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The Plight of being Transgender in NZ

Fri 22 Feb 2013 In: True Stories View at Wayback View at NDHA

  The year was 1963; I was looking to experience what the world beyond the Coronation street lifestyle the country of my birth had to offer. One day I read that New Zealand was seeking migrants, not only that, they would pay most of the travel costs to get to a country 12,000 miles away on the other side of the world. Living in a country where the winters were very bleak the air appallingly foul (no clean air act at that time), the prospect of a clean, green country was very appealing. Also there was the closeness of the South Seas islands and of course Australia almost in the back yard. Beyond all that was the opportunity to travel for 6 weeks on what was to me a holiday like no other on a luxury liner to get there, and let’s not forget the experience of the ports of call at some exotic and not so exotic places. My mind thought, hey I am only 22 and this place has so much potential why not give it a go. So I did, arriving in 1964 to a place so different from home, and one so different to today. The people were so unbelievably friendly and helpful, strangely even the new migrants were friendly too, it was as if the process of moving to a new world changed them also. This was a time when people went out to the shops they did not bother to lock up their houses, trust seemed so unbelievingly naive, yet that was the way it was. It was if I had arrived in utopia, the weather fantastic, there was plenty of work and the wages were good, what more could one ask. Some of the qualities one had in the old country were missing though, black and white television with one channel had just started and to buy a car was not possible unless you already had one, or you had sufficient funds overseas to pay for the import of a new one. Yes there were indeed some shortcomings, but life was still good. Gradually it seemed, over the years as more immigrants arrived, this utopia slowly changed, houses became locked up fortresses and the fences went up, people became distant to one another and trust no longer the order of the day. Over time, each day seemed more and more to be consumed with negative reactions to whatever and whoever; sadly this negativity was becoming the norm. Just like everyone else I did all the normal things, getting married having kids, realising mistakes, getting divorced, getting married again. Certainly New Zealand was changing, becoming more and more like the place I was born in but 30 odd years later. No longer was the job market stable as so called progress moved forward, I changed my job to become a teacher and became amazed at the views my students held on their expectations from society, basically most actually had none! One of the most disappointing things for a teacher to see is the way respect appears to have little value by our young in society today. So should we be surprised when violence rather than reasoning becomes part of everyday life. Fast forward to the present day and the point of my story, after 72 years of life, almost 50 in NZ, I have just experienced my first assault. An assault by someone I do not know but by someone who believes he knows me. It all started when late one night a group of youths were walking down my street returning home. I believe some had been drinking but one who was severely intoxicated decided to show his strength by pushing over the neighbour’s large rubbish bin, spilling the smelly contents into our driveway. That not being enough he then proceeded to throw a concrete kerb section (left by the council after an accident some months ago) into the road and the traffic. As might be imagined this created quite a problem, when they were challenged, the drunken persons mates apologised for his behaviour, returned the rubbish to the bin and the concrete from the road. That should have been it as really no harm was done, but this incident escalated further when the drunken youth decided I was a transvestite using vile language about my very existence. This was a complete shock and uncalled for, although I am the first to understand to some degree his misperception of who I am. Something I never chose, but had struggled with for most of my life was that I had from my early years felt that my physical body never matched who my mind thought I should be. Yes I was born a boy but in my mind I was female, something that was so very hard for me to come to terms with even after fifty odd years, let alone someone young loaded with testosterone and anger, yet who sees themselves as normal. For over fifty years I lived in this world of confusion as to who I really was, now after transitioning to the real me, I am finally happy to be me, a woman, yes I identify as transgender. I am really fortunate as few people would know my secret in what is quite a small town, unlike so many other transgender people who have seriously male body challenges to their image, I blend in fairly well, couple that with my age, old people are almost invisible by the way, and I can be just me. I have never made it a secret of the new me, no point really when you have neighbours who know the old you, but word obviously gets around and most could not thankfully, care less. It was the second incident with this same young man that made me realise the position I had put myself in, and my life started to become scary, a realisation that someone who does not know the real me could hate me to the extent that given the opportunity he will resort to a physical assault on my person. It was at this point I started to realise that my utopia was no more; the country I came to call home is actually no longer a safe place to be. Already I understood that in making my transition to female, I had joined the most marginalised group of people in the world, but for me I had no choice I could not die in the wrong body, but this situation is so very close to home (literally) and I feel my value as a person, a citizen, of this so beautiful country, has diminished. My changing gender and my educator background, (retired High School teacher) has forced me into a position of wanting to educate those who fail to see me and others like me, for who we are. Like so many other transgender people of note, I also feel the need to do this in an effort to remove the misunderstanding many have of what it is to be transgender. Experience has shown that the more people can understand about a situation, the more likely they are to respond appropriately. Over four years ago the Human Rights Commission were requested by the government to investigate the rights of transgender people in this country, their recommendations were made but to date limited action has been taken. Reportedly from the government standpoint, the issue is of little importance at this time, one has to wonder when there will be a right time to have equality for all NZ citizens. Many countries in the world acknowledge this form of assault as Hate crime for the insidious way it affects individuals, communities and society as a whole. New Zealand legislation does not include Hate crime; it is not included in the NZ crimes act, this makes the issue I am experiencing personally, very difficult for the police. This reality only serves to confirm me as a second class citizen, one of little value now that I have become Transgender. Without the existence of hate crime our police can only record my complaint as wilful damage (the actual words used on the crime report) or possibly as harassment but not as assault with a bias of hate for the individual. It seems I will just have to wait for incident three to happen (actual physical assault) before I have any chance of justice, what form that physical assault it may take is also too scary to contemplate. Even then the judiciary will be unable to assess penalties appropriate for this type of crime as it does not exist in NZ law. Last year 44,000 hate crimes took place in the United Kingdom; there are no data collection figures for NZ as it does not collect such data! UK Transgender hate crimes over 300 and worldwide 256 transgender murders took place and those are the only the ones recorded. As recent as 2011 the UK government decided to change the starting point for sentencing in the case of murder of transgender and disabled people from 15 years to 30 years. See link. Time for New Zealand to finally catch up with the world of today and recognise the seriousness of this form of crime, sorry this transgender person including LGB a need for a cohesive action by society is needed to take place, and the inclusion of hate crime is one of them. Will New Zealand ever return to the utopia I came to all those years ago, only time will tell, but should society decide that removing hate from our lives is worth fighting for, then I believe there is a chance. For anyone interested in the issue of hate crime the following link to the OSCE Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe website for a practical guide on the issue. The time has come for those who are marginalised in some way, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and disabled (forgive me if I have missed anyone out) to stand up and demand protection by the inclusion of the crime of Hate in New Zealand law. I have taken it upon myself to lobby my MP and the Justice Minister on this issue, if you have personally or you know of someone who has been assaulted, even verbally, in a similar manner and you feel it is not acceptable in our society, then I call upon you to lobby your MP. “Laws — especially criminal laws — are an expression of society’s values. Hate crime laws both express the social value of equality and foster the development of those values. But this process can only happen if laws are actually enforced. If hate crime laws are not used, it diminishes respect for all laws and weakens the rule of law”. Reference: OSCE: Hate Crime page 7.     Diane Sparkes - 22nd February 2013

Credit: Diane Sparkes

First published: Friday, 22nd February 2013 - 11:42am

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