Cadance Bell is an Aussie transgender writer and filmmaker. Her documentary film The Rainbow Passage, a co-production with Screen Australia, airs next year on Channel Ten. The film, which Cady also directed, follows her and her wiggly bottomed fiance Amanda across a year in their gender transitions. Cady loves Pokemon Go, short walks to the fridge and the swell challenges of girlifying. Except not having pockets anymore. She really misses pockets.

The ABCs of social contagion

The ABCs of social contagion

This week I discovered I was a member of a gang. 

It was news to me, though it sounded pretty badass, being in a gang. The alphabet gang, sometimes called the acronym mafia, is a term used by conservative commentators to describe people in the LGTBQIA+ community. As a transgender woman with a female fiancee I’m at least two of those letters. Sometimes three! It still brings me strange and giddy joy using the alphabet in these words: “as a transgender woman”.

This week The Australian newspaper used letters for a different purpose: to posit transgender teenagers were part of a global contagion. The paper elicited the coronavirus, using spectacular phrases like “another epidemic”, “rapid rise” and “explosion”. When the article dropped, across the pond the Academy Awards was handing out prizes for best drama and with that degree of hyperbole it’s a shame The Australian missed out.

Words matter. The language we use to describe geopolitical issues have far reaching ramifications. The Australian used the words of a man no stranger to controversy towards the alphabet gang; Professor Patrick Parkinson, Academic Dean and Head of Queensland University’s School of Law. You might remember him for his comments last year comparing trans teens to people with eating disorders. You might also remember that he is not head of university medicine.

In their longbow friend News Limited have again espoused limited news. Their commentary is akin to hate speech because it fails the subshite test. That is, if you substituted “transgender teens” for any other vulnerable group, would it still sound like targetted bullshit? Is a rise in say, ethnic groups, women’s rights or disability support an epidemic? Could the increase in gay marriages said to be of coronaviral proportions?

Professor Parkinson assumes that transgender people are a new phenomenon. He mistakes evolution for danger, fearing that an increase in teenagers seeking treatment for gender dysphoria is something to be alarmed about. Trans people have always existed, because humans have long suffered gender dysphoria. It’s a horrible affliction – as though your very existence is as a chord struck wrong, the feeling of missing a step your life entire. 

My trans friends and I often ruminate on the years we lost when we were “egged” – stuck in our denial shells, afraid to accept ourselves and tackle our dysphoria with medicine. Hating your assigned gender takes so much effort and energy that your financial, social and political mobility suffers. Denying teenagers the opportunity to affirm their gender is to rob them of a peace in their being, it risks hobbling them and tainting their future.

What has changed in the battle against gender dysphoria is two fold. First; treatment exists and it is advancing. You don’t have to feel like your body is alien to you, talk to your doctor. Secondly, the advanced world is becoming increasingly supportive of transgender people socially. In the just over two years I’ve been transitioning, I’ve had only two people call me out in public – both of them early into my transition and both of them twitchy ne’er-do-wells in Parramatta. While it might keep conservatives up at night, the wider Australian community still believes in the fair go, in getting on with life. Got gender dysphoria? Treat it. This is Australia after all. Needs doing? Gets done.

Trans teenagers, their friends and families aren’t spreading a social disorder, they’re spreading hope. That’s what’s contagious. They are proud. They’re letting their gender whispers become a gender roar. They have the temerity to say “I am” and no longer genuflect to antiquated philistines. There is nothing more powerful than that which knows what it is and on that score – the brilliant LGTBQIA+ people of today have Mr Parkinson and his cranky chums at News Limited running scared, covering their faces, recoiling and terrified that they too might catch the alphabet.

There will always be space in our gang for more enlightened individuals. It’s as easy as A.B.C. Membership is free, we meet everywhere and always. There is no dress code. Though I’m thinking it would be killer if we all got matching jackets.

Spread the word.

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