On the 30th of this month, I will be speaking at a Royal Commission on women with disabilities and the violence/discrimination we face. Below is my statement that I just turned into the RC. If you think our community is not being heard we are. There are those who are listening and want to make things right. There are those who are making a stand. We will create change and we will not stop until all Transgender youth are allowed to grow up healthy.
Please know that what I am putting up is my experience in life and growing up. There is a lot of pain that resides in the words. Also, know that while my parents had their issues I still love them. Though I wish they could have gotten help long before it got out of hand. I don’t know all the phone numbers in the world of those who can help you if my story reminds you of your past or causes you any pain. Please know from the bottom of my heart talking with the right people does help. Nothing will ever be perfect but talking it out will get you damn close. I beg of you to learn about self-care and practice it in your everyday life. You are loved, you are listened to, you are cared for, and you matter. Never forget that! p.s. This is a long read and the formatting is done by a legal team, not me.
1.Statement of Aleana Robins
|Name:||Aleana ‘Ally’ Robins|
|Address:||Known to the Royal Commission|
|Date:||9 March 2022|
2.This statement made by me accurately sets out the evidence that I am prepared to give to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. This statement is true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.
3.Where direct speech is referred to in this statement, it is provided in words or words to the effect of those, which to the best of my recollection, were used at the time.
5.I am a 52 year old transgender woman. I was born in California, in the United States of America. My family is Native American.
6.I moved to Australia over 20 years ago, and have lived in Tasmania since.
7.I am a parent to 7 children. Only three live at home with me now. The youngest of my children is 11 years old and the oldest is 28.
8.I, like so many others, dislike the word ‘disabled.’ But for this moment in time, I will identify my challenges. I survive with chronic pain, severe dyslexia and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Some might say being transgender is a disability, but they are wrong. I do, however, have gender dysphoria, which is something different.
9.Despite being tertiary educated and skilled, I can’t get work. Being trans is the elephant in the room. So, while I have a lot of free time, I like to spend it helping people.
10.I enjoy volunteering and have done so for many years. I am a board member of the Human Library of Launceston and a member of Engendered Equality. I volunteer with the Patient Partner Program (P3) with the University of Tasmania, talking to trainee doctors about being trans and mental health. I have also created a website that provides free educational resources about gender dysphoria and being transgender.
11.Despite significant challenges, including not being able to read or write until the age of 17, I have now published two books. The first book is about self-discovery and what it is like being dyslexic. I didn’t use an editor for that book, so that people could see what it’s like to be dyslexic. The second book I published is science fiction.
12.My family background
13.My grandmother was part of the stolen generations of Native Americans. I’ve tried to find out where my grandmother was from, but I haven’t been able to – there’s no paper trail and she passed away a long time ago. Every tribe I’ve talked to says they don’t know how to tackle it. I often think that while there’s a kinship between First Nations people, for those from the stolen generations who do not know their tribe, you still feel lost, because you don’t know who you are.
14.My grandmother’s abuse is also part of my story. Since her birth, there has not been one generation of my family has that not been abused in one form or another. My father was abused. I am no different. Nor is my youngest daughter.
15.My grandmother’s abuse was not because she was disabled, but because she was Native American, and a woman. Her abuse lasted her entire life. My siblings and I were purposely cut off from her by my mother. I did not even know what she looked like until very recently. She passed away when I was 12 years old and I was never allowed to meet her or speak to her on the phone.
17.Growing up was very challenging for me. My home was not safe and school was not safe.
18.My father can be a good man, but his willingness to hide and turn away from the truth was, and forever will be his downfall. We are estranged because I have spoken out about my story. Because I am sharing my story with the Royal Commission, I will continue to pay a price for telling the truth. I consider this to be a form of abuse.
19.My mother was the abuser in my family when I was growing up. There were times when she was a kind and loving person. I miss that person. I do love my mother and I wish she could have got the help she needed. But she never thought she had a problem.
20.My mother would pit each family member against each other. It was like a sick and twisted game. She would glean information about the other people in the house from me, to use against them. Then she would do it with the others to get information to use against me. Looking back, I think that most of my family were experiencing a form of Stockholm Syndrome with my mother. By that, I mean we tried to appease her by sympathising with her, to avoid her attacking us directly. However when our backs were turned, we became the target and the others joined in. It became such an entrapping cycle.
