At Giant Steps 2022, the breakout session ‘Advocacy and adversity - stepping up for the young transgender community’ was an inspiring insight into the experiences of Elliot Nicholas, a young transgender person. He was joined by his mother Amanda and Associate Professor Michelle Telfer, Director of the Royal Children’s Hospital Gender Service.
As a 12 or 13-year-old, Elliot didn’t feel like he fitted in with the heteronormative structure promoted in his private school. He realised that if he continued to try to be something he wasn’t, he would suffer. In trying to figure out how to be true to himself, he discovered the word ‘transgender’. He found a lack of information in the community and went online to investigate.
“It was actually one of the most relieving things that I’ve ever realised about myself,” Elliot said. “That this was a valid feeling that other people have felt.”
Elliot explained that identifying as trans is a realisation, an awakening and not a traumatic thing that happens. After coming to terms with this realisation himself, he told his family, “I actually am a boy,” and eventually his extended family and school.
As part of his transition, Elliot was referred to the Royal Children’s Hospital where he was supported by psychologists, doctors, nurses and finally Dr Michelle Telfer. It took three years of consultations before he received his first testosterone injection.
“It’s such a rigorous process and it needs to be because it’s a life-changing transition,” said Elliot. “It’s a good change, but it’s a big change.”
Providing a safe space for others
Elliot was studying VCE during a pandemic and starting hormone replacement therapy. During this time, he experienced a lot of challenges but recognised that he had a great support network around him. He also recognised that there is a general lack of exposure and education about the transgender community in society. While many people know phrases such as ‘transgender’ and ‘gender diverse’, they don’t know the transitioning process or how it can affect someone.
Elliot spoke to his school principal about setting up an LGBT youth program in the school to provide a safe space for people who were LGBT or questioning, or allies who wanted to learn more. He said, “It was free, and it was friendly, and it was appropriate, and it was educational.
Elliot also recognised that the education system needed to become more inclusive of gender and transgender life. He said, “It needs to be talked about more. Because whether we like it or not, there’s more kids and more adults and there’s people every single day that are actually coming to terms with themselves and loving themselves because they now know this part of themselves that they want to show everybody about it.”
Advocating for all
The work that Elliot and his mother Amanda, a Uniting Church minister, are doing to advocate for young transgender people is crucial. Amanda said, “I don’t know how many times we nearly lost Elliot and to have a kid who’s alive and who’s actually being their true authentic self; I’d rather that any day of the week.”
Elliot added, “To have the rest of society not know or not care about how you are or who you are in order to live your life, that you feel you’re better off not living at all, is the worst thing to hear.”
On the flipside, when people approach Elliot and acknowledge the work he’s done to advocate for transgender people, he said, “It’s a beautiful thing to hear.”
You can learn more about Elliot and Associate Professor Michelle Telfer on Australian Story.