Geelong played host to a national forum on intersex, trans and gender-diverse young people in the healthcare system last week, with health professionals from across the country coming together to learn about the experiences of some of the country’s most marginalised people.
Over two days, doctors, mental health and social workers, politicians and advocates heard directly from intersex, trans and gender-diverse young people about the impacts of this widespread and dangerous knowledge gap in the healthcare industry.
President of trans and gender diverse youth organisation Ygender Cannon O’Saurus sat on a panel of five young people to talk about his experiences.
“For transgender youth there’s a huge over-representation in mental health issues and suicides that are very negative, and the help is just not there; it’s not targeted at the population,” O’Saurus told the Star Observer.
He said experiences trans, intersex and gender-diverse young people had with doctors could be profoundly damaging.
“Going to the doctor, it takes a lot of courage to approach a stranger and tell them something very personal like you’re thinking of transitioning, and to have them say, ‘No, you don’t want to do that,’ or ‘Why would you want to do that, you’re such a pretty girl’,” O’Saurus said.
“Society really values the medical profession and their words can be very influential on people, in a negative way or in a positive way…so when they’re dismissing your experience or telling you you don’t want to do that it’s from a place of authority.”
The forum came out of Gasp, a project from the City of Geelong to support same-sex attracted, intersex and gender-diverse young people in the area. Gasp team leader Susanne Prosser said the forum grew from a much smaller idea.
“It evolved from being a forum for people in Geelong to being nation-wide,” Prosser told the Star Observer.
“What we’re wanting to do is create care pathways for young people. So that means having some GPs and psychologists and social workers that we know we can safely refer a young person to, where we know they’re going to be treated without prejudice or discrimination.”
She said attendees were open to engaging with the issues, explaining she and other organisers were advocating for a national working group on these issues.
Transgender Victoria Executive Director Sally Goldner served as emcee at the forum, and told the Star Observer she saw a paradigm shift amongst health professionals realising how damaging current approaches to healthcare can be for young people.
“Now it feels like we’ve got some really solid ideas as to how we can go forward, very practical ideas. Sure, we’d like to wave a magic wand and educate every health professional and get rid of binary assumptions, but that’s going to take some time,” Goldner said.
Many attendees spoke specifically about the impact of learning about the experiences of young intersex people.
Vice-president of Organisation Intersex International (OII) Australia Tony Briffa told the Star Observer medical professionals at the forum were surprised at some of the stories.
“A number of the forum attendees where surprised with the differences between intersex and trans issues, and that intersex children are still being treated under an old-fashioned, paternalistic and discredited medical model,” Briffa said.
Despite this gap in understanding, Briffa was optimistic about for what might come out of the forum.
“I hope it will lead to an ongoing dialogue about the health, welfare and human rights needs of our community and that the next generation of intersex people do not experience the systemic abuse we’ve been experiencing for decades,” Briffa said.