21.It took me moving half a world away to recognise what was going on and that it was a form of abuse.
22.My mother would abuse me verbally, yelling and screaming. She would buy paddleballs (those paddles with a ball attached by an elastic string), rip the balls off and use them as whipping sticks. And yard sticks – she’d come after me with yard sticks. I’d go into the closet where she kept them sometimes and snap them, so that when she’d go to grab one to come after me, it would be broken. Wooden spoons, plastic spoons – she used them all.
23.My dad only ever raised his hand to me once. But I feared him for different reasons. When he left the military, his PTSD was so bad, and at the time people didn’t talk about it. We didn’t understand it like we do now. And without his military job, which had been his life since he was 18 years old, that part of him just blew out of proportion and anyone that got in his way was a victim. He’d lost his title and was just a bloke. I think the loss of identity played into his loss of an ability to care. I would walk on eggshells around him because I was afraid of setting him off.
25.My chronic pain started when I was 10 years old and has not stopped since then. I remember being asleep in my bed and waking up to pain that I had never known before. My knees began to feel like hot iron spikes were being driven into them. I cried out, hoping my parents would come to my rescue. I told my mother what was happening the next morning but she still shipped me off to school. I consider this wilful neglect and a form of abuse.
26.I never received proper medical attention for my chronic pain as a child. I was told to ‘suck it up’ and ‘stop complaining’, that ‘it can’t be that bad’ and to just ‘take some pills’. I was taken to see a doctor once, and he just told me that I needed to exercise more. I told him that the more I exercised, the more pain I was in. He just gave me two knee braces, ignoring that I had told him the pain was in my hips and lower back as well as my knees.
27.The doctor also told my mother that the pain might be psychosomatic and that I might just be trying to get out of chores or school. My mother took this as gospel. From that point on she just told me: ‘It’s all in your head’.
28.My home was very religious, and from an early age I was told that I was a sinner, that all my problems were because I was a sinner, and that I needed to repent, do what the pastor said, and pray more.
29.I had the job of ‘picking up rocks’ in the front yard. The rocks had been put down so that trucks could drive on to the property with building materials. I had to fill up wheelbarrows full of them. On Saturdays I could watch cartoons until I heard my parents waking up, and then I’d have to go out and start picking up rocks. My mother would sit in the kitchen, overseeing my work. I would get in trouble if I hadn’t picked up enough. But it hurt me to do it.
31.I was born with dyslexia, but it became a significant problem by the age of 12. I was in the sixth grade and I could not do the school work that was required of me. In fact, I could hardly read. I knew what every word meant by itself, but if put in a sentence I could not understand it. The words had very limited meaning because they moved or got lost to a point where what I was reading made no sense.
32.To give you an idea what my dyslexia is like: take a pair of glasses and smear some oil or grease on them and try to read a couple of paragraphs of something you have never read before. Then tell someone what it meant. You see, I mix up B’s and D’s, 6’s and 9’s, I’s and J’s, 1’s and I’s. Words move, sentences lose words and meaning. What an average person could read in five minutes would take me an hour. But then the result might be I do not understand what I read.
33.Sometimes as a child, I would be required to read aloud in class. This was one of my biggest fears because doing it made me sound like I had a stuttering problem. It would raise my level of anxiety through the roof. The abuse that I have lived with all my life due to my dyslexia started in those years.
34.At school the teachers would shame me in front of other students, calling me ‘the failure’. The way the teachers behaved emboldened students to abuse me physically and verbally. There were teachers who would watch me being attacked by other students and not do anything. When I would ask them why they didn’t stop it, they would say that they didn’t see anything, even thought they were three meters away. There was a school principle who would call me DRK (‘Dirty Rotten Kid’). Think of the cost of that to a child’s mental health.
35.I would be in ‘fight or flight’ mode every day at school, hoping with every trip to class I didn’t end up being hit, punched, or kicked. I was constantly thinking about how to stay safe. This is called hypervigilance and has been known to cause PTSD.
36.I would return home from school, hiding my bruises from the attacks. It was not any better at home, and I did not want to get into any more trouble for not ‘winning’. My dad would always say, ‘If you get in a fight, you better damn well win it’. I could fight, but because of my chronic pain, it hurt to punch and be punched. But no one believed me about my chronic pain. I only told my dad about my problems at school once, and he went and talked to the principle and the school district and told me he had ‘solved the problem’. Within a week, I was on the ground being kicked again. I didn’t mention it to him again. I never told my mum.
