15 July 2016
With more livestock than people, the small Victorian town of Shepparton might be the last place you'd think of as a haven for transgender youth. But a group of young gender-diverse people are helping change stereotypes and build a supportive community.
MATT WORDSWORTH, PRESENTER: Now to a typical Australian town - sport at its core, farming in its heart and Sundays spent at church. But what sets Shepparton apart is its tight-knit and supportive transgender community, one which means you no longer have to flee to the city to feel welcome. Madeleine Morris meets a group of teenagers who say they're out, proud and love living in the country.
CATTLE MARKET OPERATOR: This is a weekly cattle market here. Orchards play a vital role, cropping's become a major, major industry now and dairy's also up there. There's no doubt about that.
MADELEINE MORRIS, REPORTER: Think of Shepparton and you'll likely conjure up animals of cows and the cannery. A regional city in the heart of farming country, it's not the most obvious candidate as a good place to grow up being different, but looks can be deceiving.
OSCAR: My name's Oscar and my pronouns are he and him and his. And something interesting about myself is that I play golf.
JORDAN: Hi, everyone. I'm Jordan. I prefer they or them pronouns.
MADELEINE MORRIS: In this nondescript meeting room beside a church in Shepparton, every fortnight a group of around 15 young people gather to share common experiences and support each other.
DAMIEN STEVENS, DIVERSITY PROJECT, KILDONAN UNITING CARE: They tend to avoid labels, but, um, the majority of the young people here tonight are gender-diverse or transgender.
CHARLIE: I'm Charlie. I prefer male pronouns and I want to be a social worker when I'm older.
DAMIEN STEVENS: Over the last 10 years, and certainly the last two or three, we've really seen the number of gender-diverse and trans young people - I don't know whether I should say increase or simply be more visible and certainly feel more welcome.
MADELEINE MORRIS: Alex Sinclair is 16. A year and half ago, he began the transition from being Emily to Alex.
ALEX SINCLAIR: It's always been there, the thought, since I was little, absolutely. But it was right at the end of 2014, start of 2015 that it really clicked.
MADELEINE MORRIS: A student at the local Catholic high school and part-time kickboxing instructor, Alex has been surprised by the support he's received from the community.
ALEX SINCLAIR: Thought I was gonna get a bit of negativity, but I didn't.
MADELEINE MORRIS: Why do you think that it's so accepting 'cause it's not what most people would necessarily expect, I think?
ALEX SINCLAIR: Yeah. Today's age is just - everyone's different. Anything's new and, yeah.
MAT REID, KICKBOXING INSTRUCTOR: The kids, they didn't blink an eye. They all automatically changed name, pronouns, etc., etc. It wasn't a worry for them and, yeah, it's good.
MADELEINE MORRIS: Alex's friend Oscar Riddell's journey has been a little longer and more difficult.
OSCAR RIDDELL: I was about six when I knew, and my parents, they used to just say that I was a tomboy and so I didn't really know how to explain it with them. There was fights at home constantly, to the point where me and my mum's partner, we would yell at each other. Basically three or four days a week, I wouldn't be going to school. I would be getting Es and I'd be getting low D minuses and stuff.
MADELEINE MORRIS: Oscar finally came out as transgender last year, and today, on his 18th birthday, he's taking a big step.
OSCAR RIDDELL: It's my first day that I'm gonna start testosterone. But it's my 18th birthday. You legally have to be 18 to start the testosterone. It's basically what I should have had on my first birthday and I'm getting that on my 18th, so it's exciting.
DOCTOR: Now, before we go ahead with this, did you have any other questions about it?
OSCAR RIDDELL: It doesn't hurt?
DOCTOR: It'll sting a bit.
MADELEINE MORRIS: From now on, Oscar will need these injections every three months to develop and maintain the man's body he's always felt he should have. He's booked for a double mastectomy, which he's crowdfunding, in November. They're the final steps in a coming-out process that's seen him change from a shy, moody introvert into a happy young adult.
DOCTOR: Just put your head up this end, lie on your tummy. That's it. And try to relax as much as you can.
MADELEINE MORRIS: So what's this one?
OSCAR RIDDELL: It's the chemical structure of testosterone.
MADELEINE MORRIS: And I can see here you've got scars as well from where you were obviously self-harming. Is that what happened before?
OSCAR RIDDELL: Yeah, that was before I came out. And so that was a really tough time. Yeah, I couldn't really - I didn't really have confidence in myself.
MADELEINE MORRIS: You've got, like, the two yous before and after.
OSCAR RIDDELL: Yeah. Yeah and this is me completely happy.
MADELEINE MORRIS: Oscar's in Year 12 at the local state high school.
OSCAR RIDDELL: Everyone's really nice. Like, even people that I don't know.
MADELEINE MORRIS: Really? That's amazing!
OSCAR RIDDELL: Yeah, there's no-one that's mean at the school, really. Well, not that I know of.
MADELEINE MORRIS: And since transitioning gender, there's been another marked change. Instead of Ds and Es, he's now getting As and Bs.
KAREN UTBER, DEPUTY PRINCIPAL, WANGANUI PARK SEC. COLLEGE: There's been a significant change this year. He's a much more focused student, motivated, happy, he's found his direction. He's showing great resilience and there's been a marked improvement in his grades.
MADELEINE MORRIS: Right. So you're seeing a really positive change?
KAREN UTBER: Oh, very much so. Yep, yep.
MADELEINE MORRIS: Crucial to Oscar and Alex's embracing of their identities has been the support of their friends at the diversity group meetings. Not every member has had the same family encouragement as Oscar and Alex, though. For Anakie, who was kicked out of home when he came out as trans, the group has been a lifeline.
ANAKIE CROCKER: In here, everyone knows me as just another guy and I go out into the world and I'm no longer just another guy, I'm "the trans kid" or "the gay kid" or "the high school drop-out" or something. Here, I'm just me.
MADELEINE MORRIS: But overall, the message from the group about their hometown is a positive one.
DAMIEN STEVENS: I think that Greater Shepparton is probably one of the regional centres now in Victoria that, because of the work we've done, has a really good culture of accepting diversity. And I purposely use the word "accepting" because it's probably one step up from "tolerating". (Laughs) But one step below "supporting".
OSCAR RIDDELL: There's lots of people that have, like, a stigma around a small towns saying that they're really unaccepting when they're not really at all. Everyone's really nice to each other. And I think it's because of how close everyone gets. So, I think small towns might be a bit better than big towns, in my own experience.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Madeleine Morris reporting.