86. Rebecca Lonie

11 Sep

Bec Lonie is bubbly and animated. It’s easy to imagine her in her role as Jets Team Leader, running the Banyule creative arts space and working with young people.

The Jets facility is responsible for delivering a range of programs and activities for young people in and around Banyule. It presents young people with an opportunity to train in and and to access a range of professional music and multimedia equipment, be involved in creative arts workshops and help coordinate events, including the annual Banyule Youth Festival.

With a background in education and performing arts, Bec was naturally a very good match for Jets.

“I studied art therapy, yoga, opera – I did a lot of weird things! It started to link together through my career in education,” she says.

“Then, [Jets] is one of the first places I’ve worked where all of those disparate practices and philosophies I’ve studied have come together.”

Bec originally thought she might become a performer herself. “I soon realised my personality wasn’t showcase-y enough!”

Despite this, it’s clear Bec has a real love for creative arts. When it comes to her work, Bec speaks eloquently and with passion.

“The benefits of creative arts are self expression and building confidence. Those are transferable skills for other areas of life. Young people get to develop confidence and their sense of self, while having heaps of fun… They leave in a much better place because of that.”

“The idea of having a creative space as a vehicle for self expression and development is something I get really excited about,” Bec says.

“The fact that the Banyule Council has a facility like Jets as part of the work of the youth team is amazing in itself. It can be an awesome alternative for young people who might not fit into the footy team, or might not yet have found their niche.”

What exactly awaits young people who join Jets?

“It’s a choose your own adventure!” says Bec.

“If you’re interested, and you’ve got an idea, we’d love to help you realise that and support you in having an awesome time while you do it.”

Bec also tells me that when young people are applying for jobs, it can be difficult to put together a resume with little experience.

She says, “Jets offers opportunities for [work experience] placements, mentoring and support which can help young people get into employment. We recognise that it’s a gap and it’s one that we’re uniquely placed to meet.

“The culture is ‘less scores, more skills’, so we’re aiming to deliver on that.”

When I ask Bec what her favourite things are about Jets that keep her coming back each day, she takes a moment to mull it over.

“That’s a good question! I think having a really inclusive culture at Jets is one of the things we’re most proud of.”

At Jets, young people from all backgrounds can come together to work on projects – this includes people with a disability, people who identify as LGBTIQ, people who have mental health issues, or those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

“That sense of community, of being like-minded creatives, unites everyone because of their similarities, not their differences,” says Bec.

Most importantly, Bec keeps coming back because she sees young people achieving great things.

“There are lots of individuals who have gone through Jets who have become very successful – whether that’s going on to study in a creative field or being employed in a creative role.

“I’m very proud of the fact that we don’t just talk about it – things happen,” says Bec.

“[Young people] may come to us feeling a little lost or unsure about what they’re good at and [through Jets] they’ve been able to follow their passion and ‘make it’… Some people may have joined for social reasons, but everyone leaves with such great skills.”

“We’ve had a young person move onto the Arts Centre to be involved in a bigger project… This maturity, personal growth and skill-building is awesome to be a part of.”

For Bec, the smaller moments can be just as rewarding.

“It’s all the little wins and the conversations we have at Jets. Hearing someone say ‘I feel safe here’ – that is amazing. It shows the impact we can have on someone’s life. If young people can feel confident in a group here, it can make them feel confident elsewhere – then their world starts to open up,” she says.

“Particularly now days, it’s not about ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’. It’s about what awesome things do you want to create, or what kind of person do you want to be, holistically?

“I think these are things we can help support [young people] to be confident about. We can help them to be confident in themselves and in the gifts they can share – because we all have one!”

Words: Annabelle Pendlebury

Photo: Nicole Squelch




85. Anthony Despotellis

2 May


From the moment Anthony started his interview I could tell that this is a man who is passionate about what he does. He has come up the ranks in the community and acts as a mentor on local art projects, and recently supported the mural project at the community garden at Macleod College. He is passionate about socially aware hip hop culture and creating legal murals around Melbourne.