37.At home, I was also abused because of my dyslexia – by the people I trusted, cared about and loved. Both of my parents would verbally attack me for not doing better in school. Telling your child that they need to improve is not an attack or abuse. But throwing things, yelling at them, or even making them fearful, is abusive. Demanding that your child with a learning disability improve, without providing support or tools to do so, is also abusive.
38.I hid report cards or learned to doctor them to hide the real grades from my parents. If I got caught – oh, did I pay for it. I began to think that I could do nothing right. My parents did not listen when I did ask for help. This made me feel like I did not matter.
39.At the same time, I was fighting a gender identity crisis, dealing with everything at school not making sense, chronic pain, and everyone seeming to hate me.
40.I was in 9th grade by the time my parents tried to finally get me some help for my dyslexia. But for some reason, this one time they took action, they did it completely wrong. They found a private education group who promised to help. But my parents had not done their homework and it was a scam. I sat in a room with other children just like me and did nothing for a whole year.
41.At least going to that private school saved me from going to the public high school. At least at that time, all the abuse I had to deal with was from my mum.
42.Mum had to get a job to help pay for the school and she reminded me all the time that it was my fault that she had to get her first job to pay for my private education. It was my fault for being dyslexic. If I missed the bus home and had to call to be picked up, I got a royal thrashing. I think I only missed the bus once or twice – I learned very quickly not to let that happen.
43.I never told my parents that I was just sitting at the school all day not being taught. When you are in an abusive situation, you do things to avoid being abused further. You don’t say or do things. You don’t want to be seen. You want to do everything you can to please the abuser. So telling my mother that the school wasn’t helping me – that was not going to happen.
44.When I did return home, I would just to sit in my room alone and build things out of popsicle sticks to avoid being around my mother. Although she would lash out physically from time to time, it was more verbal abuse. She would tell me everything that was wrong with me. She had ways of just removing all hope.
45.I was just about to turn 16 when my parents found out the private school was a hoax. They said they were going to put me back in public school. I was petrified. When I told my parents that I didn’t want to go to the local public high school, they just put me in an even more rural one.
46.I left that school when I was 17. A teacher had told me I couldn’t sit in the front of class. She said, ‘People like you can sit in the back. The only reason you are here is so the school can get more money for you warming a seat. When you are 18, we will kick you out of school and the only thing you will be is a bum on the street.’ Those were the words I needed to hear. I walked out of the school right then and there with that teacher yelling at me to get back in her classroom.
47.My parents did not accept my decision to leave school. They told me I had to finish school or get a job. I felt worthless and I did not know what to do with my life. I had no education or viable skills.
48.Eventually I did learn how to read with the help of two university professors, who are heroes in my life. The effort that those people gave started me on a journey of education that has not yet ended.
50.I am transgender and identify as a transwoman. No, it is not a choice. No, I am not trying to erase anyone’s cisgender identity – that is just asinine. Being transgender is not a disability. But I do have gender dysphoria, which is something different.
51.It is important to understand that not all transgender people experience gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria refers to the psychological distress that results from an incongruence between the sex you are assigned at birth, and your gender identity. It is a catch-all term for a collection of symptoms which include but are not limited to stress, anxiety, and depression. Gender dysphoria affects your day-to-day life.
52.A large part of what makes gender dysphoria disabling is (a) the lack of access to proper medical attention and intervention; and (b) social attitudes, abuse and accusations. Gender dysphoria can present with mild or significant symptoms. Mine can be difficult at times, but I deal with it. This was not the case when I was a child.
53.I know you may have heard many horror stories from all over the world about conversion torture and what it has done to people in the LGBT+ communities. My experience is no different, but it is part of the abuse I faced because of my disabilities.
54.I was six years old when I realised that A plus B did not equal C for me. What I mean by that, is that my body and mind did not agree. If you have never felt it, you cannot imagine what it is like.
55.At first, I didn’t tell anyone because I too was scared to. I was too young to know what being transgender was, let alone gender dysphoria. It was the 1970’s and ‘80’s and this was not discussed. Parents back then did not know this stuff. It also was not common for it to be discussed in medical circles.
