Time for a transgender education, NZ

Last updated 21:20 06/01/2016
Scout Barbour-Evans

Being transgender both in New Zealand and around the world is a real experience, says Scout Barbour-Evans.

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Being transgender both in New Zealand and around the world is a real experience, I'll give it that.

My experience is always different to that of my friends or partner.

People usually just look at me and assume I'm a butch lesbian, call me by she/her pronouns.

If I'm feeling brave enough, I'll drop in a quick and pointed "yeah nah, I'm not a girl", if I'm not, I have to let it slide.

I don't feel brave enough very often.

*Transgender woman says she was detained, humiliated over body 'anomaly'
*'2015 has shown transgender acceptance is coming'
*My transition from female to male  

I've had too many people tell me I'm disgusting or don't deserve to live for me to feel like I can make a big deal out of it.

Every time I have to come out to someone as transgender, I'm suddenly expected to be the Great New Zealand LGBTQI Dictionary of 2016.

It's actually exhausting, y'know, I ask someone quietly to use my correct pronouns (singular they/them/theirs), and suddenly there's a whole room of people that think they're entitled to a complete university style lecture on Sex and Gender Identity 101.

This one time I was in the back of a police car, outside Dunedin Hospital in acute psychiatric crisis and waiting to see the emergency psychiatric team, very sedated because I'd just taken my medication and an officer practically demanded the full explanation right then and there.

For all the complaints that everyone's addicted to technology, New Zealand isn't very good at using Google.

So you can imagine I was pretty disappointed and exasperated when I read the comments on Stuff's article about airport safety and transgender people being singled out at Customs.

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For starters, the "genital prosthetic" Nicole Hasham was talking about was something called a packer. This is a solid rubber prosthetic penis. They are small and are not hollow, and act so that female-to-male or non-binary people can "pass" a little easier in their day-to-day life.

They also help to alleviate this little thing called gender dysphoria, which is essentially where a transgender person experiences a significant level of distress as their assigned sex and identifies as another gender that they feel much more comfortable in.

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When people go through full-body scanners at Customs, the Customs official at the computer has to assume their gender and press the button they think is appropriate.

So this staff member can glance at a person, decide if they are male or female, and the person will be scanned as this, irrespective of the gender on a person's passport.

If they select female, and a female presenting or an AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth) transgender person walks through, the machine expects to see no bulge in their pants, and breasts. If a machine sees a penis, that is considered an anomaly, and is grounds for a search.

This arbitrary binary system in full-body scanners not only causes unnecessary distress and humiliation in transgender people, but in intersex people too, who have sex characteristics and chromosomes that are not definitively male or female. There is no button for people who don't fit the Western gender binary.

Myself? I'm non-binary, and my passport has an X on it instead of an F or an M.

Scout Barbour-Evans' passport

I bind my chest, I wear a packer on days where it feels right, and I'm waiting for my referral to go through to an endocrinologist for me to start a low dose of Testosterone.

One day when New Zealand has a gender reassignment surgeon again, I'm planning on getting top surgery, or a double mastectomy.

I'm doing all this because it has greatly lessened my degree of mental illness and distress. It is finally making 
me feel comfortable in my skin, after 21 long, painful and confusing years.

I recently travelled to Brisbane, Australia, to visit my friends and whanau. On entry to Australia, my passport didn't register in the self-screening booths. I knew this would happen and pointedly asked a Customs official when my passport would start doing the same thing everyone else's passports would do, and she was surprised they didn't already.

Australia has allowed people to have an X on their passports since 2003, but their passport screening machines don't recognise it. On exit from the country, I held back from wearing my chest binder and packer, just in case I got unwanted attention for it.

I got through Customs without a hitch, and promptly had a panic attack in the departures lounge because my body felt and looked so wrong. Going through Customs for me has turned into a game of "what does Scout want to panic about today?".

While aircraft safety has become a major political sticking point around the world, the systems designed to keep us safe are drastically off point, to say the least.

So finally, to everyone in the comments section on Stuff at the moment, who are telling myself and other transgender people to "just get over it" - do you regularly have to let Customs staff touch your genitals without your enthusiastic consent before you can board a plane?


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