Jensen: Every way is okay
interview by isabella moore
Jensen is a 29 year old man who came to BTL via a shared interest in basketball. Growing up in Melbourne, Jensen was socialised as a girl, and now brings that experience to his understanding of trans* and feminist issues. He shares with us his perception of gender identity, and his impressions of the trans* inclusiveness of Australian society.
How has your transition taken place?
When I finished school, I started realising that I was attracted to girls, although at the time I thought I was gay. It was hard to comes to terms with, even though I knew my family would be supportive. I started hanging out in the gay community and found it really welcoming. It was very much ‘come as you are’.
Then when I started looking at other guys, wanting to be them, I thought that something else was up. I’d heard of transexuality but only a little about male to female. I had no real awareness of it.
I freaked out, and took a long time to come to terms with it. I felt a lot of shame, even though I come from quite a left/liberal family background. I had a really hard time with it. But over time I sought support, I saw a psychologist and joined a trans group, and I told my family.
Now I’ve booked top surgery. I’m saving up the money: I’ve started a fundraiser (https://www.youcaring.com/angel-gove-585867), and my Dad is going to lend me some money as well.
I feel much more comfortable now. I’ve been on testosterone for 9 months, and I feel much better mentally, like I’m on the right track. It’s a long process, it’s kind of like puberty.
Choosing my name was something I thought about for months. I went through different names. When I heard the name ‘Jensen’, I actually texted a differently spelling to my dad. And then he walked past a car and the model was this spelling.
What are the barriers that exist for trans* and gender diverse people to access medical procedures?
It’s really hard for children to access medical procedures. When they’re under 18, they have to go to court for permission, and it’s unlikely they’ll be allowed to have surgery. I didn’t know at that age so it wasn’t an issue for me, but there are children who do and who want to go on puberty blockers. It can be very distressing for transgender children to go through the wrong puberty, so it's critical for puberty blockers to be accessible to them.
Even knowing how to access medical procedures can be difficult. Based on the information I got from my psychologist, I was going to go through the public process, the gender clinic. They have a long waiting list, it would have taken a year. They also wanted me to write a letter about myself, which I just couldn’t do at the time.
Luckily my dad knew people in the medical field, and so through word of mouth I heard about other options. There’s the Northside Clinic, in Fitzroy and Prahran Market Clinic. They’re gay friendly, transfriendly, and that isn’t always the case. You can go there for hormonal injections, which a normal doctor can’t prescribe, you have to see an endocrinologist.
While the medical field is mostly transfriendly, I think there’s still some resistance to certain ways of thinking. Doctors aren’t always sympathetic to the fact that there are different ways of being trans. For example, when I first went on testosterone, it was something I really wanted, but I was also scared at the same time. I didn’t feel like that was recognised.
With all these specialists involved, the costs are huge. Even to get to surgery, you have to have been on private insurance for a year, you have to opt into psychiatric care, there’s a year long waiting list, and you’re out of pocket 60% no matter what happens. Phalloplasty recently became available in Australia and it costs between $50,000 and $70,000. Unless you’re working full time, you can’t afford it.
As an alternative a lot of people use prosthetics, packing, binding. Binders can be really expensive and hard to get, and can also cause long term health problems. There’s also not much research on the long term effects of hormonal injections or on surgery.
How can programs like Safe Schools help to better educate children about trans* issues?
It’s a problem in our society that even when you’re not talking about sex, people don’t like to talk about sexuality.
I think education should start really young. And not necessarily sex education, but education about emotion and identity. Like, this person has two mums, this person is a different gender. I think that would help to normalise all sorts of issues linked to sexuality, and help children to relate, to understand 'oh, there’s someone else like me'.
For older children and young people, the focus of sex education needs to shift. Traditionally sex education has been quite negative, focusing on pregnancy and STIs, and that sex is something done by men to women. It would be greatly beneficial to teach positive sex education, emphasising important issues such as teaching boys consent, and that that sex can be for pleasure and for women.
If young people are more comfortable thinking about and talking about sexuality, they may realise things about themselves earlier, and hopefully we can prevent them going through feelings of shame.
That’s why it’s so important to connect people, to share stories, to bring in class speakers, because children might be waiting for a role model that they identify with.
The suicide rate is incredibly high among trans* young people. We have to do something about this, and that’s where early intervention could help, especially better access to mental health services. People don’t talk enough about mental health, so initiatives like ‘R U OK Day’ could help to change that.
Have you found social media to be a helpful tool for accessing information and making connections?
I’m part of a few online communities like Reddit, Facebook groups, blogs. There’s a group called FTM Shed that has support meetings and social events (www.transshedboys.com). They’re a good way to connect with people and also a really good learning resource.
