Words Finnian Burman
Back in December, I had a lovely little chat with a young man by the name of Felix Buckley. Felix is an eighteen year old trans-guy from the North of the state. What caught my attention about Felix was that he was an Air Force cadet, I was fascinated by his experience being gender diverse and working in the military. He had a lot to say about being transgender in the Australian Defence Force.
Disbelief is a common reaction to a young person coming out as transgender. How do you know for sure? Is it a phase? What made you realise? Felix gave some thoughts about his gender journey, as well as his parents, friends, and teachers when I posed this question to him.
“I’ve always been a ‘tomboy’ and more interested in what the boys were doing. When I hit high school and we all started to go through the uncertainty that is puberty, I realised how uncomfortable I was with myself all the time. It took a long time to find the confidence to say ‘hey, I’m a dude’ and express the underlying feeling of being out of place. As I got older, it just became more and more apparent that I just ‘felt’ and expressed myself as a guy.”
This is a common experience for transgender people. Many feel out of place from a young age, and become uncomfortable with their bodies as they hit puberty. I wondered how Felix’s parents handled the transition he was undergoing.
“My mum is accepting, even if she does think it’s a phase due to an increase in the number of young people coming out as LGBT over the past few years,” he told me. “She’s happy for me to experiment with my gender and has said she will fully accept me if I still feel like this in a few years. She still dead-names me and calls me her daughter at the moment, but it honestly doesn’t bother me if it means she will accept me in the future. My dad was initially confused when I brought up non-binary and transgender people, but he has started to think of me as his son.”
Felix went on to explain that most of his teachers at school have been great about it; that his principal goes out of his way to call him Felix. He has come up against a little opposition, including being told to remove his pronoun badge from his blazer, even though it isn’t against school code. He’s also been called a ‘misguided sinner’ by a teacher. However, his friends have been fantastic about it. This is common for young LGBT people. Often, when their family isn’t sure, or isn’t supportive, it’s their friends that pick up the slack and make them feel wanted and secure in their identity. These reassuring and compassionate friendships are a life-saving resource to many young transgender people.
Felix’s insight into how the Australian Defence Force responds to LGBT people was what really interested me. The ADF website assured me that they are 100% understanding and accepting, but I wanted to know about his lived experience as a transgender person in the military.
“The ADF and cadet programs have a zero tolerance policy for any kind of hate. I know people have been kicked out of cadets for making homophobic or transphobic remarks; no second chance, you’re kicked out. They protect their own,” he was passionate while telling me this, and seemed to genuinely love his time in the Air Force cadets. “They’ve offered me separate accommodation during camps, and everyone in my squadron has to call me Felix or they will get into big trouble. Being LGBT is basically a dot point to ADF. They don’t mind at all and it’s a really supportive environment. They’ve even offered to start me on hormone replacement therapy as part of their medical program.”
Felix told me he knew many other LGBT people serving in the military and the cadets, and that it was a lot more common than people would think. I discovered that in 2015, the Australian Defence Force did an overhaul of their policies and procedures regarding LGBT people, and have truly put in an effort to make people under the rainbow flag feel welcome and cared for. I had never considered the military to be anything other than stringent and unwilling to bend to individual needs, so I was surprised and delighted to hear that LGBT people in our country didn’t have to avoid military service if it was something they were interested in. Transgender people in particular are given a lot of options regarding shared accommodation, bathroom use, and other spaces that are often difficult to navigate when you are gender diverse. Felix is excited to work in the Air Force as a lifelong career.