56.When I was 12, I began dealing with the emergence of gender dysphoria. I was looking in the mirror and thinking, ‘I don’t recognise this person’. Body image is a huge part of gender dysphoria. Everything made me angry: looking in the mirror; being strong; having to dress a certain way and have a certain haircut.
57.I told my mother, ‘Something isn’t right here, I don’t understand what’s going on’. I was greeted with contempt. It was straight to the church for conversion ‘therapy’. I will not continue to call it ‘therapy’, because it is nothing but torture. People who use the word ‘therapy’ do so to make it sound official, when in reality it is nothing more than snake oil with a traveling salesman. They also use the word ‘therapy’ to make themselves feel better about the torture they give to others. This is abuse, make no mistake.
58.The conversion torture was the worst abuse that I had experienced yet in my young life. The trust that I had in my mother was irrevocably broken on the first day. It has shaped me in ways I wish I could undo. I wake up at 3 am almost every single night because of what happened behind closed doors.
59.I was forced to explain what I was feeling to a complete stranger, a so-called religious leader who had no right to hear my issues, and was not qualified to act as a ‘therapist’. For context, my mother just outed me to someone I did not know. This person gave instructions to both myself and my mother. In the first interview I was told that if I could not do what I was told, responsibilities would be taken away from me at church because I was ‘unclean’.
60.I was told God didn’t love me this way, that I needed to change. I was told that I was a worthless individual. I felt that life was useless, and I didn’t want to live.
61.I was forced to pray three times a day and go without food on Sundays so that God would take away my problems. The religious leader told my mother to go through the house and remove popular music and to not allow radio to be played. He told her to limit what was on TV for me and to be careful about what books and toys I had. She was also told to do random spot checks on me. My mother took it upon herself to conduct these checks throughout the night while I was sleeping.
62.I used to earn an allowance for helping my dad on the farm. I would take what I earned and buy the clothes I wanted – not what my mum wanted to me to wear. I got caught. Then everything I’d bought was put in the fire barrel and burned. It was the same with my record collection. She made me watch it burn.
63.Room inspections were where my mum would go through my room with a rake when I was not there. She would leave my raked-up belongings in one pile and make me put it all away before my father saw it. The room inspections were to make sure I was not hiding anything. If she found anything to be amiss, I would have to pray, or I wasn’t allowed to eat dinner.
64.Every day I was asked if I had said my prayers, and if my mother did not believe me, I had to pray in front of her. It appears that praying was more important than learning to read.
65.On Sundays, both my mother and I had to meet with this religious leader to give ‘feedback’. If my ‘problem’ was still there, I was told that I was not praying correctly and it was all my fault that God was not listening to me. Gender dysphoria does not work like this, nor does being transgender.
66.The priest would ask me how my praying was going. He would say, ‘Have you asked Him to make your mind right?’, and I would ask, ‘Which way do you want me to pray? Do I ask God to make my body match my thoughts, or to make my thoughts match my body?’ – I was so confused. When I asked for clarification, all I received was more abuse; not only from my mother, but from the priest as well.
67.Can you comprehend the amount of anxiety and depression I felt before and after every meeting? If I was brought to tears, I could not cry in front of my mother or this so-called religious leader. Because of the abuse that would follow, it was better to suck it up and break down later, when I was alone.
68.My mother did not tell my father what was going on, and he never asked.
69.The conversion torture went on for two years, until I lied and said it was working. I was lucky that it was only the ‘pray-away’ kind of conversion torture, which involved room inspections, fasting, and verbal abuse. There are far worse things that could have happened. I am glad that this so-called leader did not know about the other forms of torture.
70.At one point when I was 14, I told my mum that I had lied about ‘getting better’ and told her that I had found the word in the dictionary that described what I thought I was. I told her, ‘I think I need help’. I remember that day because it was New Year’s Eve and I was looking forward to Madonna being on Saturday Night Live. It was a big deal! I sat my mum down and said, ‘I think I’m trans, I need help’. She got so upset and angry at me. She called my dad, who was driving long-haul trucks at the time, and said, ‘You have to take Al and go.’ So I got stuck in a long haul truck with breaks once every eight hours, just driving around all weekend. My dad didn’t ask me what had happened. It was never spoken of again. And I missed Madonna on Saturday Night Live.