Currently, his life is divided into three parts- he has just completed his industrial design course at university, he is involved in spray painting, and is learning a new language. He tells me he has always been creative since he was a child, but it wasn’t until he was about 14 that he started learning how to break dance, which set in motion a big change in his life. Through this he found hip hop. The 4 components of this are graffiti, rapping, DJing and break dancing, all of which he is involved with in some way. He expresses concern that graffiti is not very widely accepted as an art form, yet you can learn a lot from it. He says that ‘art is a never ending journey’

Anthony loves to draw and paint people with a story behind them as it makes the art more personal and meaningful. This is part of what he will do when he travels to Brazil for three months, where he plans to paint walls and the people he meets. He says ‘you can look at someone and not know anything about them, but once you find out something about them it changes the way you look at them’ He wants people to look at his portraits and see what it is that makes that person unique.

In his opinion, artistic expression is important in today’s society because it has always been a part of the world, and reflects the world we live in. It is part of us. He tells me that a very important part of art is ‘the way you create it and who you create it with… art is everywhere and we like it whether we know it or not’.

One of the first projects Anthony was involved in was spray painting the wall of a local gym. He says that was a great experience because of the amount of work and effort he put into the job. One of his biggest projects so far was for Yarra Valley Water , painting a mural opposite Loyola College in Watsonia. It took 3 months to plan and only 1 week to paint, so the ratio isn’t quite equal, but he said it was a great opportunity that he enjoyed working on.

Being part of the hip-hop movement is very meaningful to him, as he feels like having strong goals and working hard, but still having fun is paramount to what he does. He says it has helped him realise what is important in life and he gets a lot out of it.

To someone who wants to get involved in this movement, he suggests that they try it out. It is continually developing and attracts a lot of different people from different backgrounds. ‘If you want to get into painting, grab some cans and paint a (legal) wall, and if you want to start dancing you can find tutorials online… find the right people, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and just enjoy it.’

Graffiti grew from the need for a voice and expression of feelings. Many people don’t have a very positive view of it. To these people Anthony says he would educate them on the history of the art form and tell them that it is a beautiful art that is not intended to be destructive.

When asked about who his influences are, he doesn’t give a list of names, he tells me he is influenced by everything, especially since social media is so popular with artists these days, its impossible not to be influenced by everyone. People often take what is important to them and reflect that in their art, which is what makes everyone’s work so different. To continue to improve on his work, he studies art, and sets goals for himself to achieve, so he is constantly practicing and improving his skills, and this is the method that he sticks to in order to get better.

He would like to thank Banyule Council for the opportunities he has been given because they have helped him progress from walking around asking to paint walls, to being paid for jobs. He says ‘there are a lot of people who just do things for the hell of doing it, and if you’re reading this then be that person who does things the best that they can.’


I had the opportunity to catch up Anthony after he returned from his trip and he filled me in on all of the things he experienced during his time in Brazil.

He stayed in Rio De Janeiro for 3 months in what is known as a Favela and spent a long time getting to know the area and the people that lived there. One thing that really stood out to him was how welcoming the people were. He says it was a bit of a reality shock because where he was staying, no one spoke English, people wouldn’t walk with their phones out or be outside after dark and the culture was very different. One of the things he liked about the trip was the cuisine. ‘The food was incredible’, he tells me, and he says that the neighbours would often bring him food, out of a kind and welcoming spirit.

He did a lot of exploring and adventuring during the trip, and as planned, lots of painting. He painted the side of a highway and says that while he was working, the police came and talked to him about his art and complimented his work. He did 3 paintings in the favelas and slept overnight in a school one night while working on one of them, and says that his painting took him to places he wouldn’t have gone otherwise.

Anthony says he would definitely return to Brazil and says he now has an affinity with the country. When asked if he would like to travel to other places, he tells me ‘yes and no’, because he has such a strong connection to South America he would rather go there again before travelling anywhere else. However, although he loves the country, he wouldn’t move there because of how different the culture is.

Anthony recommends travelling while you’re young in order to experience different things and develop as an individual, and go to places you wouldn’t usually go so you can grow your cultural intelligence and be able to see different parts of the world.

You can follow Anthony’s work on Instagram

Words: Jennifer Walker

Photo: Sean Porter

84. Samira Liban

11 Dec

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Samira Liban said she wouldn’t be the person she is today without important mentors that guided her through her younger years.

While most of those were primary and high school teachers, the 23 year-old said one particular group was formative.

When she was in grade six at Olympic Village Primary School, a mentoring group for the older primary school students was formed, called Girl’s Group.

The group, led by Banyule Youth Services’ Leonie Farrell, was an open meeting place for young women, to discuss issues and opportunities, and strengthen relationships.

