Joel’s proud journey between the genders

Reporter DANIELLE NOHRA meets a young guy who’s proud to say he’s a trans man and proud to says he’s been a woman.

Joel Wilson… “As a man, from the get-go, I’m competent until proven otherwise but as a young woman I had to prove otherwise.” Photo by Danielle Nohra

STARTING life as a girl, and then coming out as a lesbian, and then a trans man, and then a gay trans man has forced Joel Wilson to face some serious obstacles.

Serious enough that about four years ago he was pushed to the point where he wasn’t coping and ended up in hospital.

Now, stronger than before, Joel is proud to say he’s a trans man and he’s proud to says he’s been a woman.

After transitioning from a woman to a man at 19, Joel has a unique insight into the very different world of both genders.

As a young woman, Joel was considered to be “outspoken” and “bossy” but now, as a man, he is described as a “leader” and isn’t told he speaks too much.

“When I stood up as a young woman I was ‘complaining’ or ’emotional’ but now people listen to me,” he says.

Joel, 23, who is studying for a bachelor of science at the ANU, is breaking transgender barriers in Canberra.

“Having conversations and allowing people to get to know me is the best way to break down those barriers,” he says.

“It’s really important for people to see that I don’t have three heads.

“In terms of work, generally speaking, it’s a lot easier to be a man. But when it comes to their mental health and building networks, it’s a lot harder.

“Being a young man it became much harder to create friendships. I hadn’t changed as a person and it was one of the things I really miss about being a women.”

But, aside from mental health, Joel believes women lose out the most.

While studying mathematics, as a woman, at a university in Adelaide, Joel says he wasn’t taken seriously because of his sex.

High school was a similar story, and there were always boys who were “better than” Joel even though he was the school dux and had higher grades.

When Joel reflects on other areas such as work, he believes there was one instance when he was only hired because, at the time, he had large breasts.

“As a man, from the get-go, I’m competent until proven otherwise but as a young woman I had to prove otherwise,” he says.

Joel narrows these issues down to toxic masculinity and says that femininity shouldn’t be seen as bad.

“Just because the world says this is the way you should treat your son, doesn’t mean they should do it,” he says.

“It starts from a young age. We need to teach young boys that it’s okay to cry.”

He says parents give their boys Lego, which teaches them to think structurally, and girls are given books, teaching them to think creatively.

“But it’s not just about little ones. We need to lift up feminine qualities,” Joel says.

“Imagine if we valued empathy like we value strength. Once you stop restricting certain gender to certain traits, people will stop devaluing feminine traits.

“Women do more unpaid labour than men and even in some of the best relationships there’s still a divide with what the women do around the home.

“There’s so many women in my life that I admire because they do so many things in their professional life and then run a home.”

Rather than continuing to see gender through society’s socially constructed gender differences, Joel would like people to recognise not everyone fits into the “boy” and “girl” box and instead people should respect how others identify.

Joel’s journey into manhood

IT’S been a long journey for Joel Wilson that started at the age of 17 in hometown Adelaide.

It was there as a year 12 girl where Joel was grappling with his sexuality.

At the time he was a youth leader and when his pastor found out Joel wanted to come out as a lesbian, the pastor would arrange weekly meetings to try “help”.

“We’d have meetings and he’d say: ‘You’re making the wrong choice’,” Joel says.

“A lot of me at the time didn’t want [to be a lesbian] because I was worried about the implications it would have on my family and my faith. Basically at the time, the attitude was ‘you’re going to hell’.

“During that time I got in touch with two lesbian ministers from the Uniting Church who ran a queer Christian women’s group that formed the basis of a community, which says ‘it’s okay to be you’.

“By the end of year 12 I decided that I did want to be open about who I am and what I’m doing.”

When Joel came out as a lesbian he was told that he couldn’t be a youth leader and was “kicked” out of the church.

Luckily, he had supportive parents, friends and a community in Adelaide to help him get through.

But fast-forward a few years and everything was different. Joel moved to Canberra in 2013, joined ADFA as a female cadet and started training as an electrical engineering officer. By this time Joel had become more masculine in appearance.

“I had short black hair and was very butch to the point where people were first identifying me as a boy,” he says.

But it wasn’t long before Joel realised ADFA had a heavily present “man” and “woman” box. And he didn’t fit into either.

Joel started living a double life, he would be “Joel” on the weekends and then by Monday morning would go back to being a “girl” again.

Eventually Joel grew tired of this double-life and decided he wanted to transition.

In late 2013 Joel became the first person to ever transition while at ADFA. But transitioning came with discrimination and little support, which pushed him to leave in the middle of 2014.

After ending up in hospital, Joel now speaks out about transgender discrimination, he speaks up for the mental health in men and he uses his experience to raise issues on gender equality.

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