a writer and an editor at Archer magazine, and I'm also doing a PhD full time so a lot of different things. I've had days pre-pandemic where I just really could almost not bring myself to drive to therapy. So it's made all of that easier. One of the days, I hadn't charged my phone and so it ran out in the middle of therapy and I was panicking and like running across the house to charge my phone. And then he emailed me and he was like, you know, we're pretty much done anyway, I'll see you in two weeks’ time. And I was like, “No, no, no, like you don't understand we need to finish!” So stuff like that has been like a real challenge for me.
Darcy W-R: My name is Darcy, I use they/them pronouns. I live in Preston right on the border with Coburg. I am a white, non-binary trans person working in volunteer management in the community sector. I am a musician and I do a lot of different needle crafts, including tattooing and knitting and embroidery. I am disabled and experience multiple kinds of disabilities on the physical and mental levels and I really love cats and I have three of them. I actually started seeing a new therapist by video and we haven't met in person yet. That's an interesting way to start seeing someone or healthcare. Again, it allows me to access therapy without having to leave the house, and that can be really important.
Simona: I did a session with my psych online, which I didn't find really that helpful. There's something about sitting in the room with a mental health practitioner where you can, I guess engage with them in a face to face sense that I find really, really useful.
Delays in accessing healthcare
Gemma: And Sam, are there some people who have just kind of completely neglected all the medical stuff altogether?
Sam: Yeah, Asiel mentioned that. Asiel: So we did see quite a number of people essentially delaying their care, sometimes to the detriment of their own mental health. And it was a really tricky kind of space to balance of, you know, making sure you're looking after yourself whilst living in a pandemic, essentially, and making sure that you're receiving the appropriate care knowing where to actually go get that.
Sam: Also, some people discussed issues accessing medications at the pharmacy.
Roz: I found chemists (because I really rely on them), to be quite challenging that even like going to one of the local chemists and the way that they'd set it up, I think later on made a lot more sense, like they had signs and they had a specific procedure to follow to distance. Whereas at the start, I walked in because there wasn't anything and I kind of got screamed out, you know ‘Get out! Go out out to the front do this!’ And so I think it's such an important part of the healthcare process, especially for people with mental illness or with quite a reliance on medication, particularly for the first month or two of the pandemic, that interaction and dynamic with the pharmacy was a pretty negative part of it. Yes. So in terms of medication, I was pretty lucky. The only thing that my partner and I couldn't access when we first needed it was asthma medication, because people went and panic what a lot of meds they were out just everywhere we went. And one thing that was kind of difficult around that time was just the way some people think pharmacies spoke to both of us when we asked for them, like we kind of got laughed at in a couple of the local ones. ‘You think we have those right now? No.’ And one of them was like incredibly condescending, and like made me fill out this long thing to go on a waiting list. And then I ended up getting called back an hour later, and they're like, ‘Oh, yeah, we got some we've got some now.’
Disccrimination in Healthcare
Sam: I think perhaps the most startling thing that came out of all of my discussions with everybody around healthcare was the impact of discrimination.
Travis: Accessing health care can always be a bit tricky if you're trans, accessing health practitioners who are sensitive to some of the nuances of providing health care for transgender people.
Teddy: During this time of COVID-19 really the most worried I've been is about trans people in hospital largely because what we know is that trans people face exceptionally high levels of discrimination and stigma within healthcare settings and in particular in hospitals. And so really, it is one of the most unsafe places For us to be that in public toilets, which is really where we want people to be washing their hands on a regular basis if they need to leave the house, so…
Gemma: Sam, at the start of the pandemic, I was quite shocked to hear you have a discussion with me about your fears that you might not be given a ventilator?
