Tuesday, 28 February 2006

To (GL)B or Not to (GL)B

My first week at ANU - the Australian National University.

A bit of background. The ANU isn't the oldest Uni in Australia (That's Sydney Uni, where I got my BSc). It's not even the best in the field I'm in, that's probably RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, a sort of Oz MIT).

But it is the most prestigious academic institution in the country, well-funded (!) and I have to say, positively luxurious compared to many places I've studied in or taught at.

So, first week, lots of admin stuff, finding out where things are. Including the Equity and Diversity Unit. You've got to remember, I'm still at a very early stage of transition, HRT for 6 months etc.

I rocked on up there - it was just across the road from the Faculty of Engineering and InfoTech , where I have my office in the Department of Computer Science - and did a small recon. After being given a small introduction by the head of the unit, he was most surprised and got very excited when I told him I was TS. He gave me a data pack on the Ally programme.

Ally ProgramI don't know if I qualify though. I'm somewhat homophobic (and struggle against that), have very little knowledge of GLB issues, and am revoltingly straight-laced, conservative, and generally the type of person who needs re-education by the unit, not someone who's a GLBTIQ advocate! No, I'd never dream of discriminating against anyone on the grounds of GLB, race, or Religious status, but even TVs are just so different, I don't know what advice I could give.

Part of the duties include activism in the GLBITQ area. The data pack assumed the "Ally" was straight, non-TS and non-Intersexed, but the usual Lefty fanatically anti-discriminatory academic. I didn't fit the profile, the idea of being a "supportive fellow-traveller" in a Gay Pride parade is most definitely Not Zoe Brain.

But it's the only way I can help young TS boys and girls. Odds are that in a student body of 10,000, there's at least a handful, and probably hundreds of CD'ers and TVs as well. Maybe a hundred who are Intersexed. And although I'm homophobic, I'm even more discrimationphobic. I just feel totally unqualified to help GLBs. I mean, my own sexuality at the moment is best described as "confused". Talk about the blind leading the blind...

First I have to convince the E&D unit that being "closeted" isn't the same as "stealthed", that many TS people just want to blend into heteronormative society, something that the unit considers anathema. How do I explain that many TS girls' fondest wish is just to be considered "normal lesbians" rather than "gay male transvestites"? Especially when the unit is committed to the proposition that there's nothing unusual about being a gay male transvestite, and combatting the attitude that anyone might not desire to be one. That the discrimination faced by GLBs is nothing compared to the transphobia experienced by TS's.

Then there's the matter of losing Stealth. Another part of the duties of an Ally is to festoon your office with large posters proudly proclaiming your support of the great GLBTIQ alliance.

Not exactly condusive to Stealth, even semi-Stealth. A bit of a dead giveaway, unless you're so passable that people think you're just a normal GLB or straight fellow-traveller.

I'd fit in like a Pork chop in a Synagogue. It's not me, and I don't want it to be.

But... if I can help just one TS girl or boy... or show some understanding of the Intersexed students that the unit obviously hasn't got a clue about... how can I not?

I can show that you don't have to be a Leftie, that you can even be mildly homophobic, and still be against discrimination in all its forms. That even a right-wing NeoCon Death Bitch can be TS, that we're as varied as everyone else... maybe I can show an example of true diversity, one that other engineers and members of the hard science groups can be comfy with, rather than the usual post-modernist anti-rationalists that infest the humanities, and who have been the only ones that were willing to help before now.

I'd be most uncomfortable in this position, but again, what can I do? I can't possibly give up a unique opportunity to help, that would make me far more than just uncomfortable. Of course, I have my own problems, I'm just starting my own transition, and oh yes, doing a PhD too, I have enough on my plate just being a parent.

But there were two things that happened that rather comforted me vis-a-vis the Stealth issue. Apart from the fact that I'm sure no-one in the faculty gives a hoot whether I'm TS, GLB, or an Alien Infiltrator from the Planet Arous.

One was the unmistakeable body language of the Unit head. He was not so much shocked as incredibly enthusiastic that here in front of him was a Genooine Bedooine Trans-Sexual, in the flesh, the first he'd ever seen (and been aware of, anyway). One who he hadn't suspected was TS for a second when she came in. He had no idea how many there were on Campus, no-one had ever asked that question before. Very Validating for him - and for the Unit, which coincidentally is under review at the moment.

Then there was a colleague, a member of staff. She'd been told by Shayne, one of the staff members who'd known me for over 20 years that an ex-colleague of his, Zoe Brain, was transitioning. She'd even been told that there was a possibility that this person was going to be studying a PhD at the ANU. But it was only when we were together in Shayne's office, discussing tutoring arrangements, and Shayne accidentally referred to me as "he" TWICE (grrrr), that the penny dropped. She just hadn't connected new PhD student Zoe with transsexual Zoe.

I can't blame Shayne. He's known me as for over 20 years, old habits are hard to break, he's still new at this, and is trying his hardest.

As for her - well, it was Girl talk, she opened up enough to me to admit what happened as soon as I opened up enough to her to reveal that I was TS. She's co-ordinating the tutorials, and I didn't want to disadvantage students by being a distraction. She had "Need to Know" if you like.

So it looks as if I blend, not just with my 45+ year old girlfriends, but even amongst the 18-to-25's that make up the undergrads and postgrads, and the 30-something staff nembers.

At the great monthly gabfest of all the Postgrads in the DCS (Department of Computer Science) I caused a few raised eyebrows and jaws to drop. But only when I mentioned I'd written my first FORTRAN in 1967, they took me as being in my mid to late 30's.

I wonder how much evidence I'm going to have to get before I start believing this? I guess that in Canberra, no-one has anything remotely resembling Transdar. They see what they expect to see, even when they've been told the situation, it just doesn't click.

It has to be poetic justice, a rabid neocon and homophobe like me having to carry the banner for GLBITQ equality. But as a conservative, I believe strongly in the concepts of Duty and personal responsibility, and much as I hate to say it, I'm the only person who can help, it's my duty.


Karma's biting me in the, um , fundament, good and proper. Hilarious, really.

No comments: