Andrea Thompson on ‘The Greatest Comedy of All’

Reader advice: This article mentions transphobia, gender dysphoria, sexual abuse.

If you ever needed proof that life is one enormous comedy you need go no further than knowing that whatever entity spawned everything decided it was a good idea to put trans people, governments, laws and bureaucrats on the same planet.

When I stop and think about it, squint at it out of the corner of my eye, I can see the comedy in being trans. Welcome to life, here’s a body, whoops, it’s the wrong one, sorry, you’ll just have to deal with that. Good luck.

Dealing with it means something different to each trans person. We are all unique, as are our identities, experiences, and ways of becoming and being.

My own story includes being sexually abused as a child, which added an extra layer of complexity to my emerging sense of identity. From that came internalised transphobia, the main features of which were crushing guilt, shame and anxiety every time I tried to find a way to be me.

Then there was the hiding, the compartmentalising, the lying and the trying to be satisfied with what I was given because it was too frightening to be me.

Then came the panic attacks, the depression, the contemplating not existing and the hospitalisation. That was pretty much my life from the age of four to 40. I hid in fear for a very long time.

Meanwhile, I got married, became a father, divorced, built a career as a teacher, public servant, tech entrepreneur, music journalist, mildly unsuccessful music impresario and, when Covid killed my sweet gig in the music biz, went back to being a public servant again.

The journey I had to take to find my way through the medical side of transition, that’s definitely just for shits and giggles. Isn’t it? There was the psychiatrist who told me he didn’t think I was trans because I didn’t fit his stereotype of what a trans woman should look and act like.

There was the endocrinologist who insisted he needed to measure the size of my testicles, which he proceeded to do by cupping me. Like I needed any more sexual abuse. There was the anti-androgen drug that almost killed me.

Finding a team of medical practitioners and a regime of gender confirming hormone therapy that suited my body chemistry was a decade-long, stop-start process. Significantly all the medicos on my current team are women, interviewed and selected by me before I invited them to sign on and be part of my transition journey. By the end of that decade, now into my 50s, I was beginning to feel in control of my life.

When I came out publicly it was incredibly liberating. Cliché alert: I felt the weight lift from my shoulders when I announced myself to the world. For the first time life felt good, things were in their right place. I was finally me, the woman I have always been though I was handed someone else’s body. The comedy was over.

Except, it wasn’t, because that is the moment the bureaucrats have one more bite out of the life and dignity of trans people, when you go public with your identity.

I headed into the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages to change my name and, on getting out of the lift a helpful bureaucrat took one look at me and said, ‘Are you here to change your birth certificate? The office is that way.’ Uh, no. How dare you? But then people look at you and make assumptions all the time when you’re trans, so maybe that wasn’t just a bureaucrat thing.

They were trying to be helpful, I get that, but I have my own voice and I know how to use it. I could have been there to announce my death for all they knew.

Then there was Medicare. The bureaucrat behind the desk told me I couldn’t change my name and gender. I told them I could. They told me I couldn’t. I got a little bit irate and told them I could and that they should learn how to do their job.

What followed was a lot of searching on the computer on their side of the desk, a lot of looking at the paperwork I’d provided and then, finally, them saying, yes, you can. I may have rolled my eyes at this point, as I was enjoying the comedy so much. I’m sure changing my driver’s licence, passport, bank account details, etc., etc. will be just as much fun.

The final step on the bureaucratic rat race to be legally identified as a woman and go by my own name has yet to happen. It may well be the funniest of all the jokes that the government, their laws and their bureaucrats have left to play on me.

Because I was born in the UK, if I want to change my birth certificate, which I do because it is incorrect, I have to make an application to the Gender Reassignment Board (GRB) here in Western Australia.

If I manage to provide all the necessary letters of support from doctors, mental health professionals, employers and friends/family, fill in the paperwork correctly, serve a notice on the Attorney General of my intention to apply to be recognised as me under the law and pay the required fee, the GRB may decide that I am allowed to be me under the law and issue a certificate saying so.

The GRB is intended to give trans people legal protection from discrimination. Instead, it is an exercise in bureaucratic humiliation. First, the archaic language used to describe the board, the use of the term ‘reassignment’, is out of step with current understanding of the diversity of trans people.

Gender is a social construct and people identify along a continuum. Each individual’s identity is personal to them. I don’t need to have my gender reassigned by a panel of strangers.

Second, the Board requires references only from an applicant’s medical team, mental health professionals, family, friends and employers. The applicant is not required to tell their own life story.

In fact, you don’t even have to attend the meeting when the GRB considers your application. The implication of this is that other people know better your identity, state of mental health and capacity to be yourself. This is condescending, patriarchal rubbish. You have no idea, having been through a five-decade journey to becoming completely me, how angry this makes me.

The final indignity, the one that frightens me most, is that the GRB has the authority to reject applications and they sometimes do. I have no idea what I will do if my application is rejected, but if you see me on the news any time soon, you will know what has happened. Wouldn’t that be fun?

The Attorney General, John Quigley recently announced changes to WA’s anti-discrimination laws, including removing the requirement for trans people to apply to the GRB if they want legal protection against discrimination.

Given that the GRB’s processes, well intentioned through they may be, are farcical, insulting and inhumane, Quigley should abolish the GRB all together and put in place a more empathetic process that recognises the agency and voices of trans people.

If you’d like to have a chat, John, I have some ideas. You shouldn’t find it too hard to track me down, I am a bureaucrat after all. And so, the comedy continues.

Andrea Thompson is a transgender woman, a father, an activist and has had a varied career in teaching, public service, technology and the arts. She has a loud mouth and a lot of words left in her despite her advanced years so stand in her way at your peril.


Do you need some support?

If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, support and counselling are available from:

QLife: 1800 184 527 / (Webchat 3pm – midnight)
QLife are a counselling and referral service for LGBTQIA+ people.

DISCHARGED[email protected]
Discharged is a trans-led support service with peer support groups for trans and gender diverse folks.

Lifeline: 13 11 14 /

Beyondblue: 1300 22 4636 /

You can support our work by subscribing to our Patreon
or contributing to our GoFundMe campaign.

Tags: , ,