Sam: Well, yeah, absolutely. Like, if you're, you know, contemplating a system that is completely overrun, and there aren’t enough ventilators, who are they going to choose to provide life-saving support to? Are they going to choose a, you know, transgender person with a complicated mental health history? Are they going to choose their cisgender counterpart without that complicated history? You know, and that's the real concern that I think a lot of us have that, you know, when it really comes down to it, that people can pay lip service to equality, but when they really have to make difficult decisions about whose lives are more valuable, this is where stigma and discrimination comes out. And I think that my conversation with Jax was really fascinating talking about this issue in the disability space.
Jax: So my name is Jax Jackie Brown, my pronouns they and she, although I use they a lot more these days. I’m a queer wheelchair user, and I work in the LGBTIQ disability rights space, and I have done for about 10 years for a long time as a freelancer doing public speaking and workshops and speaking at conferences and stuff about that intersectionality and then now I work for Drummond Street Services in the LGBTIQ disability space. I have lived in Melbourne for about seven or eight years, and I originally come from regional New South Wales, from a little town called Lismore.
And I guess the other part of my identity that I didn't mention then was that I am a parent to toddler. So being a queer, disabled parent is really important to me, as well. One of the things we know that for people with disabilities entering the hospital system is not always a positive experience, there can be a lot of assumptions made about your life being less worthy than other peoples, and we saw that in Italy and in the UK where the numbers were a lot higher than they’ve ended up being in Australia. Where people with disabilities were asked to sign do not resuscitate orders, and in Italy were told to go home because they were saving the ventilators for younger, fitter people who needed acute care. So while we haven’t reached that scenario in Australia, and we hope the numbers don’t rise, it’s a very real fear for many people with disabilities, that our lives and our access to equitable health care will be not given the same priority as people without disabilities.
Gemma: It's really interesting hearing what Jax is saying, that these entrenched and systemic forms of discrimination are things that people with disability and LGBTIQ+ people experience all the time. But in many ways, they've been heightened by the pandemic, and also they've given us a reason to have a conversation about it. And my personal take on this is, is that really, it's just provided more clarity, and more impetus for all of us to do a little bit more about it. What do you think?
Sam: Oh, yeah, absolutely. We were talking heaps about discrimination in health care before the crisis, because of the Religious Discrimination bill. So, you know, for the transgender diverse community and for disability communities, this is not a new conversation. We've been talking about this for a long time and the proposed, government bill to make discrimination lawful in a range of circumstances on the basis of religious belief is really, really concerning.
Gemma: and Darcy, I am curious about your particular perspective on this as someone who works within hospitals and sees or is involved in the decisions about the care given to people, is this something that you worry about?
Darcy: For sure, doctors are definitely guilty of looking into a patient's psychiatric history or their disability as a reason for the presenting complaint. I think it's a real trap for getting the diagnosis wrong. So people with a disability and people with mental health histories, trans people, well, they’re all at a disadvantage right from the start when the clinician is trying to work out what the problem is. I think as far as COVID is concerned, and the potential lack of ventilators and staff to run the ventilators, I guess, going back to what usually happens is the number one question is usually ‘will this patient survive being on a ventilator?’ Because otherwise, what a horrible way to die. And I've definitely seen that happen before where families have insisted that everything be done, and it takes a really experienced clinician to be able to be quite firm and say, ‘No, that's only going to cause them harm.’ But in a situation where there's scarce resources, I think the question might become, ‘Who is most likely to survive?’ And I imagine there's an argument for not asking that question.
Sam: Yeah, and if we are saying that trans and gender diverse people are more likely to have other health considerations, like chronic health issues, poor mental health, or they might have been living in poverty for a really long time and so might not have had the same access to medical care. I mean we know that we are less healthy cohort than our cisgender counterparts.
Darcy: Yeah, absolutely. And I think the question that I worry most about would be ‘who will have the best quality of life after surviving a ventilator?’ And I don't think that's the question that the doctor can really answer. I've definitely heard it talked about. I've heard some doctors say things like, ‘Well, I think this treatments futile, because what are they going to go back to? They live at home alone. They have no family or friends. They have no job. They drink a bottle of whiskey a day…’
Sam: Yeah, and I mean, trans and gender diverse people, particularly, I think older transgender, diverse people are more likely to be socially isolated from their families of origin. And so if they're, you know, an older person with limited supports, yeah, that is really concerning if they are considering, well, ‘how many people are in this person's life?’ as a relevant factor, like, what about online connections? What about people that they speak to, you know, on the other side of the world that they might be a support for?
