Catholic school's acceptance gives transpeople hope
BEING allowed to wear a female uniform may have formed a very different high school experience for a Lismore transgender woman.
Vaylira Passionfruit, who now lives in Melbourne, has joined calls of praise for two students who catalysed change this week when Trinity Catholic College allowed them to wear uniforms aligned with their preferred gender.
"I am very proud of the students at Trinity for doing that especially considering that Catholic school is one of the most conservative schools in the Northern Rivers," Vaylira said.
"It shows the Northern Rivers is a very progressive area."
During her high school years, before the 18-year-old was able to start her transition, she said her public school forced her to wear the male uniform until year 10 and use the male bathrooms.
It wasn't until years 11 and 12 she was given permission her the partial female uniform - meaning she was allowed to wear the shirt but not the skirt.
"I feel like all of those years that I was in high school if I was able to live as a girl, if I was able to be Vaylira, if I was able to access hormone replacement therapy I would have a lot more happy memories," she said.
The 18-year-old's ultimate goal is to return to Lismore and create her cartoon series about the region's community.
"I believe putting my name out there and showing the world how it is is an important thing," she said.
Sadly, many transgender people like Rhys* cannot be themselves.
Four years ago after a life-long struggle with his gender identity, the 44-year-old made his transition from a woman to a man undergoing chest surgery and hormone replacement therapy.
Although his close family and friends know of his transformation, Rhys said he must keep the secret from his Lismore workplace, which is a national organisation.
He said it "breaks his heart" that his colleagues would "freak out" about his transition.
"I would absolutely love to go to work and be out, be free but I definitely know I won't be able to do that right now," Rhys said.
"I know I'd be pushed out, I'd probably have to be bullied out of work and that's unfortunate. The organisation has a lot to answer for."
As change stirs within the school system, Rhys hopes it may trigger changes in the workplace particularly in regional areas.
"By the time (the two Trinity students) are ready to hit the workforce, maybe things will change," he said.
"Fingers crossed that's what will happen then they won't end up in my situation."
But Vaylira is confident the next generation will continue to take progressive steps in supporting not just transpeople but the entire LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and intersex) community.
"With every coming generation in Northern Rivers, there is going to be a lot more acceptance for transpeople," she said.
"I believe that no one should have to suffer what we've all been through."
ACON Northern Rivers - health promotion organisation specialising in HIV prevention, HIV support and LGBTQI health.
Gender Centre - offers a wide range of services to people with gender issues, their partners, family members and friends.
Twenty10 - support, groups, education and referrals for LGBTQI people, their families and communities, including specialised youth support.
* Name changed to protect identity.