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When the dress fits: Carrum schoolgirl leaves gender definitions behind

Mia was born a boy but internally felt like a girl. She now lives as a girl and has been supported by her family and school, Carrum Downs Secondary College.

Mia was born a boy but internally felt like a girl. She now lives as a girl and has been supported by her family and school, Carrum Downs Secondary College. Photo: Justin McManus

Mia pulled on her school dress on Monday morning just like any other girl at Carrum Downs Secondary College. Wearing it felt normal, the 17-year-old says, but admits she experienced a flutter of nerves as she walked through the gates of her school.

Mia was raised a boy, but her internal sense of gender is female, and wearing a dress to school this week represented another step in her plan, supported by her mother, Donna, to express herself as a young woman.

Support and advocacy organisation Ygender says conservative estimates suggest 1.5 per cent of the population are transgender, transsexual or gender diverse, but up to 8 per cent of Australians may fall into these categories.

The terms vary in meaning but all refer to people whose sense of gender identity differs from expectations generated by their body at birth. Many, like Mia, experience a strong sense of relief when they begin living in a way that is right for them.

"I think it would be worse for me not to [wear a school dress]; I wouldn't be happy at all," she said.

Donna said when Mia attended school wearing a dress on a casual clothes day, some of the kids were "awful". But Carrum Downs Secondary College assistant principal Lisa Holt said when teachers were later told Mia was transgender, they all wanted to know how they could help.

The college, which celebrates International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia each year, then educated students and teachers about what it meant to be transgender and organised a group of allies to support Mia.

Despite a few silly comments from other students this week, Ms Holt said, "kids are incredibly compassionate when they understand" and Mia found the transition fairly smooth.

Ygender says transgender people are much more likely to experience mental illness or die by suicide than the general population.

Transgender Victoria spokeswoman Sally Goldner said life at her single-sex boys' school was "some degree of hell", and transgender Australians still faced discrimination in day-to-day life, but positive attitudes had increased significantly over the past decade.

Bullying was still a serious problem for transgender young people in schools, she said, but she sensed the Australian public had turned a corner and was becoming more aware and welcoming of transgender people.

The Safe Schools Coalition last month launched a campaign encouraging schools to allow students to wear any uniform garment regardless of gender, and it provided advice to the Carrum Downs faculty.

 

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