What it's like to grow up transgender and Aboriginal

Brotherboy Kai (right), with Taz (left) and Headspace youth worker Caroline (centre).

Brotherboy Kai (right), with Taz (left) and Headspace youth worker Caroline (centre). Photo: Supplied

I'm Kai, I'm 19 years old and I currently live in Melbourne. I am also a transgender male, meaning my mind didn't match with the gender given to me at birth. I transitioned at the age of 18, during my first year of university.

It isn't something I woke up one day and decided to do, as a joke. It isn't something that has grown on me in my late teen years, nor is it a teenage identity crisis. These are all assumptions I've had thrown at me during the last two years I've transitioned. To be quite frank, I was only four years old when I suggested I wasn't like the other kids, that I was born into the wrong body or something didn't happen right with me when I was developing.

It was a Sunday night in 2000. I was wide-awake watching television - typical black kid, it was way past my bedtime. My eyes glued to the box, I was watching an episode of 60 Minutes that featured an intersex person. The intersex person underwent an inhumane normalising procedure as a child, taking away their testes. This person was assigned female, but then transitioned to male. I ran to my mum, somewhat beaming and said, "Mum! This is like me! You cut my testes and wanted me to be a girl, too." But she dismissed my claims and told me there was no surgery whatsoever, and that I was just born a "regular" girl.

Brotherboy Kai Clancy at Townsville Rainbow Fair, posing with sexual health superheroes Condoman and Lubelicious.

Brotherboy Kai Clancy at Townsville Rainbow Fair, posing with sexual health superheroes Condoman and Lubelicious. Photo: Supplied

But I was no regular girl. I would play Pokémon on my Gameboy Advance, get into fights with guys, and play tackle footy after school. Most people would say "Well, you're just a tomboy then!" The key difference with tomboys, though, is they are comfortable with being called girls, whereas transgender boys aren't so fond of it. Another hard facet of being transgender was being segregated into genders. It was troubling for me during corroboree (traditional dance) to watch my male mates go and dance, leaving me behind to dance with the girls.

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Then came puberty. The onset of puberty can be the most dangerous part of a transgender person's life - all sex education classes taught me about was how my body was going to change and curse me forever. If I was taught gender identity issues during sex education, it may have prevented me going through the initial puberty and paying for the cost of surgery. When the time eventually came when all the girls were excited about getting their first bra, you had me, anxious about the future, spiralling into a deep depression.

When I left primary school, I went to a smaller high school where only a handful of people I knew attended. All my friends had gone to a bigger school, leaving me to make new friends. I befriended all the girls in the grade and gradually became "girlier". I felt like I had to conform with the rest of the girls because I didn't want to be an outcast anymore. When I graduated from high school, those pressures to fit in were left behind. I was suddenly in this open world where I didn't feel the pressure from others to prove myself to them. I was free at last and could focus on what I wanted to do with my life.

I found out about female-to-male transgender people online; this one person came up on my newsfeed and I researched their blog. Every journal post they made about their feelings prior and leading up to transitioning resonated with me. Before I decided to transition, I wanted to make an informed decision about the whole process and see if there were any other Aboriginal transgender men. I researched "Indigenous female-to-male transgender", and only 'sistergirls' were popping up on my newsfeed. Sadly, I couldn't find anything on 'brotherboys' (Aboriginal transgender men). But I couldn't wait any longer to begin my transition and I started to take hormones. I wanted to make sure it was okay with my elders too, so I asked for them to accept me - they did, and they still love me to this day. My family was also very accepting and have gotten used to the changes so easily.

Taking hormones and getting top surgery have been the two best decisions I've made in my life; I've never felt more comfortable. It's been a very long time since I was content with my body. Everyday I wake up and check for changes in the mirror. The feeling will never get old - I see myself and I am exultant.

The only negative effect it has on my life is the financial burden; being transgender is quite expensive. Unlike Caitlyn Jenner, most of us don't have Kardashian budgets. Plenty of us are students and have part-time work or receive Centrelink payments. It is vital that transgender health care is funded like every other health situation.

I eventually found brotherboys online at 'Sistergirls & Brotherboys'. It's a Facebook group providing support to a national network of Indigenous transgender people from as far as Perth, Melbourne and all the way up to the Torres Strait. The group has provided me with ample opportunities to network with other transgender people and share my story across the country.

When I am speaking at such events, I insist funding of future transgender and gender-diverse initiatives be inclusive of Aboriginal transgender identities. I truly hope the exposure and visibility of brotherboys and sistergirls continues to grow, as many things in the queer community can easily become whitewashed.

Kai Clancy speaks to Living Black on Monday 8 June at 5pm on SBS One and Tuesday 9 June at 9pm on NITV.