Darcy: I mean, I've never seen this. Stop a person from being offered treatment. But we have situation like Italy, I couldn't say that discrimination like this wouldn't play apart. I think Jax has really highlighted the fragility of the services that people with disabilities have.
Jax: Well, one of the things that people with disabilities were really asking for was personal protective equipment, to allow our support workers who come into our homes to provide personal support to us to really feel protected and for us to feel protected. As we know, there's been a national shortage of protective equipment. So that meant our support services were at risk of not continuing. I really feel and I know a lot of other people who received our support feel that if the numbers had increased, there was a very real likelihood that we would lack those supports in our lives that we will fund it to have and that we'd advocated really hard for and what that would mean was that we would then be relying on family members and partners etc. to be providing some of that support which puts additional stress on your relationships andand those dynamics for the people around you.
Sam: Teddy also mentioned the impact of discrimination on people getting tested (for COVID-19) at all.
Teddy: What we always know is that people that are most vulnerable, who are most marginalised, will be most impacted by any disease that impacts populations in societies, and COVID-19, we see in other countries that the people showing up in the data are people of colour, people who are indigenous, pensioners, who are older, or with co-morbidities, who are either homeless or extremely vulnerable, of course they are the ones who are going to have poor experiences in healthcare settings, and are most likely to have previously had poor experiences with healthcare, so are less likely to come and get tested, we see this in sexual health all the time.
Darcy: Dylan spoke about sex workers response to COVID-19…
Dylan: My name is Dylan O'Hara, my pronouns are they/them. I'm a trans masculine non-binary person from New Zealand originally now living on the unceded lands of the Kulin nations. I’m a sex worker, and I am also a committee member for Vixen Collective, which is Victoria’s sex worker only peer organization. I think that what we saw from sex workers at the start of the pandemic well before restrictions were in place or you know, guidelines were being issued, even before it had really started to make an impact in Australia earlier in the year, we saw sex workers immediately responding very proactively, you know, a lot of the kinds of intensified hygiene and cleaning practices that people have advocated for the general public and all kinds of workplaces throughout this pandemic have been things that sex workers already do anyway. I didn't have to go out and buy lots of hand sanitizer, as I always had lots as you know, these are basics for many sex workers. We have lots of different ways of maintaining hygiene and things like that. Doing harm reduction is really how I describe it.
Gemma: Sam, did you talk to people about their chronic illnesses and the crossover between that and COVID?
Sam: Yeah, I did actually, I spoke to another Darcy about that it, as it wouldn't be a trans and gender diverse podcast without having multiple people with the same name!
Darcy R-W: The ways that I am disabled and experience health conditions mean that it's harder for me to do things like leave the house or socialize more generally with the pandemic because I'm at an increased risk and also complications if I do contract anything. It's meant that I have had considerable anxiety about leaving the house because I don’t want to put myself at extreme risk, so I've been getting out less, which then means that you know, my physical health isn't as good because unless I want to move around and I'm less able to see people and less able to access all kinds of support, whether that's healthcare support or just community and social support. It's much more difficult to do that if I'm feeling less able to leave the house so and then I guess because of their levels of anxiety and stuff that goes with that. That also has an impact on my mental health, it's largely been negative.
Sam: So yeah, I think that was interesting. And a lot of people reflected on the fact that for them, many aspects of COVID-19 (I mean, not getting COVID), but the lockdown period actually improve their life on a day to day basis. So as with chronic health conditions, and anxiety and depression. I also asked people if they could think of any positive health outcomes that have come out of the pandemic so far, and Teddy, who's from ACON who we've already heard from, told me something that totally made sense, but I hadn't thought about it at all.