71.I tried to tell my mum one more time, when I was 16 years old. I got nothing in response. At this age, I was scared to go back to school. So I tried to commit suicide for the second time. I drove the family car really fast and rolled it on purpose. No one ever asked me why I did it.
72.Being punished for not being able to see the sun through the clouds of depression and anxiety is abuse. Being punished for having gender dysphoria is abuse.
73.How my experiences growing up have impacted me
74.The cost of the abuse I experienced in my childhood and youth has been monumental. It has resulted in PTSD, depression, and four attempts of suicide – all of them before the age of 22.
75.Gender dysphoria, plus dyslexia, plus chronic pain – this did not equal a good life for me.
76.My first attempt at suicide was when I was 12 years old. My family had recently moved to a new place, a farming community where the nearest town was four kilometres away. I had lost all my friends and social network. This new place didn’t make sense to me: I spoke wrong, I dressed wrong, I acted wrong. There was nobody near me who wanted to be friends.
77.A number of things were going on at that time: mum’s father had passed away, which marked a significant change in her behaviour towards me and the rest of the family. My dad’s PTSD was very bad. I was being bullied and physically hurt at my new school, and the whole experience of not being able to find friends was horrible. And on top of that, I was dealing with the emergence of gender dysphoria as puberty set in. Nothing was going right in my life and I couldn’t find hope. It felt like the end of all things.
78.Any time I tried to talk to my parents about how I was feeling, it seemed that other things were more important. I was brushed off and dismissed. I had a sense of complete emptiness. I felt worthless.
79.It was the middle of winter, and I just went walking outside. The snow was knee height. I stayed outside walking in the snow for two hours, trying to catch something that would kill me, or trying to freeze to death. I came back home freezing cold and got into bed, hoping I would die that night. But nothing happened. I woke up the next day and thought, ‘Maybe I did this wrong, I’m too stupid, maybe I’m meant to suffer.’ When you grow up in a religious household like I did, you start to think, ‘even God doesn’t want me.’
80.I don’t think my parents realised what I’d tried to do. They never asked me why I’d gone out in the cold or checked if I was okay. I never talked to them about it, because I was so wrapped up in feeling inferior and unloved. The idea of talking to them about it seemed useless.
81.My second suicide attempt was when I was 14 years old. The pressure at school had gotten much worse, and so had my fear of the threats and beatings I would get every day at school. Every day was the same as the one before and the emptiness I had been feeling just compounded. There were threats about what would happen to me when I went to high school the next year. I was called ‘faggot’ and other names. I was sitting with those threats in my heard. I was thinking, ‘Where am I going to go? What have I got left in life?’ I was so scared about being 15.
82.This was also the age when I told my mum that the conversion therapy had not worked and that I was trans. That added to everything. I’d made one real friend, but then my mum forbade me from being around him any more because she’d fallen out with his mum. That happened a lot – mum shedding friends – there was always some allegation.
83.I tried to hang myself. I managed to get the rope around my neck but it pulled out the light fixture from the ceiling and blew out the power in the whole house. My dad found me and asked me what was going on. In a panic I’d pulled the rope off my neck and I just started trying to come up with a quick answer. I was scared of him. I wasn’t scared of him being violent. I was scared of him knowing that I wasn’t what he wanted me to be, and that I never would be. I wouldn’t follow in his footsteps and become a military man, I wouldn’t be tough and rough like he was. That kind of scared is a different thing. It played so heavily on me that I couldn’t be how he wanted me to be.
84.I don’t know if my dad bought my excuse or not, but he didn’t say anything more about it. I just don’t think he understood what was going on because his PTSD was so out of control. I didn’t tell anyone. I remember once trying to talk to the school counsellor about how I felt living at home, being ignored. I was told that I must be overblowing or imagining things, and was dismissed.
85.After the second attempt, my feelings of worthlessness just kept snowballing. Home was getting worse. My dad was still a powder keg. My sister had moved in with her husband and kids, so now there was constant fighting – not only between my parents, but between each of them and my sister, and little kids running around the house screaming.
86.When I was about 16 and a half years old, I tried to commit suicide again. It was after my parents had pulled me out of the private school and were sending me to public high school. I was so terrified of what would happen.
87.I was driving the family car on a gravel road, and I remember thinking, ‘If I just increase the speed and turn sharply, I should get killed.’ But it didn’t work that way. The car rolled, but I actually walked away with only a couple of scrapes. The car, on the other hand, was a complete write-off.
