I'm Teddy and I use they/them or he/him pronouns and I identify as queer, non-binary and transmasculine. I'm living in Mpartnwe on Arrernte Country, Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory. I've been living out here for close to a decade. I originally started coming here because I was dating someone who was living here. I visited a few times. My relationship broke up but I had found a new one- I had fallen in love with the place.
I met Starlady who was living here at the time and was a Social Change Fashion and Hairdressing Practitioner. I'm a hairdresser by trade and when I met her, she asked me to work with her so we went to Warburton, a community on the Ngaanyatjarra lands, it’s one of the most remote communities on the continent. I started doing Social Change Fashion and Hairdressing with young people which is a form of community development where you use fashion and hairdressing as an engagement tool. Starlady and I are visibly queer which really increased visibility and access for people engaging with our program. We worked with Wilurarra Creative and would do hair, photography, have fashion parades - it's all about empowering communities with valuable skills and celebrating peoples' universal desire to have control over how they look. It was a successful program that is ongoing. I was out there for two years. During that time, I would go back to Meanjin (Brisbane) to see my family. On one of these trips, I started to pack up my belongings. I sold my car. I bought a 4WD and drove to Mparntwe.
Not long after arriving to Mparntwe, I got a job with one of the local Aboriginal Councils as a Community Development Coordinator and swiftly got involved with all sorts of amazing things- community organising, nature, creative stuff. We've got such a strong history of queer activism and queer community here, going back to the original Pine Gap Protests where there was a lot of woman-only peace camps and lesbian activism of the time. That's continued as a proud history in our community. I started to help organise events such as Alice Springs Pride Carnivale which is very unique. We worked with the local Indigenous radio station - CAAMA (Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association) - to undertake live broadcasts of Pride Carnivale, which really got queer representation from the region into remote communities. I also worked with Sisters and Brothers NT, which we are currently reinvigorating, which was a really successful initiative to raise queer and trans visibility, to educate organisations and advocate for greater inclusivity in the Territory lead by a bunch of really amazing Sistergirls and Brotherboys.
There is not a lot of access to gender affirming healthcare here and further, there's not even a lot of access to gender affirming resources and education despite the vast queer community. For a town of 30,000 we have a very strong, vibrant, queer community so it's something that's really lacking and always has been.
It got to a stage of my gender journey where I felt the need to access gender-affirming healthcare which coincided with my sister becoming a solo parent by choice so I returned to Meanjin for about 15 months. I worked at Open Doors Youth Service during that time, working with queer and gender diverse young people which was great. I also got to start hormones and have top surgery but it's an alienating experience having to leave your home and your community to undertake these things. My privilege is not lost on me either - to be able to afford to do this, to be able to know where to go and how to access the services I needed is a huge privilege. I can only speak from people's shared experiences but for First Nations peoples and Sistergirls and Brotherboys - having to move to the East Coast and leave behind all their family, friends and community can really tear away their support networks and be such a tough experience. It's so expensive to get in and out of Mparntwe- close to $1000 for return flights. People are geographically isolated and if you've grown up in a remote community, a more traditional place, it's turning your life upside down. That is what people have to do to access gender affirming care.
There's a group of us now that have started a Trans Action Group and we are doing a lot of advocacy and lobbying to increase knowledge around access to hormones, informed consent, and the aim is to get our own trans health clinic up and running here. There's one in Darwin that is a fly-in-fly-out service of doctors who come from around the continent. Being a 1500km, 2-3 day, drive or a $300 airfare each way, that's not realistically accessible for folk in and around Mparntwe. The Darwin service is also super booked out with people from the top end accessing it. We are working towards lobbying the government to fund a health service here so we can access trans healthcare. We are hopeful we'll have something up and running out of Mparntwe this year but it will take a lot of work.
Alongside that, there is ongoing activism and community organising that I am part of including The Intervention Roll Back Action Group and Mparntwe Mutual Aid which is going very strong at the moment due to covid. Sometimes things can feel overwhelming or like there is no possibility for change. Getting involved in community organising has really been a turning point for me in feeling empowered and connected with other people that are advocating for change.
At the moment I get called by someone at least once a week who wants me to chat with a trans person who may have just come out or needs some support around their gender journey. There are no funded services for this out here. We have some community organisations that try to be inclusive but they often call on trans community to give advice or support and often expect these to be free services. There's a point where people know they shouldn't have to do this for free. We know how well funded these services are, they can afford to pay for the expertise and lived experiences of our trans community. You know, asking gender diverse people who often have much poorer employment outcomes to do the work for free is not okay. Sadly, some of the barriers are no different to big cities in that a lot of these services are so inaccessible to people. If someone shows up at the door needing help, ideally, they should be able to access support but instead we make people jump through so many hoops before they'll even be seen by anyone.
There's no child and adolescent gender clinic out here - so for young people to access any puberty blockers or gender affirming healthcare - they would need to go to the East Coast. We know young people are feeling more and more empowered to come out at a younger age and we know that those young people have such better social, emotional and wellbeing outcomes if they can access the support they need early but it is not available here. It's sad.
In addition, as COVID hit out here recently, we also had the biggest rains recorded in 30 years. The railway line and road got cut. For four weeks we didn't have any food coming in. It came at the same time as people were being told to self-isolate and there is obviously a real discrepancy in wealth in this town. People with access to finances and resources went and bought up everything in the supermarkets so other people did not have any access to food. In many homes there was no food. Further entire households were required to isolate as people got sick, the impacts of which were amplified by overcrowding. We set up Mpartnwe Mutual Aid and started cooking fifty or so meals a day and delivering them to people’s homes. We have been providing a lot of practical support in community. We put posts on social media and managed to raise about $20,000 to help support and deposit money to people out bush and it was a successful campaign that about 20 of us worked on for the past two months. There was little to no media coverage of what was happening. There's still issues with highways being cut or police escorts required or bio-security zones in remote communities. The Federal Government changed all the restrictions and requirements just prior to this happening and it meant effectively they didn't have to supply any extra funding.
I decided to move back to Mparntwe after my short stint back in Meanjin because I felt as though I'd given Meanjin a red hot go but Mparntwe is home. I feel like this is where I belong. I love the community and the access to nature; it's such a beautiful place to live. You can walk down the street and hear eight different languages being spoken. The community here is strong and close, creative and fun. It’s a real privilege for me to be part of this community and to live on Arrernte Country.
What advice would you give a gender diverse young person living in a remote community or town?
There's this idea that "coming out" is really important. But you actually don't owe it to anyone to share that part of yourself. You don't have to feel this intense pressure to come out. You can wait until it's safe. You can wait until you're ready. That isn't being inauthentic - it's you choosing to keep parts of yourself private and that's totally okay. There's this idea that coming out it something you have to do, and you have to do it quickly. But I completely disagree with that. There are people around you, no matter where you are, no matter how remote you are, there are the queers and other gender diverse people- seek them out. Online (safely), in your community. Things will get better. You're allowed to do whatever you need to do to survive until you get older and have more autonomy and agency. You don’t owe your story or identity to anyone. We don't have to explain ourselves.