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A New Season for Drama Downunder

With every new season is a new time to get tested, get treated, and avoid the drama. Following the popularity of the original 'seasons' campaign back in 2015, this year's Drama Downunder features the fresh faces introduced last year as well as the first trans man every featured in the campaign's 13-year history. We sit down with Florin (pictured above left) about visibility, trans health, and being on street posters in your underwear.

Getting in front of the camera in just a pair of white undies can be a confronting experience for most people. What was that experience like?

Honestly, I have no issue showing off my body at all. I would be nudie all the time if it was allowed. So that aspect of the shoot didn’t feel too intimidating. Top surgery was expensive, so I always embrace any opportunity to show off my ten-thousand-dollar designer chest.

Did you have any reservations about being a part of a sexual health campaign?

Quite the opposite - I’m proud to be part of a sexual health campaign. Getting regular STI tests is an important part of my life and I’m not ashamed about that at all. With work that is public like this - being on posters all round the city - that links me to sexuality and sexual health in a really explicit way, I can imagine why someone might be unsure about what the impact of that might be. The responses of family, friends, employers etc. could be challenging. But it’s difficult to make me feel ashamed about stuff like that, and my perspective is that the benefits of trans visibility in a sexual health campaign outweighs those personal negative outcomes for me.

How do you feel about the posters now that you see them up? Has anyone recognised you in the campaign?

There are some posters in an underpass that I drive through all the time! The first time I saw them I was just driving through there and not expecting to see myself or anything, and I got super excited! I was like who’s that handsome man?? I really wanted to pull over and have a proper look but there was a truck tailgating me and I was running late so I couldn’t. Two of my friends have seen me and sent me pictures, but no one else has recognised me yet (or if they have they’re being very polite about it).

Last year was the first time the campaign introduced new faces and we attempted to include a trans model, but this year you’re the first trans man to ever be in the campaign. How do you feel about that?

I am stoked to be part of it. But if I’m honest, I’m a bit sad that I was the first trans man in a campaign that has been so long-running! Being the first of something is cool, but it would’ve been cooler to see trans inclusion in Drama DownUnder in earlier years. I do really hope other trans masculine people who see my poster feel excited and inspired by it - but I’m also aware that my body doesn’t represent the entire community. In the next round of DDU photos, I’d love to see trans people of colour represented, and brotherboys, and trans men who haven’t gotten surgery or taken testosterone. All of those presentations of transness that my body doesn’t represent, that are so much more important and powerful.

Various people from our trans and gender diverse communities have been featured in Thorne Harbour health promotion campaigns (What Works, Public Cervix Announcement) and the organisation’s annual report publications. How important do you think representation and visibility are?

Yeah I do think it’s super important, but visibility is really a minor aspect of a big picture when it comes to transgender healthcare and sexual health in the trans community.

What I think is more important is the accuracy and accessibility of the information. A lot of information about transgender bodies has been slowly demystified in the last twenty years but a lot is still not known about best practice healthcare for us as well. Historically, rigorous research about transgender bodies has simply not been done and this leaves gaps in our knowledge of ourselves.

More answers have emerged in recent years, and this research is being given more gravitas, but there remains a significant barrier to the community actually accessing and understanding that information as well. Many of us, including myself, have experienced doctors, psychologists and other healthcare professionals misrepresenting or not knowing the correct information or appropriate pathways, particularly in relation to hormones, reproductive organs, safe sex and stuff like that. So there is also still a lot of misinformation that leads trans folks to not know what is happening with our own bodies

Visibility is a really strong tool, especially when it’s utilised collectively to uplift the whole community. So trans, gender diverse and non-binary inclusion and representation in these campaigns is totally integral, it’s affirming, uplifting, educational and fun! It contributes to everyone’s understanding about trans and gender diverse people. But what’s more important than visibility is to make sure that we actually have access to reliable and correct information about our bodies.

Putting yourself in the public eye doesn’t come without risks and we’ve seen instances in the past where that has been especially true for trans and gender diverse people who have fallen victim of transphobic and hurtful comments. Do you have any advice for anyone considering putting themselves out there?

It helps that I have a really strong and stable sense of myself these days, and a little bit of experience with negative comments and scrutiny. You keep building those skills and I am definitely still building them. I am surrounded by a really strong network of friends and family who always support me through any trouble that pops up in my work.

My advice starts with: Be really careful about what you say yes to, and trust your instincts if something doesn’t feel right. Don’t say ‘yes’ to opportunities if you don’t feel like you can trust the people and organisation/s you are working with. They need to be able to offer support to you if something troubling happens while you’re working with them. Thorne Harbour have definitely offered this and I felt pretty safe knowing that stuff like my safety and my personal details would be protected by the organisation and that I wouldn’t have to engage personally with any possible negative backlash unless I chose to.

I would also suggest that you ask yourself whether you are in the right headspace to take up space in public. You want to be feeling pretty stable and confident before putting yourself in a position with hundreds of eyes on you. If you’re going through a period of feeling really vulnerable and sensitive, it might not be the best time to put yourself in the public eye if you can help it.

Plot twist, when a staff member at Thorne Harbour initially asked if I would be interested in being part of it, I initially said ‘no’ to the Drama Down Under campaign for this exact reason. I have been in and out of the spotlight in the queer community in the last few years due to my work, and at the time I just did not feel strong enough to take on this extremely public campaign and any potential scrutiny that would go with it. But then a couple of weeks passed and I had a really good chat about it with my partner who was super encouraging. I came back to Thorne Harbour and said I had changed my mind and was keen to go ahead.

Where do you see progress being made when it comes to advocating for better health and wellbeing for TGD communities?

Sometimes it feels like no progress is being made. Moving through these systems is like trying to break the sound barrier. There is so much resistance and skepticism. This is especially true for trans and gender diverse Indigenous people and folks of colour, who can be excluded from white trans and gender diverse activism, particularly in mainstream scenes. I definitely observe more resistance than progress, even now.

But there certainly is progressive and positive outcomes cropping up everywhere, including awesome research about trans healthcare. I see the most beauty in the connections that we make with each other in the community: complex, loving, nuanced, warm, challenging conversations and relationships that are the power of our community. Ultimately we really are the best advocates for ourselves and progress is usually driven by grassroots trans and gender diverse activists. A lot of us don’t like the spotlight - a lot of us do as well of course - but as a collective we have a stronger voice with which to make demands of professionals, caregivers, schools, government and organisations who aren’t doing good enough.

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