The real damage of mocking transgender people
BEN Westria* blushes as he tells me that at times in his life, he likes to represent himself as a woman. His embarrassment is curious. And sad.
Ben's female identity is no secret to me. His email was sent in her name (from his address). She is part of the reason I have gone to see him.
But Ben often feels embarrassed when he steps into her shoes. That is the other part of the reason that I have gone to see him.
As a female, he has felt like he has been the butt of hurtful jokes and snide comments to the point where he found a trip to the supermarket traumatic.
"They know me and they used to make fun of me and laugh at me," Ben says. "They were looking at me and laughing at me. That's what most people do."
Ben was diagnosed as transgender five years ago. The Sunshine Coast 47-year-old lives a life of conflict and pain.
He struggles with who he is, not completely comfortable with the diagnosis, not completely comfortable being him, and made to feel uncomfortable about being her.
He says his attempt to seek redress from the supermarket proved fruitless.
"I confronted the young woman and asked her what she found to be so funny. She said, 'I'm not laughing at you'," he says. "Like everybody says."
"The manager came down and had a talk to me. I came home and he rang me up and told me not to come back. He told me I was banned and not to come back."
Ben says he lodged a complaint with the Federal Human Rights Commission over the ban but it was unable to act because the store refused to participate in proceedings.
He says he has made complaints to the Commissioner about 14 businesses on the Coast where he feels the treatment by staff has been embarrassing and demeaning. "They just laugh at you, make fun of you. It's discrimination, vilification."
"It's not very nice to have someone laugh at you and make fun of you."
Ben's troubles go back to when his father died when he was 10. His mother began "playing the field" and he was often left at home alone for long periods. "I used to go and get a dress from her wardrobe and hold on to it and cry myself to sleep."
He believes he dresses as a woman as a coping mechanism. "I think I've got the wrong diagnosis. I think when I can't cope, that's what I do. It relaxes me."
After he was diagnosed as transgender, Ben took hormone drugs to help his body develop female characteristics.
But he has found an additional drug prescribed by a new doctor has reduced his desire to dress as a woman.
As a result of that, and the hurtful responses he has received to him as a woman, he has decided to stick to being Ben for the time being
"I don't want to be transgender any more. The discrimination is too unfair. You wouldn't believe it. If I weighed everything up, I'd probably identify as a male."
However, he is still obviously divided about his decision. "It's hard. I still like the shoes," he says, managing a smile.
Ben's decision to try to live life as a man is also motivated by the isolation of being transgender.
"If you're going to be transgender, you're going to be lonely for the rest of your life. I don't' want to be lonely. I'm not interested in males, I'm interested in females but that (sort of relationship) won't happen if you're transgender."
Ben lives with his ex-wife and their school-age son, who is more open to Ben's womanly ways than many of the adults around him.
"He says, 'Dad, I don't care what they think'," Ben says.
For the time being, Ben asks for nothing except people's polite acceptance of him, whoever he is, and other transgender people.
"Be mindful. Mindful of people who are different. ''
* Ben Westria has been used instead of the subject's real name at his request to protect him and his family from further vilification.
WHEN YOU NEED HELP
For transgender support:
The Australian Transgender Support Association of QLD (ATSAQ), http://www.atsaq.com/new-g-clinic.html
Open Doors Youth Service, http://www.opendoors.net.au
Seahorse Society of Queensland, http://seahorseqld.atspace.org