Growing Up Queer

Growing Up Queer: Issues Facing young Australians who are gender variant and sexuality diverse

This project, conducted with young people who identify as gender and sexuality diverse, was undertaken during 2012-2013. It was a collaborative project involving academics from the University of Western Sydney – Professor Kerry Robinson, Dr Peter Bansel, Dr Nida Denson, and Dr Georgia Ovenden; two external consultants with expertise in filmmaking, script writing and performance – Cristyn Davies and Elena Knox; and Twenty10– a Young and Well CRC supporting partner, located in Sydney, New South Wales. Twenty10 is an organisation focusing on those needing support around identity issues associated with gender and sexuality diversity.

This research aimed: (i) to gain an understanding of the experiences of young people who identify as gender variant and sexuality diverse across a broad range of issues such as identity, health and wellbeing, education, technology, and access to services; (ii) to work creatively and collaboratively with a group of these young people to begin to develop innovative, relevant and engaging resources based on research findings that would contribute to increasing professional and community awareness of their experiences and needs; and (iii) in the development of these resources, to provide this group of young people with a valuable and socially engaged experience of documentary-style video production using hand-held technologies – in this case, iPods.

The findings are based on the results of a national survey conducted as part of this pilot research, completed by 1,032 young people between the ages of 16–27 who identified as gender variant or sexuality diverse; as well as a focus group and interactive workshops involving approximately 20 young people, aged between 16–23, who volunteered to participate during their attendance at the Saturday afternoon drop-in activities at Twenty10 over several consecutive weeks. Gender variance refers to expressions of gender that do not match that predicted by one's sex, including people who identify as transgender, transsexual, gender queer, or intersex (Riley, Sitharthan, Clemson & Diamond, 2011; State Government of Victoria Department of Health, 2013). Sexuality diverse is a broad term used to include people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, pansexual or questioning their sexuality. The young participants who completed the survey attended a focus group and workshops, were primarily from Anglo-Celtic backgrounds, but there were representations from Indigenous Australian, Asian, Maori, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, Central and South American, European and African backgrounds. Of respondents completing the online survey, 53% were female identified, 39% were male identified, 4% were gender variant, 3% were transgender (1% male to female, and 2% female to male), and 0.3% were intersex (note that the total percentage adds up to 99% due to rounding). Almost all of the focus group and workshops participants were male identified, including transgender female to male. The majority (61%) of participants completing the survey identified as lesbian or gay, 25% were bisexual, 10% identified as queer, 3% questioning their sexuality, and 1% identified as heterosexual ('straight'). Those attending the focus group were largely gay or queer identified. Most of the young people who completed the survey were working full-time (24%) or part-time (27%), or attending university (38%) or TAFE (8%), some were still at school (16%) and 13% were unemployed. Half (50%) were living in the family home, with others living with relatives, in shared housing, with partners, rental accommodation, boarding houses, on the streets, or in refuges.

This pilot report is part of a larger suite of resources, which includes five discrete short documentary style video clips, titled Growing Up Queer, addressing issues of identity, family relationships, homophobia/transphobia, and sex education, developed in collaboration with young participants involved in the focus group and workshops; and a performed ethnography, which entails the development of a play script/scenario, based on the research findings, to be used as an interactive professional development resource, in this instance, for high school teachers. The performed ethnography is accompanied by critical facilitator questions. The development of these professional development and community education resources will contribute to current efforts in counteracting homophobia and transphobia in families, schools and broader communities. Homophobia encompasses a range of negative attitudes and feelings – e.g. hatred, disgust, contempt, prejudice, fear – towards those who identify as, or are perceived as being non heterosexual (or straight), such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgendered or transsexual. Transphobia is similar, but is the negative feelings and attitudes directed at people who are gender variant.