Two UQ students are beginning life as trans men together after almost 10 years as a couple.
When Basil Kowalczyk and Ronan Firster met in Year 8, the pair knew they had an instant connection.
Both are transgender men who managed to find each other in high school and remain together, even when it felt like the world was pulling them apart.
Now, aged 21 and 20 respectively, Basil and Ronan are sharing their tertiary education experience together at The University of Queensland, and have decided to tell their story to empower others ahead of Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31.
Ronan Firster and Basil Kowalczyk (Image: Anjanette Hudson).
The couple’s history reads like a teenage love story: a forbidden romance in their hometown that saw them ripped apart by the pressures of family but overcome by Ronan’s decision to add Basil on Facebook years later.
They have become inseparable since bonding over late-night phone conversations in high school and now live together.
Both men say that what defines their romance is their undying support for one another as they transition from biological females into the men they knew they were always meant to be.
But with their shared triumphs have also come unique and heart-breaking struggles for acceptance.
“We spent eight good months together as the token Year 9 lesbian couple, but eventually had to break up for mental health reasons and disapproving parents,” Ronan said.
“The minute I succumbed to the possibility of being transgender was the first minute I’ve felt truly free since before puberty.”
Ronan is in his second year of a Bachelor of Social Work at UQ.
He wants to work with children as social worker or counsellor.
Basil is an honours student at UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences.
He completed an undergraduate degree in biomedicine from 2018 to 2020 and is now working on a bull fertility project.
“I really adore science and just how creative it really can be,” Basil said.
“I want to be able to add to the collective human knowledge.
“I hope to eventually conduct my own research in reproductive health."
Both men struggled with gender dysphoria in high school – the feeling of not being comfortable with your own sex.
“People don’t just become trans. We both already were trans men – but neither of us had realised it yet,” Basil said.
"This underlying understanding of the indescribable feeling of gender dysphoria made it so easy for us to communicate.
“I’m so lucky that I had Ronan in high school and that we were able to support each other this way, and feel just a little bit less alone as we were doing it.”
Basil said there is still a stigma associated with being trans, but there is also “so much joy” in transitioning.
Love, success and happiness are all experiences within reach for anyone struggling with identity, he said.
“Just because you’re trans doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on things like love.”
Basil and Ronan hope their journey will encourage people to speak up, to be visible and to share their struggles with someone close to them.
Ronan has also encouraged trans people to experiment with different identities and “be yourself”.
“Don’t try and force yourself into a little box to fit society’s expectations,” he said.
“Just express yourself the way you want to express yourself and the label that fits will find you.
“Honestly, just don’t worry about labels and be unapologetically you.”
The UQ Ally Network is an award-winning program that provides a visible network of well-informed staff who create a safe, welcoming and inclusive space for sex, gender and sexuality diverse people at UQ and in the broader community.
Ronan said it meant that he felt “right at home” on campus.
“The students are friendly and the University is gorgeous,” he said.
Every year on 31 March, UQ celebrates Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV) as a way to honour and celebrate our transgender students, staff, friends and families.
The day is an opportunity to highlight the unique experiences, courage and achievements of trans and gender diverse people all over the world.