How Emma learnt to accept herself and her gender identity

Half headless shot of girl leaning against brick wall with hands in pockets

I’m a girl, but I was told I was a boy

When I was in kindergarten, the teacher got the boys and girls to sit in separate circles. I sat in the middle. I was confused because I felt like a girl, though I’d been told I was a boy.

I struggled to live in a boy’s body when I knew I was a girl. One day, when I was 13, I saw two gay guys in my suburb holding hands. It made me think ‘I can do this. I can come out.’ Next thing, a tradie went up and punched one of the guys. I then became terrified of what would happen if people found out my true gender identity.

Where I grew up, I felt like if I didn’t fit in, I’d be bullied or attacked, which I saw happen to feminine-presenting males at my school. So, I overcompensated by pretending to be ‘one of the guys’.

I felt like I had to fit into masculine stereotypes

I left school at 15 to do an apprenticeship, doing what society considered ‘masculine’ work on anything that's diesel – so, cars, trucks, machinery, etc. For the next four years, I hid how I felt, which was probably the worst part.

The whole environment was very much a ‘boys’ club’. My mental health got much worse, as I had to act super tough. I even joined a gym and did weights every day, because that’s what I felt I had to do.

But I wasn't happy with myself or my life. When I looked in the mirror, as I saw someone I didn’t want to be but felt forced to be.

I learnt what ‘transgender’ meant

While I was still doing the apprenticeship, I was self-harming. A supportive family member noticed the scars and asked me about it. I opened up to her and told her about my gender identity.

A week later, she asked if I wanted to talk more about this stuff. I said, ‘Yes,’ as long as I wasn’t at home when she called. She told me about an LGBTQIA+ support group. Six months later, when I still hadn’t been to the group, she invited me out for dinner. But when she picked me up, instead of going somewhere to eat, she drove me to a meeting of the support group. ‘I’ll see you in an hour,’ she said.

I was very quiet at that first meeting. I just listened to people talk about how they felt inside their bodies, how they felt society viewed them, and about their struggles for acceptance. I had a light-bulb moment: ‘Oh, this is who I am.’ It was like a weight off my shoulders. At the same time, I was scared about what would happen to me.

I’d never heard the word ‘transgender’ used in general conversation before. Now, I understood it meant someone who doesn’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth.

When I got home, I googled ‘What does transgender mean?’ and spent four or five hours reading stuff online, including how to start hormone replacement therapy (HRT). My knowledge of what being trans meant really grew after that.

The moment I knew I needed more support

One day at my apprenticeship, I had constant negative thoughts: ‘I’ll never transition. It’ll always be this bad. My family will disown me.’ I made the decision to end my life that day. Just as I was about to act on the thought, something inside me said, ‘Don’t do this’, and I stopped. I knew then that I needed more help in order to figure out what to do.

Driving home afterwards, I realised I had to say something to my family. When Dad saw me and asked if everything was okay, I just said, ‘I’m transgender.’

After a long silence, he started going off at me. I didn’t feel safe. I ended up walking out. I took a train for an hour and a half, not sure where I could go.

My support worker at the time told me I needed to get out of that situation, and that it would be safer to live in a refuge. I left home and moved in with my godfather for five months. After that, I became homeless because I had nowhere else to go.

I couldn’t hide who I was anymore

I came out as trans when I was 20. I told a really good friend of mine from high school. We sat outside her mum’s house on the front lawn and I was bawling my eyes out. When I finally told her, she was like, ‘Eh.’ Having a really strong group of friends that I can actually talk to has been more helpful than anything else.

At that time I was working in a car yard and had to wear a suit every day. I decided I couldn't do that anymore. I was no longer homeless and was in a fairly good place. Although I knew that coming out to my employer would be a risk, I did it anyway. All I got was praise.

Before I started HRT, I already accepted who I was. While medical transitioning confirmed my identity, it was also confronting at first. Some parts of the process have been amazing, and some have been terrible. The day I got my first prescription, after waiting two years, was so self-affirming. I couldn’t really hide the truth any more.

The importance of community

Being a part of the trans community has been really helpful for me. For the past few years, I've been helping to organise Trans Day of Remembrance, which is a significant event in the trans community. It’s about remembering all of our sisters and brothers who have passed away due to anti-transgender violence.

I’ve also recently been a youth advocate with the Weave community, which has helped improve my confidence and reduce my anxiety. Like in every other community, there are going to be people who don’t understand. I've got a bit of a joke I say around friends, where I think I should get a T-shirt saying “I am Google”.

How I learnt to accept myself as I am

When I first understood what ‘trans’ meant, and learnt what gender meant to me, I thought I’d have to wear dresses and heels all the time. Over time, and through meeting a lot of people who identify as trans, I realised that I don't have to hyper-feminise; I can just be myself. While there's a social stereotype of what trans-feminine and trans-masculine is, I learnt I didn’t have to conform to that. I can still go to a skate park; I can still ride my BMX. My gender doesn’t have to dictate where I'm going in my life.

If someone is discriminating against me or being unkind, I usually either take the piss out of myself, or let their comments go in one ear and out the other. It's taken me a long time to get to the point where I can do that.

Now, I accept myself as I am. I’ve learnt that gender is just a part of me, and I can look in the mirror and be like, ‘Okay, this is who I am.’ I think that's a lot more powerful than anything else, really.

This article was produced thanks to support from Darling Downs and West Moreton PHN.

What can I do now?

  • Get in touch with some LGBTQIA+ support services.