Becoming female: Chaye's transition
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With almost half of transgender young people attempting suicide, we need to be telling more stories like Chaye's.
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Becoming female: Chaye's transition

by Daniel Sleiman See Profile
Sydney NSW, Australia
29th Mar 2019
Becoming female: Chaye's transition

As a 15-year-old, Chaye Hartwell remembers watching the TV show Ugly Betty and thinking for the first time it was possible to go instantaneously from being a boy to being a girl. Chaye began her transition in January 2018, and is currently counting the days until her gender confirming surgery. She is one of many Australians who identify as being transgender or gender diverse (TGD). According to the 2016 Australian census, over 7,000 people identified as being neither cis female or cis male. Of that number 13 percent identified as trans male or trans female and 35 percent identified as non-binary or gender diverse. 

The Gender Centre in Sydney sees firsthand some of the challenges facing TGD young people and trans families. According to its latest annual report, almost half of TGD young people have attempted suicide and more than 60 percent feel isolated or suffer from depression. The Gender Centre began its work in the 1980’s, initially as an inner city collective to help house TGD people because of the high levels of violence and discrimination they faced . 

For Chaye, however, discrimination hasn’t been a big issue. 

“I’ve been lucky. I would to tell people that I was trans but I didn’t present as trans and that made such a difference. People were supportive. I could go into a shop still looking like a guy but wanting to buy female underwear for example and I was always shocked on how receptive people were in actually helping me.”

When asked about sexuality and dating, Chaye is open about why she wants to transition but admits that for some men there is a certain awkwardness that has resulted in her not forming many relationships. 

“For me, a lot of my transition is about one day being able to have sex as a female. I am upfront. Every profile of mine says something to that effect [being trans]. My experience is about being honest and disclosing everything all the time to prevent backlash.”

For many TGD people, the process of transitioning is fraught with experiences of discrimination, misunderstanding and above all, stigma. 

“Transitioning can be a traumatic experience especially for young people, but also for families” explains Eloise Brooke from the Gender Centre. According to Ms. Brooke, the Gender Centre assists over 120 families every year. These families are usually referred to the Centre through schools.

“We do see a lot of families and advise schools. We aren’t gender whisperers, we aren’t telling families what their children are. We help facilitate the understanding between that child and their family. We know that of those families about 20 percent are dealing with some form of domestic violence. Domestic violence is a huge a problem in TGD families,” says Ms. Brooke. 

For Chaye, by the time she began her transition, her family was already fragmented and her parents were going through divorce. 

“Mum was very supportive but it didn’t feel like she understood it. Now she understands and supports it. My sister is a supporter from a distance, we catch up every 2 months.

“The biggest support in my life was my fiancé at the time. She technically isn’t family but she definitely is my family. When I came out to her, we had to decide what we were going to do in terms of our relationship. It brought up a host of things about my sexuality and her sexuality.”

One of the major challenges are the costs associated with transitioning. The expense of gender confirming surgery, cosmetic alterations or medical and health needs can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. 

“There are only two insurance companies that I am aware of that cover gender reassignment surgery and gender confirming surgeries like facial and voice surgery,” says Chaye. 

“Even with coverage you still have huge out of pocket bill to pay the surgeon. I’m spending 14K of my superannuation, all my life savings are gone for my surgery. And if I didn’t have health insurance it woulc be costing about 40K. When you think about most trans people, if they are not supported by their parents and they come out in their mid-20’s, they are not earning the kind of money to save up 40K or even 10 or 15.”

For TGD people the experience of transitioning can differ greatly from person to person. For Chaye, she has always been drawn to lingerie adds and her ambition is to become a female lingerie model. But most of all, Chaye just wants to live as a woman. 

“It’s so much for me about my body and becoming and having a female body, taking female hormones, having female genitalia, having a female voice, and just living life as a woman. It makes me happy, it makes me more relaxed, calmer and a better person to be around. I’d rather be a happy and a better person than a suppressed deluded liar who is trying to fool everyone including themselves that they are a male.” 

chaye2
Pictured: Chaye Hartwell.

Find out more about The Gender Centre and follow Chaye's transition.

The Gender Centre Chaye's transition
Daniel Sleiman

About Daniel Sleiman

Daniel is a freelance writer and content producer who is passionate about giving a voice to the voiceless and those in our society who have been marginalised. He has a strong interest in social justice and loves to tell stories. For Daniel, stories can be powerful, hard-hitting, and a call for change.

More from Daniel Sleiman

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Minority Voices
Sydney NSW, Australia
29th March 2019

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