Teddy: One of the indicators to tell us that people are hating that advice is that we've seen a dramatic decrease in gonorrhea and chlamydia diagnosis over the last couple of months. And so we're encouraging people to be doing comprehensive sexual health screening throughout the state. So there's also maybe gives us an opportunity to dramatically decrease prevalence of some sexually transmissible infections in the community. And that's a real silver lining, I think as well.
Darcy: There's been less of everything actually the hospitals are pretty empty.
Sam: So you think the good time to get sick?
Darcy: I yeah, maybe if ever there was a good time.
Sam: So the other big issue that I tackled with a whole bunch of interviewees was of course, mental health during a pandemic.
Darcy: We just want to flag again that we’ll be discussing mental health issues including suicide, so please feel free to skip this section of the podcast if you’re not up for hearing that kind of content right now, and check back in with us in Episode 2, about policing the pandemic.
Gemma: And another quick shout out to Qlife which can be contacted around Australia on 1800 184 627 or lifeline on 13 11 14.
Sam: Pretty much everyone I spoke to discuss the impact COVID-19 has had on their mental health. Unsurprisingly, for those experiencing financial strain, their existing mental health issues were exacerbated.
Kat: My name's Kat, I’m trans non-binary, I used they/them pronouns. I live in Melbourne. I've lived in Melbourne all my life, and I am currently in the middle of moving to back to Geelong, I lived there a couple years ago, and it was really nice. So I'm happy to be going back. But I work as a UX (User Experience) designer, which is got a lot to do with the experience of websites and digital products. So that's really fun. I also talk a lot about diversity and inclusion and my own experience in that space too, which is something I'm really passionate about. I have my own mental health issues and a crisis that I was going through myself. I have a condition called CPTSD, which is like PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder, I guess past trauma and stuff, but that kind of reached a crisis point and then a pandemic hit and then I lost my job. So it's taken a huge toll on myself and for my partner. Following losing my job, the landlord of the house that we rent let us know that he's going to be selling the house as well. So that was another big hit for us. And yeah, everything's been a lot.
Darcy: Simona discussed trying to get an appointment with a mental health practitioner….
Simona: There’s been a huge demand on their services, so getting an appointment hasn’t really been that easy, and also I was so overwhelmed by what COVID might be and what it might do, that I let that fall away a little bit. And also the feelings of isolation, for someone that lives alone. I wasn’t able to go out to the clubs, or engage in exercise in a social capacity, which is one of the strategies I might have otherwise used to deal with my isolation. So there have been a lot of nights where I’ve been sitting at home alone with my thoughts.
Sandy: I’m Sandy O’Sullivan, I’m a non-binary person, I use they/them pronouns and I’m an associate professor in Creative Industries at the University of the Sunshine Coast, sort of between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. Being my age (54), and having a few chronic health conditions meant that I actually didn't know (what respiratory illness) I had at the beginning and I really thought I was going to die. And I realized I didn't have an up to date Will. I realized there were a lot of things that I hadn't said. My only ever nightmare about my very late in life understanding of my gender, was that I was worried about my family having a funeral for me and not knowing about my gender, and them not talking about it. It was a weird thing to be so focused on. Like, it's a weird thing now that I reflect on it, wasn't a weird thing (at the time), people have whatever feelings they're having, but I guess on reflection, I think I probably should have been more worried about dying. So there was that as well. So that all of that happened, everything just started to really compound a bit after that, and I tried to kill myself. That's never happened to me before in my life, and I've never had anything like that happen. And I think there were two things that were really surprising for me about it. One is probably pretty crucial. I reached out to people, and it was actually what other people said that changed that direction for me. It wasn’t (gender) affirming or anything like that. It wasn't any of that. It really was just having a conversation. And it was what I needed at the time. The other thing that happened was that I came to realize something I thought I knew a lot in a very abstract way about suicide. And this is terrible, but I probably had value judgments on (suicidality) sometimes. I didn't even realize that until I went through it until I understood that. I wasn't going to leave a note. I mean, when I was a teenager, I would have said a whole lot of ‘Oh my God, I'm gonna kill myself!’ but I didn't mean it. You know, it was an extreme position that sometimes people have at different times in their life, but for me it was when I was a teenager. And I always thought I'm going to live a really long note and I'm going to tell people how terrible they would be or how, you know, it was like this absolute. I didn't realize that. I didn't know why people didn't leave note I do now, I know that I didn't want anyone that I cared about to know what I was thinking. It was a really powerful moment. But it was, also I can't even believe that I'm saying this, but about an hour later, I sat down and I wrote an article about which, which is like, a completely ridiculous academic thing to do! But it was also cathartic. I mean, like I always say to people, ‘don't write articles that are cathartic!’ But I needed to this was not about whether it was ever going to go anywhere I was ever going to talk about it or was the need to write it out. And to really understand it, I have, you know, in the Wiradjuri language there is a saying from my community, which is (Wiradjuri proverb). It means roughly translated to live well in a world that's worth living in. So it's this idea of doing good in the world, but also living well. And you know, this isn't about responsibility to people. This isn't about blaming people who make these decisions over their life. But I realized, for me, it did matter did matter that I am doing important things, but also that I'm living well, I'm doing things that are important to other people that may as well as that I'm living well think the I'm living well got out of balance, when I felt like I wasn't doing enough for other people. And that it's a really tricky thing. But I think this is all incredibly round in the way that all of our lives are going to be around that idea of who we are and how we understand who we are. And it's definitely about how I understand who I am.
Joe: My name is Joe Ball, my pronouns are they and them, I identify as a transgender non binary person. That's how I identify as I'm recording this now, but that may change over time and I may transition and take on different pronouns. I grew up in Brisbane and spent the first 21 years of my life in Brisbane and then I moved to Sydney for 10 years. And now I live in Princes Hill in Victoria. I'm the CEO of switchboard Victoria, which is a leading LGBTIQA+ community controlled mental health, Family Violence Prevention, suicide prevention, supporting elders organization. Around mental health and COVID-19, a lot of the issues regarding COVID-19 I think is best understood as exacerbating mental health issues that already existed in our community prior to COVID-19. We had high rates of suicide, high rates of poor mental health, particularly in anxiety and depression. And so those things already existed. And I really believe those things were brought on by systematic discrimination over people's lifetime and current and ongoing oppression and discrimination. So I think those things already exist. And prior just before COVID-19 in Australia, we also had a religious discrimination debate. So there was a lot going on where a lot of people already feeling attacked and concerned about the future and the future of healthcare and service provision in Australia and whether there was going to be this (new) religious discrimination legislation that would allow people to be discriminated against when they're accessing care and support. So I think there was a lot of anxiety and concerns that were driving poor mental health prior to COVID-19. So I think that's really important. At Switchboard, you know, we were really at the coalface of responding to how people were feeling about the religious discrimination bill. So I feel like there was already a bit of a crisis in our community, and then we went into COVID-19. And I think for any kind of group that was experiencing discrimination and oppression prior to this, all those things have been exacerbated, you know, unemployment and poor mental health. You know, I don't think that COVID-19 has brought a lot of relief. It's only made things worse for those who are already discriminated against. However, there are some things that COVID-19 has brought about that I think have been really interesting about people's mental health, and one of them is the job seeker allowance increase. Prior to COVID-19, most people understand that there was no such thing as a liveable income for people who are unemployed and looking for employment. And through Job Seeker, we saw this huge increase in that amount of money and so much of you know, the issues that we see with the people that we support in Switchboard you know, its poverty driven, what are the concerns that people have? Its discrimination and oppression. And its poverty, just a big reoccurring theme. So when we saw Job Seeker actually go up, what we did hear was a lot of people telling us about how suddenly they could afford to buy food that they really needed that they couldn't buy before. So I think there was some really interesting things about COVID-19, where business as usual was completely disrupted. And it showed us that that we don't want to go back to the way that things were. And I think that's really interesting for queer people is COVID-19 is that like things were really ordinary and pretty shit for most queer people in Australia prior to COVID-19. And that was obviously more exacerbated at the intersections of where people with disability queer people are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and queer people of colour. And so I think COVID-19 was a disruption to business as usual. And it's really important that we, you know, don't romanticize the pre COVID-19 moment and just go, how quickly we can get back to the way things were because the way things were was nothing to be celebrated.
