We’re often quick to notice people who might not conform to conventional social norms around gender, or what society thinks how a man or a woman should behave or appear.
Trans and gender diverse (TGD) people often find themselves the brunt of stigma and discrimination based on their appearance or behaviour, which has significant impacts on their lives and health which puts them at higher risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV.
Our awareness and understanding about the lives and experiences of TGD people is very limited. Globally, TGD people are recognised as a key population who are at risk for HIV, yet there’s inadequate information and research dedicated to TGD people. There’s even less knowledge of the needs of TGD people within NSW and Australia.
With this in mind, Positive Life NSW in partnership with the Gender Centre invited a range of TGD people who with or without HIV from different identities and walks of life to be part of an expert advisory group to develop a survey tool to find out more about the experiences, barriers and challenges that TGD people face. We included Indigenous people, sex workers, people who inject drugs, people from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
“The diversity of the TGD community makes it impossible to paint a single snapshot that sums up this amazing group of people,” says Rachel Smith, transwoman, community advocate and the committee co-chair. “I think our committee reflected the diversity of TGD people in Australia well,” she said, “and I’m really happy with the outcome.”
Together we met about six times to create the anonymous survey tool to find out from our community what we need to live the kind of life we want to live and make sure that we got the survey questions right.
The advisory group developed the questions to explore what supports and services TGD people don’t access or are having trouble accessing or even if there’s nothing to access.
Our ultimate goal was to identify the areas of need that are lacking for the TGD community and how this impacts our lives.
The survey asked a range of questions about the lives and experiences of TGD people getting on in life health wise, socially, romantically, professionally, with our family and friends. It also asks about your experiences of discrimination in employment, housing or healthcare and more.
I’m a nurse amongst another things, and I’ve recognised through my personal experience, that for a lot of us when we’re just starting out on our journey, we don’t always know where to find the support we need and it’s really hard.
Someone at the beginning of their transition are going to have very different needs compared to someone who’s been out for 20 years. Then there’s other impacts like whether someone is living with HIV, if they have mental illness, or difficulties with work, housing or family.
The expert advisory group will unpack the findings, analyse the themes and formulate a report, which Positive Life and the Gender Centre will publish. Using this report, we hope to start talking about the needs that are not being met and highlight the needs within our community with the government or other service providers, GPs, housing etc.
I’d really like to see a future where trans and gender diverse people aren’t discriminated against, where we can be ourselves without fear of violence, where we can go shopping and get coffee without feeling uncomfortable, where any of us can aspire to be whatever we damn well want to do.
Bella Bushby in conversation with Rachel Smith