“It was quite a bold move.”
Ahead of Friday 17 May’s International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, Biphobia and Intersexphobia (IDAHOBIT), UQ student and staff member Tarriaki Duncan has revealed her personal journey.
A Sistergirl with ties to the Bidjara and Kamilaroi Indigenous people, Ms Duncan began her gender transition in 2017 while working at UQ.
The courageous evolution involved two distinct ‘heart-in-mouth’ moments.
First, she addressed an email to more than 200 people within her professional network, revealing her decision.
Soon after – in what she describes as her “bold move” – Ms Duncan released a YouTube video for her wider friendship circle.
“At the time I was just thinking about the quickest way to let everyone know at once, not to make a statement,” Ms Duncan says.
“I couldn’t believe how positive the response was.
“People who I hadn’t spoken to since primary school were getting in touch to congratulate me and offer encouragement.”
A similar response greeted her email to colleagues.
“My inbox was inundated with supportive messages,” Ms Duncan says.
“It turns out I was worrying over nothing.
“I even had a colleague walk me from the bus stop to the office the first time I presented as a woman.
“That day was nerve-wracking, but people went about their business and didn’t stop and stare at me or anything like that.”
While Ms Duncan’s experiences have been overwhelmingly positive, she is more than aware that it is not the same story for all gender diverse people.
Through her mentoring work with the Brisbane Gar’band’dje’lum Network Committee, she aims to provide a safe space and support for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Sistergirl and Brotherboy Community (GLBTISB).
“I have been contacted by people who have a genuine fear of being discriminated against when they come out,” Ms Duncan says.
“Most people are fully accepting, but it’s hard and it sucks that there are others who only want to be critical.
“While I have never had an issue face-to-face, I have had people tell me online to kill myself or that I’m a ‘freak of nature’.
“Thankfully, I’m strong enough in my sense of self that I know those type of people are uneducated and that they won’t have any greater impact on my life.
“Being Aboriginal, I already know what it is like to be stereotyped and misrepresented. I take those opportunities to educate ignorant people.
“But of course, I have down days like everybody.”
Sistergirl is a term Indigenous Australians use to describe somebody who was born a male, but identifies as female.
Ms Duncan says the word has softer, more playful and positive connotations than Anglicised terms commonly used in Australia for transgender people.
"Within Indigenous culture, everything is about kinship. It's the over-arching philosophy," she says.
"Every community has its own issues when it comes to gender representations, but kinship overrides any adversity.
"I anticipated difficulties, because Indigenous culture does have very distinct men's business and women's business and there is no middle ground.
"But it is very special to me that I have been welcomed into women's business and I get to be around those gatherings of female energy."
When Ms Duncan first moved to Brisbane from rural Toowoomba at age 19, she didn’t have an inkling that she would one day undergo gender transition.
She describes it as “a slow trickle of thought” that began in 2017, but one that heightened within a manner of months.
At one point, crippled by anxiety and depression around her identity, Tarriaki needed to take time off work.
“My team started noticing I was down. I was withdrawn and depressed on a daily basis. There was a lot of confusion,” she recalls.
With everything that has transpired, Ms Duncan fully recognises the importance of holding events such as IDAHOBIT.
She reasons that it sends a vital message, whether people take part in activities or otherwise.
“For somebody too scared to come out, seeing there is an accepting and welcoming community around them could change the whole way they feel about themselves,” she says.
An extensive list of potential activities and resources you can use for IDAHOBIT has been compiled.
The UQ Ally Network will hold a networking lunch in the Great Court at St Lucia campus to mark the event.
Details are as follows:
- Friday 17 May 2019
- Look for the rainbows and UQ Ally sign in the Great Court
- Please bring a plate of food to share
UQ will also be flying the rainbow Pride flag on all campuses in honour of the cause.
In celebration of IDAHOBIT, staff and students from the UQ community have shared their stories. Read Alisa's story here.