Sam: Teddy mentioned seeing similar things in NSW.
Teddy: We've seen an incredible increase in experiences of depression and hopelessness. We've seen financial strain, we've seen self-harm increasing…
Sam: People also talked about the impact of social media during the pandemic on their mental health.
Lore: Mental health wise, I don't have like a clean label, I suppose I have, as my therapist says “My anxiety runs very hot”, whatever that means. And I have a sensory overload thing, similar to like the autistic community with finding sounds especially and harsh lighting, fluorescent lighting, I can't tolerate with without special glasses and things like that. It's been a harder balance to not fall into the Facebook black hole and not become hyper vigilant about checking statistics every day on, you know, various websites about the pandemic and things like that I really had to identify what was being helpful and what was spiralling anxiety and things out of control and find a balance there, I ended up actually making a daily kind of schedule using an online app thing that turns whatever you want on your to do list or habits into basically a video game. And so that's been really helpful of establishing a structure. So I ensure that I have specific ‘I'm only going to do this for this amount of time’ which doesn't always happen, but it's still it helps me to rein myself in.
Sam: I have to say I found hearing this stuff really hard, and so I was really keen to hear from people about what they’d found useful to get through this tough stuff.
Sandy: What always made it better was connecting with people, and being able to hear the wonders and joy and stories of other people. You know, it's one of the great things about the work that I do. But the life I lead to great as I get to hear amazing people who have always more interesting stories than me, everyone's story is more interesting than your own right? I love that. I realized that there is a joy in that and a responsibility to it as well at the same time. So I think all of that was pandemic shaped for me, when I finally talked to my doctor, which wasn't very long after that he was one because he always is like to have a GP who gets it around gender immediately hitting the ground running and now knows as much as I do that I know is rare and random. He has been my doctor for a long time. And to then be able to talk to him about this was powerful. And, and obviously it was on the phone, you know, everybody was doing phone consultations, and it was still was still powerful.
Sam: A big theme in my discussions with a lot of different people across Australia was about the resilience of the trans and gender diverse community.
Teddy: On the flip side, though, we've also seen people being and reporting an incredible level of resilience, which is very usual for trans people. We have very high levels of resilience, very high levels of pain tolerance, because many of us move through the world are really in a heightened level of vulnerability and readiness. So even though we've seen people doing it real tough, we've also seen more people connecting online. Finding communities engaging in community groups in ways that they've perhaps never done before. And so that's really important and really powerful and important to remember that even if good chunk of our communities are having a really tough time, a good chunk of our communities are really thriving as well and isn't necessarily all doom and gloom, but we really must focus on ensuring that all trans people, people in our communities are safe and secure and feeling honoured and cherished and affirmed across all of their lives.
Sam: Some people also talked about the lockdown being a really good time to focus on self-care.
Johnny: We need to really prioritize self-care, we need to really prioritize our lives before what we do. And I learned that the hard way. I went into a relapse because under the weight of everything this year that has happened to me so far. And what I've seen happen myself collapse under the weight of that and I am not the only one. I'm confident that I'm not the only one…
Sam: And over the next three weeks we'll be talking heaps more about the different strategies people have used to overcome loneliness and poor mental health, from connecting with new people online and having really hilarious interesting first-time hook-ups online to getting pets, kittens and puppies during lockdown or rescuing, older pets and getting involved in social movements to confront racism. So, rest assured, we'll definitely continue to talk about that all throughout this show.
