Grace Hyland primarily sees being transgender as a medical condition, but if you asked some of those vying for Australia's top jobs, they might not agree.
The 21-year-old Melburnian came out as transgender when she was 12, but she knew she was in the wrong body from when she was four.
Hyland, alongside her father, Australian actor Mat Stevenson, has been extremely vocal about her journey and is a passionate trans rights activist and one thing she is tired of seeing is the right for the transgender community to exist being debated for political sport.
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"Being trans is a medical condition," Hyland tells 9Honey via Zoom.
"And being trans is something that is now being politicised into a left or right issue. I'm sorry, it's not a left or right issue. It's a medical issue. No matter what side of the spectrum you sit on, people deserve treatment for their health," she says, comparing it to how someone living with diabetes would not be subject to an ongoing, public debate as to if they deserve insulin.
"If there's one thing I hate, it's being politicised, because in my mind, it's the antithesis of a political issue."
On the campaign trail in Sydney, Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison doubled down on his support for Katherine Deves, the Liberal candidate for Warringah, who has come under fire for claiming that "mutilation" is the "correct medico-legal term" for gender reassignment surgery although Morrison did say that term is not one he would necessarily use.
Deves also insisted that her significant role in advocating against trans women in women's sport was like standing up against the Nazis during the Holocaust, and allegedly claimed in deleted Twitter posts that half of trans women are sex offenders.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese has questioned Morrison's support of Deves, and said that her "mutilation" comment is not one he believes is appropriate.
"Vulnerable people, in particular, are deserving of respect," Albanese said in Melbourne Tuesday. "Every human being deserves respect. What we need to look for from our national political leaders is ways to unify the country and bring people together, not play politics in order to divide people."
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There's no argument to be had about the fact that the transgender community is, in fact, a vulnerable one a 2021 peer-reviewed study found that 43 per cent of transgender Australians had attempted suicide, which is a rate significantly higher than that of the general population. That same study found that wanting but not having gender-affirming surgery is correlated with a 71 per cent higher chance of a lifetime suicide attempt.
Last year was also the deadliest year since records began for the murders of transgender people, with more than 375 reported killings worldwide.
Hyland, who herself told The Project that if she was forced to go through male puberty, she "genuinely [doesn't] think [she] would still be here," tells 9Honey that she feels the politicisation of the transgender community directly contributes to making people understand "what trans actually is" an "even harder" process. She says ignorance can have catastrophic consequences in this context.
She highlights how, when she came out as trans almost a decade ago, there wasn't a lot of information easily accessible online, and mainstream media and entertainment offerings belittled the transgender community as "a joke, a man in a dress, a fetish, a costume, a lifestyle."
"This whole politicisation of trans right is what leads to the lack of education," Hyland says.
"I have a saying that a lack of education leads to a lack of knowledge and wisdom, and a lack of knowledge and wisdom leads to ignorance. And then ignorance leads to transphobia, and I think the cause of that is the politicisation of trans issues."
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Hyland's transition was one that was not done without thought or care, if that was even possible in a context where she had to go to court to be able to undergo hormone replacement therapy.
In fact, it was heavily supported by The Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne's Gender Service, which diagnosed her first with gender dysphoria, and, after a year, it was decided with Hyland and her doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists that she could go on testosterone blockers. By 14, she had grown her hair out and was publicly presenting as Grace.
"The Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne wouldn't have a whole entire clinic if this wasn't a medical condition," Hyland says. "[Politicisation] makes me feel like the understanding of what it truly is to be trans, it's going to take even longer to reach that fact. And the reason why it's so important for people to understand what it is, is because we need the proper treatment."
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Inextricably linked with the concept of belonging when it comes to the transgender community's gender identity is, in public discourse, the concept of biological sex.
During Sunday's debate, when radio host and television presenter Deb Knight asked Morrison and Albanese how they define a woman, Morrison said, "A member of the female sex."
Albanese, meanwhile, said "an adult female," a definition he said he did not think was "confusing."
Among feminists and the LGBT+ community, debate exists as to the correct contexts when it comes to using the terms "woman" and "female".
Some argue that it is dehumanising as "female" is the scientific term that refers to the biological sex of any species and, by extension, reduces a person to their sex organs, whereas "woman" refers specifically to human people.
Similarly, "female" can be seen as a term that erases gender non-binary and some transgender identities, as it's a descriptor linked to biological sex.
For Hyland, it's a complicated issue. She highlights studies that, after analysing brain scans, determined that brain activity and structure in transgender adolescents more closely resembles that of their desired gender than the sex they were assigned at birth.
She also points out how, in the womb, everyone starts out with a vagina that either gradually develops or changes into male sex organs depending on if the Y chromosome is expressed at six to seven weeks' gestation.
"I would argue that transgender women are females in their own right who just need medical steps to help them come into that," Hyland says.
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"However, I feel like saying the definition of a woman is a female in that [nationally-televised debate] space is... It's alluding to something that doesn't include trans women," she says.
"In this current climate of political correctness, if they wanted to include trans women, they would have said people who identify as [women]. They would have made it abundantly clear."
Being the face and outspoken voice of the transgender community in mainstream media as well as on Instagram and TikTok is something Hyland, who says she is a "tough cookie," can handle, but constant politicisations of her identity by people in power gnaw at her.
"I feel as though I have to be perfect because I have to constantly present the idea of like the model Australian, to prove that trans women are just like everyone else," she says.
"I shouldn't have [to do] that, I should be able to just fully be myself. But I do feel like I do have to almost be perfect in a way, just to prove that trans women are normal people."
She looks forward to a day where she doesn't.
If you or anyone you know needs immediate support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or via lifeline.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
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