88.I got in a lot of trouble for rolling the car. No one seemed to think I might have done it on purpose, my parents just thought I was being a petrol head. I never told them I was trying to kill myself.
89.After that, I gave for a while. After trying to kill myself a few times, nothing ever worked, and the fallout afterwards wasn’t worth it if I wasn’t going to get it right. I did look for ways to get into trouble. In hindsight, I can see that I was trying to get attention.
90.By the age of 17 my use of illicit drugs and alcohol was pretty heavy. It was escapism. The pain in my life was so great that I needed to be numb to survive. I used the drugs and alcohol to hide the pain I was in and could not find a way out of. But there’s a point where the distraction becomes a curse and the method of hiding the pain becomes a trap. I ended up getting married at 19. That was one of the stupidest things I ever did. I was using and drinking.
91.Eventually I got to the point where the depression set in and one night I just didn’t want to live anymore. I was 21 years old. It was the worst I’d ever felt in my life. I could not see any hope. I couldn’t see any kind of future, not even a bad future. I just wanted to be out of it. I just wanted the pain to go away.
92.I put so many pills into my system that in my stupor, I’d called the police saying that I wanted to die. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in a hospital bed with two police officers. They released me into the care of my father. Looking back now, I was in no state to be released. Nor was my father in any state to care for me due to his PTSD. I should have been kept for further observation until they figured out what was going on. But my father was working as a police officer at that time, and he used his position as an officer of the law to assure them that he would take care of me.
93.I remember my father said to me that I needed to reach deep down inside and find that little spark of hope, and use it to light a fire. Those words were designed for someone who can see the sun on a cloudy day. I did not see the sun and I could not find a spark until I was much older and far away from my mother.
94.That was the only thing my father said about my suicide attempts. My mother said nothing at all, and didn’t accompany my father when he picked me up from the hospital. My sisters don’t know my full story.
95.After my last, failed attempt at suicide, I thought to myself, ‘Look – you can’t even do this right’. If you did not know, a person can even be conditioned to be their own abuser.
96.Many people think that PTSD is something only suffered by returning soldiers. What people must understand is that anyone who has suffered any type of trauma can be at risk of PTSD. There is no timeline for the onset of PTSD. I did not start experiencing PTSD symptoms until I was about five years into a bad relationship. I had not realised until then how much pain I was holding deep down inside. One example of how my PTSD continues to present, is that I struggle to enjoy a full night of sleep without waking up at 3 am with a deep fear of someone ripping off my sheets and yelling at me.
97.I am now 22 years sober. Every day is a victory.
99.After I got sober, I started to look for a solution. Part of that was starting over – a new life in a new place. I did not think it was going to be Australia. I had imagined it would be in Montana or Alaska, where I could hide and live out my days until I faded away. I didn’t have any hope at that time.
100.I kept spiralling until I was 35 years old and I met a counsellor that started to listen and ask questions. At that point I was in a relationship with an abusive partner, but I couldn’t understand what was going on in my present because I was still so overwhelmed by my past. But then I had someone say to me, ‘Do you realise that you are in an abusive relationship? Do you need help?’. If it wasn’t for that person, there probably would have been a fifth attempt and I probably would have killed myself. I was back at that wall, feeling like there was no one there to pick me up. That person changed my life.
101.Australia did something for me that I had never felt before. I started to live and I felt alive. For a short time, I lived without the pain of abuse in my life.
102.Relationships as an adult
104.I did allow my mother back into my life for a short time here in Australia. But ultimately, I made a stand to stop her abuse. I paid a price for that choice: when I visited the US with my family, my mother shunned us.
105.My mother passed away in 2016. The day before she passed away I spoke to her on the phone. I forgave her, and I have found peace in that. However I cannot forget.
106.I do not have a relationship with my sisters either, because I will not stand for their abuse towards me because I am transgender. One of my sisters told me that I needed to give up my children, because I am sick and need help. Abuse is a learned trait. Where did my sisters learn to abuse? And where does the cycle end? Only with us making a stand not to accept abuse in our lives, and to defend others that are abused.
107.Intimate partner relationships
108.One of the saddest things we don’t talk about is how we can become conditioned to accept abuse as normal.
