Tuesday, 14 October 2014 10:32

Sally Goldner, Executive Director, Transgender Victoria

For this profile, the Commission spoke to Executive Director of Transgender Victoria, Sally Goldner.

The Melbourne that Sally Goldner grew up in as a young person trying to navigate gender identity issues in the 1970s was a very different world to the Melbourne we know today.

At that time, transgender issues were, according to Sally, “just not on anyone’s radar.” So much so, that by the time she had turned 29 years old, Sally had only meet one person who identified as gay, and that was a friend of a friend.

It is little wonder that Sally described the first 29 years of her life as a “lonely, isolating and long road.”

From the age of nine, Sally began grappling with what she now can identify as gender identity issues.

“By the age of nine, the image I had for myself always involved something to do with becoming a woman or being turned into a woman. But at that age, of course I didn’t know what it meant.”

Sally spent all 13 years of her schooling at an all boys school, feeling that there must be “something wrong with me” because she just felt different. Sally wasn’t interested in the macho sporting and the competitive culture of that school and it lead to her being mercilessly verbally bullied by her class of 20 – 25 boys for most of years seven and eight, affecting her confidence and damaging her self-esteem.

After the torturous years of grade seven and eight, Sally’s journey did not get easier. Sally describes the next sixteen and a half years as the “empty years.”

“For 29 years I felt that there was something different about me, but I didn’t know what it was. Up until the mid 1990s, I had never met a single person like myself.”

After school, Sally went to university where she studied a Bachelor of Commerce and became an accountant, following the stable and secure career path that her parents wanted for her.

However, after working for five and a half years in the corporate sector, Sally decided to “pack it all in and travel”, and spend three months overseas in Canada, the US and England in 1994.

The trip would prove to be the “experience of a lifetime” as it left an opening for Sally to begin to address questions of gender identity, which Sally had buried for 29 years.

New Years Day 1995 was the first time Sally had ever told another person that she questioned her gender identity. In hindsight, that moment was “the equivalent of a crater blowing off a volcano.”

Upon her return to Melbourne in 1995, Sally tried to make sense of what she was feeling; however at that point she didn’t know what she was looking for.

Sally was referred to a psychiatrist, where Sally had the misfortune of being matched with a woman who had little understanding of gender identity issues. Instead of helping her understand her identity, the experience caused Sally “to go downhill a long way.”

By good luck, Sally tracked down a psychologist who had just completed her Masters in sexuality and gender. It was a move that would prove to be a major turning point of Sally’s life.

On Thursday 27 April 1995, Sally met with the psychologist who after 20 mins explained transgender to Sally.

At the age of 29, and after almost three decades of feeling like there was something wrong with her, this was the first time that Sally had ever heard the word transgender and understood what it meant.

Sally recalls driving away from that first appointment and having to pull her car over because she was completely overwhelmed as everything started to fall into place and make sense.

At that point Sally thought, “well, I went a long way down going against this, what would happen if I went with it?”

Without realising it at the time, this was the moment Sally had finally begun to accept herself.

Sally remembers waking up two days after that appointment, feeling much calmer than she had in many years. For the first time, Sally had a sense of really beginning to live, “as opposed to just existing.”

After this turning point, Sally joined a support group called Seahorse Club of Victoria, a social and support group for Victoria’s transgender community, where she went on to become the organisation’s treasurer.

For the first time, Sally met like-minded people and started to go out and enjoy doing the sorts of things that she actually enjoyed doing - as opposed to what she thought she should be doing, like going to the footy and drinking beer.

Of course, there was no silver bullet. After living a life that didn’t truly feel like her own for 29 years, it took a long time for the “layers of fog” to lift.

As well as grappling with her gender identify, in 1997 Sally began to question her sexual identity, realising she was attracted to more than one gender.

In early 1998 Sally recognised the need to live full time as female. The last time Sally identified as male was July 1998 when she attended a family occasion, doing her best to “pretend she was male”. However, after this evening she recognised that the only way to stop constantly fighting within herself was to transition, and she has never thought of herself as male since.

At that point, transgender issues were still very much hidden away and trans discrimination was pervasive. 1999 saw the beginning of a reform movement on transgender issues that stemmed from the need to establish an advocacy body.

This eventually led to the formation of Transgender Victoria, of which Sally is now the Executive Director.

The first big development on transgender issues came in early 2000, just after the then Labor government under Premier Steve Bracks announced a move to include gender identity and sexual orientation in the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 1995. Despite loud but numerically limited opposition, the amendments to the legislation were passed in what was a significant step towards addressing some of the discrimination faced by Melbourne’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.

In 2009 Sally decided that she needed to concentre her efforts on GLBTI advocacy full time, a career move that would lead to Sally being voted one of Melbourne’s 100 most influential people in 2011.

In 2010 Sally played an active role in the formation of Bisexual Alliance Victoria. Whereas other people had previously provided Sally with support, Sally was now in a position to offer that experience to help Victoria’s bisexual community.

Sally credits the launch of the No To Homophobia campaign and Beyond Blue’s Left Hand campaign in 2012 as a turning point in the wider communities awareness of gender and sexual identity issues. Since that time, demand for transgender training, speaking and education that has “gone through the roof.”

Sally credits having the World Aids Conference in Melbourne earlier this year as another tipping point for generating awareness of GLBTI issues.

“What the World Aids Conference bought home for me is that we are in a reasonable position here in Victoria and in Australia as far as GLBTI issues, rights and general freedoms go, and I feel like we can step up and do something for other communities in relation to that.”

“I feel like we’re on the right road, we just have to keep going.”

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