Meet the people making positive changes in the city and beyond, in the fields of the arts; civics; sustainability; community and culture; and food and drink.
Time Out is profiling the incredible people who are shaping the future of Sydney in this Future Shaper series. These remarkable individuals and organisations were nominated by a panel of expert judges including editor of Time Out Sydney Maxim Boon, celebrity chef and restaurateur Kylie Kwong, head of talks and ideas at the Sydney Opera House Edwina Throsby, NSW 24-hour economy commissioner Michael Rodrigues, CEO of IndigiLab Luke Briscoe, and NIDA resident director David Berthold. Read more about the project here.
As a metropolitan centre, Sydney has a burgeoning trans community. But for a long time there has not been reliable and comprehensive information around many aspects of the transgender experience, from finding gender-affirming doctors to working out the noodly bits of getting your name changed to finding the terms to explain your identity to your loved ones.
This changed with TransHub, ACON’s digital information and resource platform for all trans people in NSW, their loved ones, allies and health providers. It was launched on International Transgender Day of Visibility, March 31, 2020, in the early days of Sydney's first lockdown.
The main drivers behind this ambitious and urgent project are Teddy Cook and Liz Duck-Chong, two out and proud transgender people. Duck-Chong is the acting manager of Trans Health Equity, having worked through various roles since starting with ACON four years ago as a peer worker in sexual health clinics. She is also a freelance writer, a podcaster (check out Let’s Do It) and a researcher in sexual health and other areas. She was the lead content writer and co-designer of the TransHub website.
Cook is currently ACON’s acting director of community health and was the former manager of Trans Health Equity and has been with the organisation for about a decade. You might have seen him in a video where he spoke at NSW parliament against Mark Latham’s proposed law banning the promotion of 'gender fluidity' in schools.
In June this year alone, TransHub reached 1.4 million people. The Trans 101 page is a great entry point for anyone exploring TransHub. You can also follow TransHub on Instagram and keep up to date with ACON on Facebook.
Who did you consult with to put the information on TransHub together?
Cook: We've got a trans advisory group that was really central in helping us understand the layout of everything, the key information and how it needed to be toned. We also established a yarning circle for sistergirls and brotherboys, which actually still continues today. We also had a lot of internal focus groups with subject matter experts from other programs within ACON. So our peer education teams like pride in diversity, mental health teams, ageing and cancer prevention teams to really make sure that we were embedding ourselves in their work and vice versa. We have also gone through a process with AusPATH (the Australian Professional Association for Trans Health) to endorse the clinician section, which is largely geared towards GPs and hormone prescribers.
Would you say that transgender rights are the new frontier in ACON’s LGBTQ+ activism?
Cook: What the research tells us is that we are beholden to action on trans health equity, because we can't sit by as a health organisation when we see suicidality data as pointy and as diabolical as it is for trans people in Australia. ACON has a very long history of being responsive. We started as a HIV crisis response, helping people die with dignity... Fast forward 35 years now, and the HIV epidemic is looking very different. What we started to see, though, were other health issues that are burdening our communities and not being addressed. Emerging issues around cisgenderism and heteronormativity, positioning our communities as being disordered and wrong. ACON has and will continue to have a really important role to play in ensuring that our communities are included around health messaging, and in our advocacy to the government.
What do you hope the future looks like for trans people in Sydney and Australia?
Duck-Chong: I think that we're starting to see what that looks like, which is a trans community that is able to advocate for itself based on best practice, information, research and understanding. I think that it comes from being not only understood and tolerated by communities, but loved, accepted, cared for and held, and in that space to be able to live our lives as our most affirmed selves, however that looks.
Cook: I think that Sydney in particular has an important role to play. We are in the most populous state in the country, and this is where invasion happened. And if we look to the longest continuous living culture on the planet, we know that trans people have existed in every Aboriginal nation on this continent. We know that sistergirls and brotherboys and trans people have existed forever, had a place in culture, had special dance, had roles to play in community, and were also treated as the women and men that they were, in a binary sense. In our work to decolonise in Sydney we are presented with an incredible opportunity to say that the binary came with the boats. The trans experience has always existed and has always existed here in this place. As white people in our approach to decolonising work, it's so essential that we hear from, centre, and elevate sistergirls and brotherboys. Until we do that, I don't know if we can have a reckoning here.
It feels like the transgender community is more visible than it has ever been. What is next for trans visibility and trans liberation?
Cook: In a population so mammoth on his planet, a lot of society is comfortable saying that there are 12 types of star signs, so 12 types of people, but only two types of genders. At the same time as we are gaining more visibility, Georgie Stone is being celebrated on Neighbours, which is really important, but we're still seeing legislation being tabled to erase us. We are in a time where they [conservatives] are coming for us. And the only way that we can move through that is together as a community. That means we need to be as inclusive and expansive in defining the trans experience as possible; make sure that nonbinary people feel very much at home under the trans umbrella; make sure that trans isn't seen as anything to do with what we look like, and that it's got everything to do with who we are.
TransHub uses language that defines the words transgender or trans as inclusive of people outside of the binary of ‘man’ or ‘woman’. Can you expand on this?
Duck-Chong: Trans is an umbrella term that includes all identities of people who identify as a gender that is not what they were presumed to be at birth, essentially. That can include all manner of language and terminology, like nonbinary, genderqueer, genderfluid, binary trans people, brotherboys, sistergirls, or a combination of those and more. Being a binary transwoman is just a way of describing some of the complexity of my experience, rather than a category that places me as separate from other trans people, because I see the joy and euphoria that I have in common with people, both binary and nonbinary, as far more important than that category. [The What is Trans? page on TransHub dives into terminology deeper.]
TransHub is already very exhaustive, and a further 20 pages of content have been added since the site’s launch. What is the team tackling next?
Cook: We’ve been seeking funding to develop specific projects that sit within TransHub, such as Here and Now, which is about trans-specific care after sexual assault. We also pursue other health areas that our community really needs information around, for instance, domestic and family violence; violence, full stop; prison and what to do if you're incarcerated and trans, all those sorts of issues that are beyond hormones.
You have both said that developing TransHub was something ‘urgent’. Can you tell me why?
Cook: From my perspective, access to information, particularly around gender affirmation, is a protective factor against suicidality. People having access to information is life-affirming and life-saving.
Duck-Chong: There's this joke in the community that the admin of gender affirmation is a full-time job. And we hope that with TransHub, we’ve made it something that people can do on the side and not feel like it's taking over their life.
Cook: I got a message the other day from someone who said, “I sat down in the legal affirmation section, I needed to update all of my ID. I followed all of the steps and I did it all in about two hours. Thank you.” That is something that took me weeks, years! I still don't know if I've finished. There's one superannuation account that just refuses to budge! That's about, what, 15 years later?
If this article has raised any issues you can call QLife on 1800 184 527. It is an anonymous and free LGBTI peer support and referral for people in Australia wanting to talk about sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings or relationships. The line is open 3pm-midnight, every day.
You can support TransHub’s vital work by buying a T-shirt here.