109.I have experienced abuse in more than one intimate partner relationship, and it has often mirrored the kinds of abuse I experienced as a child.
110.In my last relationship, my partner knew I was trans, about my chronic pain, and about my dyslexia. They would undermine and attack me for all three. The gaslighting was so insidious and happened so slowly and methodically, that even now I’m shocked at what took place. It reached a point where I was convinced that because I was trans, dyslexic, asthmatic and had chronic pain, that I was just a ‘whinger’. That person made me feel like I didn’t deserve to be alive.
111.My ex almost had me convinced to return to conversion ‘therapy’. I came so close as to have meetings with them. But a flood of memories arrived after being told the exact same thing as I had been as a child (just by a different person), and I remembered the trauma. This time, it led to education and common sense taking over. After making a stand for my own mental health, I was told that my sins were going to be my undoing. There is no sin for just existing.
112.My ex also discredited and undermined my chronic pain condition and my gender identity. Once, this person said to me:‘You’re not a woman, you have never given birth so you don’t know pain.’ I have never compared my pain to anyone else’s; nor have I ever compared my story of abuse to anyone else’s. They are exclusively mine and I wish them on no one. They would tell our children that I was ‘faking it’. That I was trying to get money from the government. Abuse does not have to be direct to the person, it can be done indirectly. Causing a person to have to defend their disability is abusive. Using children is despicable.
113.They would also make fun of my dyslexia. Sometimes the abuse doesn’t change, only the abuser. For example, to this day I cannot read Fox in Socks by Dr Seuss. As a parent reading to your children is one of the biggest joys in life. But it is also still one of my biggest fears. Fox in Socks is a reminder of what I used to go through in my younger school years with words moving and stuttering.
114.When I would try to read Fox in Sox to my young children, my ex-partner would laugh at me as I stumbled over the words. When I would come out of the child’s room the abuse from that person would leave me angry and upset to the point that I could not even look at them. I even considered trying to numb my feelings again with alcohol. I was broken hearted that the person that I loved seemed to hate me. But I remained sober. No one was going to take that victory away from me.
115.Once, I suggested to that partner that I wanted to write a book. It was a dream of mine to be a writer. The abuse that followed led to me deleting the 40,000 words I had already written. That person crushed my dreams and hopes at the time. Their verbal abuse about my ability to be a writer continued for months. They would laugh about it with others. It damaged our relationship in ways I prefer not to go into.
116.My ex-partner would hit and kick me as I slept. I would wake up with bruises, sore in places that were not sore when I went to bed. This has contributed to my PTSD and fear of something happening when I go to sleep. That person would also throw plates at my head. To this day, I cannot enter a kitchen without making sure that it is safe first.
117.I ultimately got out of that relationship with the assistance of the authorities and the support of some excellent services. I cannot talk about that for legal reasons, but I will always be grateful to those who helped me leave.
118.Since leaving that situation, I have found it difficult to enter into a new relationship. I would try to go on dates, but then recognise traits that reminded me of the last relationship, and get panic attacks. Trusting people can be difficult.
119.I would love to be in a relationship. But the problem is the time it takes to explain that I am still somewhat broken. No one wants to face that reality. Thanks to my education I can see how the abuse has impacted my life. But that does not mean I can stop or remove the impact. Any person entering my life has to deal with the issue that I am now a mostly stay-at-home person. When a new person comes into my life, I’m always thinking, ‘Is this person going to hurt me? Is this person going to be able to handle me?’. It would take someone who is very exceptional to enter my life.
120.My daughter’s experience
121.I have the permission of my youngest daughter to mention her story. She is too young to describe her abuse without reopening old wounds, so I speak for her.
122.My daughter lives with severe dyslexia, just as I do.
123.My daughter was sexually assaulted when she was six years old.
124.At one stage in her life following the assault, my daughter batted the very same suicidal feelings that I once suffered. She had not been listened to by the proper authorities. It broke my heart to see my child in such pain. What many people don’t understand about suicide, is that it is an attempt at escape from an overload of pain.
125.Due to the way in which my parents responded to my suicide attempts as a child, I made a choice to not be lackadaisical with my daughter’s pain. We are very close. I said to her in her darkest hours: ‘You are listened to, you are cared for, you are loved, and you matter.’ I also took the time to find her the best help I could. To this day I have never stopped being my daughter’s champion, nor have her brothers. Sometimes the right words at the right time make a difference. But they have to be backed by actions.
