Transmen of WA’s Nick Lawrence on making connections

Growing up gender diverse can be a lonely business and I always tell people I started Transmen of WA because I wanted to make some friends.

However, before this could happen, I had a great deal to learn.  There is one particular experience I would like to share that, in retrospect, pushed me to do what I do now: help people to make friends.

Transmen of WA started via an online email group I found after putting the shout out to Perth locals.  Two responded and we became friends on Facebook.  Somehow though, we could never seem to arrange a catch-up, and I desperately needed someone to talk to.

This played on my mind for some time, until one night I decided to take the plunge.  I spent the best part of an hour drafting what I hoped sounded like an easy-going question.  In a group message, I asked the two Facebook friends if they would be attending Fairday that year.

Without realising it, I had made two mistakes.  Firstly, I had assumed they identified as part of the community.  Secondly, I was completely ignorant of the fact that this question might cause them to be defensive.

As a consequence, the responses I hung waiting for hours to receive came back as: (1) “Fuck that.  I wouldn’t go there if you paid me!” and (2) “My girlfriend isn’t a lesbian.  We have always seen ourselves as a straight couple.  So no, I won’t.”

All my strength and determination washed away with those words.  I felt humiliated and distraught.  Why couldn’t they see I wanted to meet them?  Then anger set in.  What a pair of arseholes!  I sat down and drafted indignant responses, followed by in-depth explanations, then, as I cooled down, heart-felt apologies.  Finally I replied with something like: “LOL.  Ok.  No worries.  I love Fairday.  It’s the only event I go to J”

The hurt and shame I felt was intense; something I’ve never told them, even though one of them is now a good friend.  The lesson I learnt very quickly was that sometimes we need to be reminded to read between the lines.  I needed to realise that my question didn’t portray the gravity of my situation, while those – albeit unknowing – arseholes needed to realise that Fairday was just an excuse to meet them.

We all carry our own insecurities as invisible baggage and often react to things in ways that are unpredictable and unprecedented to somebody else.  We aren’t to know why someone was upset by our comment or why they lashed out like that.

It turns out my mate, Mr “Fuck that”, was just young and isolated from family and anyone who knew he was trans.  The thought of someone finding out filled him with terror.  Had he expressed that he was ‘stealth’ and couldn’t go, I would have learnt something about different journeys.  Then again, had I been straightforward and said I needed a friend he would have made an effort meet me.

So I learnt a great deal from that one experience but it opened my eyes to the fact that this sort of angry reaction to comments made in ignorance or in error are commonplace.  People are nasty to one another within the community all the time.

A simple comment, when extrapolated in this way, can become a public sledging.  Not everyone is a bigot just because they use the wrong term or don’t agree with a particular concept.  Perspective is everything.  It isn’t always deliberate.

The 55-year-old new to everything MTF who is immediately ostracised because they used terms like ‘sex change’ or ‘transvestite’ in the wrong context.  The macho posturing FTM who gets labelled a misogynist, while he is still learning about his inner man.  As a new advocate who is almost middle-aged, I get the ‘agenda’ wrong all the time but I have learnt to listen carefully, ask the difficult questions, and admit to my failures and shortcomings.  More often than not, I find I agree once I understand.

There are also people who go out of their way to instigate war.  This involves attacking another part, or person, of the LGBTI community, because their ideals are perceived as contradictory to the fight they are waging on the world.  When someone is screaming their case vehemently, we need to really listen to how they rationalise it from their perspective.  The fact is, no matter how just or noble our cause may be, there is always going to be someone who knows we are wrong.  Because to them, we are.

So I have learnt that sometimes we have to step back and look at what a person is saying and empathise with them.  You can’t change a person’s mind by yelling.  It’s better to listen with empathy and to try to see the reasons why a person has that idea.  Frightened and damaged people can say nasty things and personal growth rarely comes from someone screaming in your face that you are wrong.

The LGBTI community is a world-wide stage, with the broadest possible variety of people who share just one common goal.  Only we can’t seem to figure out what that is.  Perhaps if we can stop vilifying one another and just accept other people’s faults and fears with love, rather than hate, we can set an example for the planet.  We are in a position to bring hope.  There is at least one of us in every corner of the world.  We have the numbers and we have the infiltration in place.

Nick Lawrence

Photography: Alice Chapman
MUA: Loren Sadik

Transmen of WA was founded in 2012 to connect transgender males and other gender diverse individuals assigned female at birth, who live in Western Australia. Initially the group was exclusively a hidden Facebook page with three members. Now there are over 90 members, aged 12 to 60, utilising the page for support and information.

For more information, visit Transmen of WA’s WebsiteFacebook, or email [email protected]




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