I work as a GP at Student Health and have been privileged to meet an incredible, stimulating, and diverse range of students—people from all backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities. I have also met a number of people who are gender diverse, who don’t identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. I can’t claim to truly understand what life must be like for anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable with the expectations of a heteronormative society. But I can imagine, and have heard directly, that it can be very isolating. Feeling poorly understood must be a battle, but we can take some steps to ensure we are moving toward a truly accepting and supportive community:
- Be kind and open-minded. Be mindful of your attitudes concerning people with gender nonconforming appearance or behavior, and encourage a community of acceptance. In the Youth 2012 study 17 per cent of secondary school students interviewed who identified as “transgender” were bullied at least once a week. Over half were afraid that someone at school might hurt them. As a country that prides itself on its gay, lesbian, and women’s rights history, we have a long way to go in terms of normalizing and accepting gender diversity.
- Take time to think and learn about people with gender diversity. If you don’t know how to address someone, ask and they will let you know if he, she, or they is the pronoun they would prefer. It’s polite, like asking someone’s name when you’re introduced.
- Be proactive. For the gender diverse community, there are simple, practical things that could be done to promote inclusivity, such as increasing the number of unisex toilets on campus, or enabling people to put their preferred gender on their identity card. Speaking out and advocating for these initiatives should be easy for us all.
- Be supportive. There are high levels of self-harm, depression, and suicide amongst gender diverse youth. It is more difficult for them to access appropriate funded health care and support. We need to improve access to, and upskill and resource, the health sector so that the current barriers don’t exist. On an individual level being there for someone, offering to talk if you’re concerned about their well-being, or pointing them toward counselling or support services at Vic could make all the difference.
For health care or counselling on campus visit Mauri Ora. For information, local support, and resources, visit UniQ (https://www.facebook.com/uniq.victoria.9) or Tranzform (www.tranzform.org.nz).