Without seeing and hearing about other people’s experiences, you might not know what’s available, or how to ask for certain services or procedures. And preparing for surgery, you can read about who’s gone to the same surgeon, the day by day process, the overall experience, so you know what to expect.
I think a lot has changed in that respect. In the past, if you were on your own, it was much harder to access information. It’s so helpful to have people to are happy to answer questions, to pass on their knowledge. I feel that I’m in a position to do that now where I couldn’t before, when I wasn’t as comfortable.
Recently, there’s been a lot more publicity about trans* people, people like Caitlin Jenner and Laverne Cox. I think Laverne Cox is a better role model than Caitlin Jenner, who has said anti-gay and anti-trans things in the past. At the same time, people have used Caitlin Jenner as a way to try and connect with me. I see that as a positive thing, that celebrities can help people to feel more comfortable talking about trans* issues. I’m happy to talk about it because I appreciate the place it comes from.
People have a lot of different opinions on trans* celebrities, and what’s said about trans* issues on social media, and on trans* activism generally. I know I’ve come to everything recently, and other people have done the hard yards.
From my perspective, the key thing is to realise that there are so many different way to be trans: you can be stealth, you can be an activist, you can pass if you want to. Some people aren’t on hormones, some are. Some people don’t get surgery because they don’t want to or can’t access it. Some people don’t change their name, some do. Every way is okay.
It’s important to go through your own steps and do what’s comfortable. It can be good to fit in, if you want to. Sometimes you need to do that to to find the right support. For me, that was joining the gay community. If I didn’t say, “yes I’m gay”, I wouldn’t have found that group and gotten to where I am.
Has your perspective of feminism changed?
While part of me wishes I was born a boy, I wouldn’t be the same person if I didn’t grow up as a girl. Our gender is constantly reinforced starting from birth and continuing into adulthood, which makes it difficult for trans* or gender non-conforming people. Having been socialised as a girl, it’s challenging to learn new roles, but it’s also been so educational.
When I was younger, I had an awareness of feminist issues, but I didn’t think about feminism as consciously as I do now. Later, as I became part of the gay community, I started having conversations, doing research, just thinking more about feminism.
And now, as a guy, I think I’m much more sensitive to women because I understand living as a woman. When I’m with guy friends, I notice that they’re not always mindful of that, they don’t check themselves.
As a girl, I had that fear about walking around at night. It’s sad, but girls often assume the worst. Now, because I’m conscious that girls feel that way, I’m more careful about how I act in those situations. Whereas a lot of guys think, “I’m not a bad guy, so why should I worry?”. Or it doesn’t even occur to them.
I know that there are other guys who transition feel the same, they’re more aware of how they come across to women, how they’re perceived, that they might have to interact a bit differently.
I’ve also found that some men treat me differently.
Recently, I was out with friends and a guy became really aggressive, and threatened to hit me. But then when someone told him I’d been a girl, he became apologetic. And there shouldn’t be a difference. It’s simple, just treat everyone with respect.
Your family responded very positively to your transition. Is there advice you would give to people whose families might not be so receptive?
Having read about other people’s experiences on forums like Reddit, I think good advice would be to make sure that you’re a stable situation financially, so you don’t have to rely on your family’s support. And have a back-up plan, like other family or friends, just in case. It seems that the chance of that happening is maybe more likely in the US, where people tend to more religious, or more conservative. But it’s still relevant in Australia.
I read a quote recently that I really liked, and I think applies everywhere. “Don’t be bigoted around your children. You never know, you might be talking about them.”
Do you find Australian society generally to be receptive of trans* people?
In relation to gender diverse health care, I think there’s a bit of work to go in terms of recognition, and providing support. But it’s changing. For example, a new centre just opened called Equinox. The number of youth groups and trans groups is growing too.
I think that in general, younger generations are more supportive, and that applies to most minorities. Whereas older people don’t always understand. When I came out as gay to my grandparents, they didn’t accept it, but because I had my parents support it didn’t really affect me.
Later, when I told my grandfather I was trans, he said “do what makes you happy”. So it may be just that when people are more conservative, they need more time to wrap their head around certain ideas, but they get it eventually. I think that it harder to educate older people. It would help to have more awareness and visibility, maybe there should be specific documents or advertising for older people.
I think you can see kind of a trickle effect, as younger people come through with more tolerant views. There’s even been a change from when I was growing up, when there was one gay person at my school. Now the whole environment is more supportive.
Are there any misconceptions or stereotypes about trans and gender diverse people that you think need to be addressed?
There are still some really extreme negative ideas, particularly in the US, where people equate being trans to bestiality or paedophelia. I don’t think that’s so much the case in Australia.
Here I think the issue is more the idea that no matter who someone is, it’s okay. There’s still this fear of the unknown, of people who are different. We just need more tolerance.