Gemma: This last few months has been a time of extremes and you know, some of the things that we've talked about in today's show really illustrate that you know, from people who feel more able to focus on their creativity who feel more able to freely just not go out if they don't want to go out and embrace their introverted side, through right through to people who have really struggled with the isolation and loneliness and the very different impact on people's mental health. And I'm really looking forward to continuing to pick up on those themes in relation to all kinds of different things in the next couple of episodes.
Sam: And I should say, it's a really interesting time to be recording a podcast about healthcare because things are changing so much. I mean, when I was recording these interviews, it really felt like we were coming out of the pandemic, and that seems we're kind of getting better. I mean, and you can hear that in, in many of the interviews that I've recorded, you know, most of which were recorded in in early June, where it's now you know, the three of us are living in Victoria, which is currently the most maligned state in the country. Nobody wants Victorians into their state or territory at the moment! So it is a constantly changing scenario. So yeah, we bear in mind that a lot of the things that were saying were recorded, you know, at a particular time. Everything is changing day to day.
Darcy: I did travel across the bridge into New South Wales yesterday morning and I felt really sneaky yeah.
Gemma: Get those cheeky NSW people. Well, just one crossing at a time.
Sam: Did you have official business over there or we just just trying to look?
Darcy: I could only see a TAB on the other side, I think their gambling laws are different there.
Sam: Well, I hope you were wearing your mask in your protective layer if you if you put a better on. Gemma: Thanks very much for being with us for our first episode of Transdemic. Thanks to Simona Castricum who provided us with her amazing track “The Half Light” from her upcoming album Panic/Desire to use on the show. See you next week.
TRANSCRIPT: TRANSDEMIC TEASER Published 21/06/2020 Background music – Simona Castricum- “The Half Light”. Gemma: It's June 2020. Australia is three months into a lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the world. The scale of this global pandemic is unprecedented. It's a big historical moment and will be looked back upon for a long time to come. Teddy:“We are finding ourselves I think in the most remarkable of moments” Sam: This podcast will focus on how trans and gender diverse people have experienced the pandemic. Emma: “I just feel like my experience at that moment is like peculiar. It's a great relief to be able to talk to someone specifically about this about being trans in COVID. It's weird. It's really weird!” Darcy: We want to make sure that trans and gender diverse experiences and voices are heard and recorded. Johnny: “I really do feel like I'm in a chrysalis; I'm changing while everything in the world is going on around me.”
Sam: We've spoken to trans and gender diverse people across Australia about their experiences: Roz: “Being home as the first time I've not been misgendered daily or had to deal with micro aggressions” Simona: “Emergency world events always bring about extra attention to non-compliant bodies.” Darcy: Presented by Sam Elkin. Gemma Cafarella and myself; Darcy O'Connell, Transdemic will feature discussions about the cancellation of elective surgeries and the race to get chest surgery two days before lockdown, policing the pandemic, the ban on sex work and the uneven access to the government safety net. Gemma: We'll also talk about fears around the disruption to the global supply chains of hormones, organizing the biggest ever Black Lives Matter protests during the middle of the pandemic, Sam: Job losses across the arts in higher education and social isolation connecting online. Please join us.
EPISODE 1. Trans healthcare and experiences of disability during the pandemic. EPISODE 2. Policing the pandemic: Trans experiences of the ban on public gatherings, access to gender-affirming allied care like electrolysis, the ban on sex work, policing of minority communities and trans experience of prison in the pandemic. EPISODE 3. Social isolation and love online: Trans experiences of connecting online with friends, family, romance and casual hookups. EPISODE 4. Trans home/lessness: Trans peoples positive and negative experiences of home, including creating positive spaces through art/creativity and music and aromatherapy, and trans experiences of being stuck at home with their families of origin, family violence and not having a home at all.
Are you a trans or gender diverse person with something to say about how the global COVID-19 pandemic has affected your life? Each episode will focus on a different topic, and we want to get your takes.
Contact us at email@example.com to arrange an interview or email us a voice recording.