127.Chronic pain is a constant companion in my life even to this day. The older I get the worse it gets. I have pain in my back, elbows, hands, feet and all over my body. There are times it hurts to breathe. There is not a day that I am not in pain. I have very limited energy because of the pain. There are days that when my children and others are not looking, I fall to pieces due to the pain. But I press on.
128.I have worked very hard to read and write the best I can and have even become a twice-published author. I am currently working on seven different books at the same time. I have learned to write my books using some of the best software available. I have never held one of my works in my hands and read it cover to cover. It once took me about 30 hours to read a book. I still have a hard time understanding what I read. As an author, I use software to read back to me what I have written which solves that problem.
129.The world is not designed for people who have dyslexia. Normal life sometimes mocks us. I was once pulled over by a police officer in Launceston. He asked me for my driver’s license and then asked me to read it to him. I looked at him and said. ‘No’. He was shocked, and asked why. I told him that I am severely dyslexic and that the font on that license was so small I could not read it. He told me that my license was out of date, and let me go fix it. The problem is that the date sits on a clear field with black writing and a very small type face. I have bumped into that policeman since then and we have had a few laughs about that day. He told me that day changed him for the better. Now he no longer asks people to read their driver’s license to him.
130.I am able to deal with my gender dysphoria because I have become an expert in my own condition, and I now have a doctor who listens to me. But it is still really hard for me. I’ve been taking the medications for too long, and I want to get surgery. But the surgery is elective and expensive, and I can’t access it in Tasmania. I don’t see it as ‘elective’ – I see it as something life changing that will help my depression and my gender dysphoria. I can’t look at photos myself. I avoid my reflection when I pass windows. I see somebody else, I don’t see me. That’s my dysphoria, and that’s my depression.
131.I’m still attacked by people in my life. I still feel that the medical community won’t help me. It makes me tired. I have my kids, but I don’t have a family above me anymore, and that’s hard. It feels very lonely.
Over the years I have been on the receiving end of comments such as, ‘You should just kill yourself, you freak’; ‘You are worthless’; ‘You are going to hell’; ‘You are the reason for all that is wrong in the world’. The abuse hasn’t ended – just the people who abuse have.
132.My hopes for the future
133.Being free from abuse is the most enjoyable moments of breathing and life. If I had to describe the feeling, it is like enjoying a cool night’s air as the scent of fresh flowers drift by.
134.When you are free from that abuse, it is glorious. You can choose what you want to eat, what you want to do, how you want to dress.
135.I want to install in my children a sense of ownership of who they are, so they don’t fall into the traps that I did. If you haven’t had good modeling of relationships yourself, it’s hard to pass on to children. My youngest child is 12 years old now, the age I was when I first tried to kill myself. I want my children to know I’m in their corner because there was nobody in mine growing up.
136.I feel what is lacking is accountability. The system is broken and so are the abusers, and the abused as a direct result. It is a never-ending cycle. I struggle to bring something new to the table as a suggestion. It has been said over and over again, but we are still asking the same question. How many more times do we have to say: stop abusing us?
137.What I would like to say to those who abuse
138.I would like to say my abusers: I got up after you knocked me down. I have succeeded where you said I would not. I am holding the light now, and I will not be silent. There is no excuse for abuse. Time for you has run out!
139.To all abusers, I would like to say: we see you. We know your secrets, your excuses, and the lies you tell. We will turn on the light. We will demand accountability and consequences for your actions.
140.What I would like to share with others who have experienced abuse
141.I suffered a lot of abuse in many different forms. I am here to say for those who cannot: look at me, hear my words. I am dyslexic and I am a published author with a higher education. I speak multiple languages. I am a person who deals with chronic pain and I have stood on top of glaciers, even though every step wracked my body in pain. I am transwoman with gender dysphoria and I am a safe person – just ask my friends and my children and their friends.
142.To any child who is experiencing abuse, I would tell them: you are worth every breath, you are listened to, and you matter. It may get dark at times, but life is better with you in it. Keep talking. There are those of us who have your back, and it will get better. We will make sure of it. I challenge this Royal Commission to demand the same.
If you have made it this far I ask you to make your vote count and vote out the bastards who are the hate mongers. In Tasmania, let’s get rid of Senator Claire Chandler.