25 March 2024

Feeling at sea around gender diversity? A team of friendly Wollongong mums are here to help

| Zoe Cartwright
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Need some help when it comes to gender diversity?

Need some help when it comes to gender diversity? Ask Mum. Photo: Wollongong City Council.

Do you feel like you just can’t manage to say the right thing when it comes to gender diversity? Would you like to learn more, but you’re scared of putting your foot in it?

Or maybe you’re a parent feeling ill-equipped to support your child? Whatever the reason, if you’re keen to learn more about transgender and gender diverse people, get to Wollongong City Library on Thursday 21 March.

For the second year running, Wollongong City Libraries is hosting a panel discussion aimed at sharing information about the lived experience of transgender and gender diverse people in our community.

Based on the ABC TV show You Can’t Ask That, the discussion You Can’t Ask That, ‘Ask My Mum’ features a panel of mothers and grandmothers sharing their personal experiences supporting a transgender or gender diverse loved one.

Panelist Lisa has helped support families of gender diverse children for 14 years, and says she’s been amazed at how far public opinion has come in that time.

“Things have changed dramatically for the better,” she said.

“It’s an open conversation now, with facts and data, not fear and ignorance shared behind closed doors.”

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She says events like Ask My Mum are an opportunity for people to learn more in a supportive environment, without putting someone on the spot.

She said the event was designed to be a gentle way to share real-life experiences.

“Trans folks are just folks, and nothing to be frightened of,” she said.

“People will often ask inappropriate questions of trans people and their families, usually about genitals. I think it’s because their curiosity leaps ahead of them.

“Having a more relaxed environment to ask awkward questions, and be gently told if something is inappropriate, and why, helps develop that understanding.”

It hasn’t, however, come quite far enough.

Lisa asked that her last name not be used in this article, as she and her family have been attacked and trolled in the past due to her involvement in advocating for the families of trans people.

She said even well-meaning people often had a lot of subconscious stereotypes to overcome.

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“People say, ‘Wow, you walked in and you looked so normal,'” she said.

“I don’t know how they think we’re going to look, we’re just everyday people raising our kids.

“If my kids were diabetic I’d get on board and learn about it and accommodate it, and this is no different, it just has this ridiculous stigma around it.”

It’s a conversation that can save lives.

Trans young people are about twice as likely as cis gender young people to make a suicide attempt, according to recent research from La Trobe University in Melbourne.

Lisa said having at least one supportive parent could halve that risk – and one of the best ways to be supportive was to be well informed.

Lisa said attendees at previous panels had included plenty of loving parents and family members who needed support.

“We often get quite a few parents who have just heard the news their child is gender diverse, and it can be helpful to hear stories from people who are a few years in,” she said.

“We’ve found rejecting parents are unusual – most parents are afraid their child will be beaten to death.

“They’re concerned about what life will be like for their child, how to manage the everyday things like keeping their child in school, how to deal with sporting bodies, things like that.”

Attendees may submit questions ahead of time for the panelists to respond to as part of the event’s focus of supporting allies to develop a deeper understanding of the transgender or gender diverse experience.

While other people’s genitalia isn’t usually one’s business, Lisa did have a recommendation for enquiring minds.

“I went to the Mona gallery in Tasmania years ago, and they have a wall of casts of different people’s vaginas,” she said.

“I had no idea there was so much variation – and there’s so much variation in people’s sexuality and gender presentation.”

To purchase a ticket to Ask My Mum at Wollongong City Library on Thursday 21 March head to You Can’t Ask That, Ask My Mum! – Wollongong Library Tickets, Thu 21/03/2024 at 6 pm | eventbrite

If you or someone you know needs help, you can contact:
Lifeline’s 24-hour crisis support line – 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800 or kidshelpline.com.au
MensLine Australia – 1300 789 978.

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