trans visibility australia
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'Visibility' Isn’t Protecting Us From Transphobia

On Trans Day of Visibility, I can’t help but think that ‘visibility’ has given our community many things, but equal and fair access to adequate medical and life affirming care still isn’t one of them.

I’m at the club with my friends. The music is good, the lineup is tight, everyone is queer and having a good time. As I look around the dance floor I see the best and worst haircuts that Melbourne has to offer. I’m in my happy place. Like many club events I attend, the profits for tonight go towards raising money for someone’s gender affirming surgery. 

I often think about the energy that is put into organising an event like this – time, patience and investment. In Australia’s main cities, trans and gender diverse surgeries are commonly funded through nightlife events or GoFundMe pages. While this is a beautiful act of mutual aid and community care, it requires trans and gender diverse people to lay out their stories, lives and traumas in the hope that they can receive life-affirming medical care. 


How could the lives of trans and gender diverse people be changed if Australia had a robust medical system that cared about queer people? One that gave trans people easier access to gender affirming care? One that didn’t require an endless cycle of fundraising? 

In recent years “visibility” has gotten the trans community many things, but equal and fair access to adequate medical and life affirming care still isn’t one of them.

Trans people still share the experience of having to explain medical aspects of transitioning to their doctors, or becoming the ones educating their doctors throughout the process, because many in the medical field are not “transliterate” . On a more personal note, I spent months trialling different GPs to find one that knew enough about the top surgery referral process. And that was just to find a GP that was able to help me begin the process, which itself can take years on the current waitlists. 

Medically transitioning can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $100,000 depending on the individual. Financial barriers to medical care are a major concern – almost half of transgender women in Australia live below the poverty line. Research shows trans people face disproportionate risk for assault, homelessness and discrimination when compared to cis-gender people. Considering the lived experience of many trans people, already challenging both socially and financially, it’s clear why the cost of transitioning can feel out of reach for many. 


When I look around at the huge increase in queer and trans media in the past five years, it isn’t lost on me how special it is for us to be given more of a voice in the arts, media and wider society. But, I am disheartened when I look at the lives of people in my community and I still see trans people who are struggling under the weight of a world that positions them to be vulnerable, with trans women and queer people of colour bearing much of the brunt of this. We live in a world where many trans people don’t feel safe and heard in their schools, workplaces or doctors’ offices.

The high media profile that the trans community has had in the past couple years has simultaneously left us to be dragged through the mud, used as far right talking points. A political football thrown around for engagement on conservative platforms. In Australia last year, we saw Channel Seven join in on the already widespread epidemic of anti-trans propaganda and sensationalist media in their self-proclaimed “most controversial story of the year”. 

Seven’s Spotlight piece claimed thousands of young people were “transitioning and regretting it”, and platformed a large number of fear mongering anti-trans activists. The report conveniently failed to cite studies that show top surgery has one of the lowest regret rates of any “cosmetic” procedure. Or the 2021 review of multiple studies that found that only 1 per cent of patients who received gender affirming medical care later had some form of regret associated with it. 


In a world where we hear people talking all the time about the nose jobs or BBLs they regret, medically transitioning remains one of the procedures with the highest satisfaction rate. 

We are sold the idea that because we see queer people in TV and advertising more than ever before, that it’s somehow saving us from the transphobia and homophobia that is rampant in much of Australia. And while I will happily watch every season of the new L Word – no matter how questionable the writing continues to get – I want to live in a world beyond just visibility. I want to see true systemic change – starting with a more accessible healthcare system.

Because to platform the queer community to wider society without offering the legal and social supports – to safe education as well as inclusive healthcare – is to set us up for hardship. 

Jet Dwyer is a writer and artist from Melbourne's inner north.