No transgender journey is the same. UQ's Director of Student Employability, Dr Dino Willox, is living proof of that.
Born in England to Scottish parents, Dr Willox spent their early childhood in Hong Kong, before studying in Wales and working in Scotland. They also had a 12-year career as an elite field hockey umpire.
With impeccable timing, Dr Willox arrived in Brisbane one week after the devastating 2011 floods. More than a decade later, they spoke to Contact about why the journey to self-discovery isn’t a race, but an evolution.
What has your journey been like as a transgender person?
I always felt like an outsider and that I didn’t quite fit. It wasn’t really until the concept of non-binary became a reality that I realised, “that fits!”
As language changes and as social interactions change, it opens up more options.
For me, it was a search for a sense of belonging and a sense of self, and I was actually 42 when I came out as non-binary.
In part, that’s because I was involved in elite sport for years. It’s a very binary world. There wasn’t really an option for being differently gendered in that space. I just kept shifting and moving.
A lot of people will expect a traumatic story. For me, it wasn’t traumatic. It was just an evolution. It was just always a constant shift to somewhere else that felt a bit more comfortable. When I realised there wasn’t always necessarily a somewhere – that where I am is fine – then I went, ‘OK’.
What advice do you have for young people who might be struggling with their identity?
The first thing I always say is take time. Don’t worry about having to know. As someone who took 42 years to be able to say “Ok this is comfortable now, this is where I belong”, that’s 42 years that I could have been beating myself up about it, but I didn’t. I just went “it’s not quite right, but I’ll feel comfortable later.” So, you’ve got time. The other thing is don’t expect that you will be able to see who you are in other people. People are all different, and visibility is important – so that people can see there are other ways of being. But you might not see somebody who is actually how you feel and that’s OK – just feel comfortable in yourself.
What was it like coming to Australia one week after the floods?
I left Glasgow in January 2011. We’d been snowed in. It was -13°C and there was a foot of snow outside the door. My flight was delayed because they had to keep de-icing the plane. So, I got out here and it was 35°C and 90 per cent humidity. My body just went “what have you done?” People talk about culture shock: there was definitely climate shock at that moment too.
What is the message you want to spread on Transgender Day of Visibility?
Every person who identifies as trans in some way has a different story. Don’t assume that you know what somebody’s story is, or how somebody identifies, or how they feel about themselves, or how they want to interact with you. There’s not one way of being trans, same as there’s not one way of being human. Visibility is really important, and the visibility of the multiple ways of being is really important, so that people don’t assume.
What lessons from elite sport have you taken with you in life?
My biggest takeaway from umpiring is self-reflection. After every game, your umpire coach would debrief the game with you: “what was good, what do you want to improve, what do you want to do differently next time?” Any experience that you have you can learn from and develop through. But you have to sit down and take the time to reflect on it. For me, umpiring was about taking myself (and my ego) out of the equation and asking how can I make the game the best it can be. When I translate that to my career and improving what I do in my job, it’s the same; it's about the effect and influence on people around me, and how that can make the student experience better.
I think the most important thing is self-reflection and improving the game, not worrying about your own ego.
Online, you have said that you have a “strong commitment to integrity, trust and respect”. Where does that come from and how do you uphold it?
A lot of that did come from umpiring. Some of the players that I umpired were without a doubt the best players in the world, and I give them that respect. But that’s reciprocal – you have to be respectful of everybody’s expertise and what everyone brings in order for this to work.
So that for me is fundamental – I can’t expect respect unless I give respect.
Integrity comes from umpiring as well. The one thing you have to have as an umpire is integrity. It goes hand in hand with respect, but it’s about saying that I will be honest with you at all times. The thing with trust is that you have to be vulnerable to be able to trust. Those three are like a triumvirate – you can’t have one without the other.
When you do encounter people who are not respectful, or who you don’t trust, or who you don’t think have integrity, the only thing you can do is maintain your own integrity and maintain that respect.
The behaviours that you display always have to reflect that. That can be hard, especially when people are anti-trans, or don’t understand. They can be quite hurtful, so you have to maintain your own integrity and maintain your own behaviours that demonstrate how they should be behaving.