Bella Simpson is done with sob stories. As a trans woman, she is used to living with negative narratives—like when she worked on a range of events for Wellington Pride and all the local newspaper wanted to focus on was young trans people's miserable school ball stories. She told them to get lost.
While there's no denying that negotiating the world as a young trans person in New Zealand has more than its share of challenges—increased risk of suicide, blocked access to health care, and flat-out media lies—Bella is ready to celebrate.
Now 21, Bella came out as transgender when she was 11. The past decade, thankfully, marks a cultural shift in New Zealand. Bella was at primary school with a collection of 300 Bratz dolls and a wardrobe of ball gowns and wedding dresses she got from a dress-up box. Her family were supportive and the school said they would be too. But things didn't always work out as hoped: " I distinctly remember so many of the things promised never being followed through," she says. She went on school camp after coming out, and although she was told she'd be in a girls' cabin she was put in the boys' cabin with a group of students who spoke English as a second language. "I was always really hurt by that," says Bella. "I remember thinking, 'I deserve to be treated like the person that I am'."
A decade ago, trans people didn't have the visibility they have now in New Zealand. "We had a couple of trans people on TV shows and stuff, but always as jokes," says Bella. Only couple of years after coming out Bella went to her first big queer community hui. She was the youngest trans person there by 10 years. Now she says, through the volunteer advocacy work she does with Rainbow Youth and other organisations she's regularly meeting trans children who came out much younger.
"I think it is really important to highlight a young trans person that has survived through high school and into the real world," says Bella. "To talk about how many times I've been ignored, told I'm not trans enough, told that my life is a phase and that I'll grow out of it."
Bella says New Zealand society is in a better place when it comes to recognising the trans community, but we're still lacking a national body to represent trans rights. "We don't have a proper, nationwide trans based or bi-trans organisation at the moment and that doesn't sound like a big thing but when you put us on an international platform we're one of the few countries in the world that doesn't have an organisation dedicated to supporting and working with trans people."
To mark her 10th anniversary, Bella shared her personal photo album with VICE. See it here.