Tina Healy – Interview

Tina Healy is an advocate, peer support worker and an elder in the transgender community. She is a dad to her children, grandma to her grandchildren, and just ‘Tina’ to her community. Tina was co-coordinator of Gender Diversity Australia, and is currently co-coordinator of Alphabet Soup – a peer support group in Melbourne and regional Victoria. Now semi-retired, she is following her passion as a writer.

Tina speaks with Bent Street Publisher Gordon Thompson

GT: Tina, how is 2018 going for you?

TH: It’s been a year of openings, Gordon. The grant for the Alphabet Peer Support Program came through in July. So there’s some exciting things in the pipeline for the trans community. We’re running a trans camp in Stawell this September – that’s a first for Victoria!! The Stawell Neighbourhood House has partnered with Alphabet Soup locally, and we’re getting great response from local support services and the trans, gender diverse and non-binary communities. On a personal note, my new granddaughter arrived earlier this year. That makes four grandchildren, and this is one proud grandma. The Crooked Cottage, my ruggedly non-conformist home in Stawell has been restumped, and a new lounge and kitchen floor is being built. We might have to rename the cottage ‘the slightly bent cottage’.

GT: Sounds the perfect place to put your feet up for a well-earned rest and read a book – speaking of which, what are you currently reading?

TH: I’m currently reading Wimmera by Mike Brandi. I’m reading it because it is set in and around the Grampians and Wimmera district, and I wanted to explore the images he paints of the world in which the children live. I started reading it as a crime novel – and it is – but I found it took me to places to do with childhood trauma that was very difficult to read. I guess I respect authors and artists that carry people with them to uncomfortable spaces, then bring them back with a sense of resolution.

GT: Apart from books and writing, is there anything else (another art form, say, music, or film …) that has impressed you this year?

TH: Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. As a writer, I paint with metaphor, with words. As a comedian, Hannah has elevated the combination of words, humour, tension, trauma, and comedy to a new level. Comedy has a way of giving us permission to look at things we normally can’t. She takes us to those painful places, and lets us stay in there with her. She relieves the tension occasionally, but then takes you back to traumatic stories. Like waves. It’s a strange experience to be laughing and crying at the same time.

GT: Writing trauma can be difficult because of I guess the dangers of re-traumatising; but words are also a powerful way of reframing, and managing events.

TH: There is so much pressure now to produce positive narratives for our community, particularly our young trans people and their families. I’ve been a proponent of that. It’s important. But the danger is that we don’t give voice to the trauma of a generation that went before.

GT: Bent Street 1 published an excerpt from your novel ‘Becoming Mick Sheehan’ – how is that piece of writing going?

TH: I’m enjoying continuing the exploration of how a young trans girl was allowed to dress as a girl at home in a conservative country region early last century. What were the domestic circumstances that enabled that? What did the local community think about it? I am currently creating a family story around this character that takes the reader back three generations of Mick’s family. A line of strong women, each in their own way are outsiders in community, but each has a sense of pride, a resilience that carries them through. The trans girl in the story was a relative of my family, and I feel I owe it to her to construct a story around her life. So that she is not forgotten. So that the causes of her suicide as a teenager become a message for the way our society can sometimes treat trans kids.

I’m also working on a collection of reflections and short pieces called Tales from the Crooked Cottage. It’s a selection of pieces I have been writing over the last six years covering the shift from country to city, life in a new community, how being trans and out has affected, enriched my life and family. It’ll be the kind of book you can pick up and read one page or twenty. The kind of book you could give someone as a gift for their transition journey.

GT: What is inspiring you / impressing you / challenging you right now?

TH: I am inspired by the new generation of younger trans, gender diverse Australians that are finding their voice. Giving us new perspectives, new directions. I continue to be amazed at a new generation of parents that are listening to their children, and supporting them as they explore their sexuality and gender identity. I am grateful for the work of the Royal Children’s Hospital Gender Clinic, who’s workload has quadrupled in as many years, and they just keep rising to the occasion, keeping out in front, on the treatment and support of trans children and their families. I am also inspired by the community of allies that is a feature of support for LGBTIQ people in rural and regional communities. I think the country has a lesson to teach the city in what it means to be a caring community. The Neighbourhood and community house sectors offer an enormous opportunity for the creations of safe spaces for trans people. Important I think to acknowledge the role of Ro Allen, the Victorian Human Rights Commissioner and her team for their breakthrough LGBTI Roadshow through country Victoria, that created a momentum for change that is still rippling through regional Victoria.

Read Tina Healy’s We were the ones that went before.

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