Samira recalls running to the Banyule Community Health Centre when the bell rang at the end of the day at 3:30pm once a week, excited about what the activity or discussion topic for the day would be.

After running for multiple years, Girl’s Group eventually wrapped up, but Samira said the impact it had on her life was immeasurable.

“It helped me maneuver my way through to high school” she said.

And now, over 10 years later, she is returning the favour.

Already connected to Banyule Youth Services, she was approached last year to see if she could suggest a program worthy of starting up to support young women locally.

She said her answer was a no brainer – Girl’s Group.

So at the start of the year, the group was reformed at her old primary school, with the same intentions it had over a decade ago, to support young women in their journey to high school.

Knowing the impact it had on her as an 11 year-old, Samira decided to get involved again.

But this time around, she wouldn’t be a participant, rather a mentor.

Samira has almost wrapped up a full  year’s worth of mentoring 10 and 11 year old girls.

She said while she came prepared knowing a lot would have changed since she was in their shoes, she was blown away by how mature they were.

One of the most important themes they worked on this year was self-respect.

“We really wanted to dig that into them at a  young age, because once they’re in high school, these sort of things start coming to mind,” she said.

To start these conversations, at the start of most meetings, they would go around the room and get each person to say something they had done that day that they were proud of.

She also worked to strengthen relationships in the cohort.

“Straight away we saw there was a division between them, the little groups they had formed, and the preconceived ideas they had of each other.” she said.

“We’ve taught them how to talk kindly to each other, and how to communicate their feelings.”

She said each of the girls was different, and needed different approaches to take information in.

“Some were loud and some were a bit quieter, so in some sessions we would do drama and plays, and in other groups we’d do writing or games,” she said.

But she said each session was different.

“We plan most sessions beforehand, but it’s always dependent on what the girls want to do, ” she said.

“One might be having a bad day and need one-on-one mentoring, so we’ll give them that.”

Samira finds the concept of giving back incredibly rewarding, and her pro activity to getting involved speaks volumes about her character.

In addition to her hard work mentoring young women in Girl’s Group, once a week she volunteers her time and goes to her local bakery to collect the unsold bread.

She then distributes this to local churches, mosques and individual houses, so it “doesn’t go to waste”.

And she has been recognised for her contribution to her community, having been invited to the Governor’s house for a breakfast during Mental Health Week recently.

“That was really cool,” she said.

In the midst of all her community work, she has also found time to study.

She admitted she had been a bit “all over the shop” when it came to choosing her study path and eventual career.

She originally enrolled in Human Resource Management at La Trobe University in Bundoora, but realised that wasn’t her “cup of tea”, so switched to an early childhood course, which she has just completed her second-last year of.

But she said sh was still unsure where she wanted it to take her.

“There’s not really job title suited to what I think I’m best doing, maybe I’ll just have to make up a role,” she said.

When asked what it was that she thought she was best doing, she paused to think.

“Talking to young people, and trying to help create a better future for them,” she replied.

When asked ‘why’, she recalled a moment from many years ago, at an end-of-year dinner with the Girl’s Group when she was in grade six.

“We went around the table and everyone had to say what they wanted to be when they were older, and I said I wanted to be like Leonie,” she said.

“Everyone laughed, but it was true, she had so much of an impact on me, and I wanted to do the same for girls like me.”

Words: Joely Mitchell

Picture: Heidi Woodman

83. Dean Peters

4 Dec


Creating music has always been Dean Peters’ biggest passion, but he’s now taken it a step further, mentoring young people who want to follow similar paths.

For the last five years, the 22 year-old Templestowe resident, who is also known as Mythic, has been heavily involved in the local music community, participating in, and even forming, music groups that bring likeminded young people together.

He has performed at local events and festivals, including Banyule’s YouthFest and Malahang Community Festival, and thanks to this experience, has earned more responsibilities.

“I’ve performed at YouthFest twice and Malahang twice, and at the last YouthFest [in September], I got asked to host the open mic sessions,” he said.

“There were two sessions, the first one didn’t go so well, but the second one was really popular, before I knew it, it felt like half the festival was there.”

At this year’s Malahang in November, rather than performing like he normally would, he hosted and stage-managed the music festival.

He said while he was more accustomed to performing, hosting events had been a good learning experience.

“It’s unfamiliar territory for me, I’m used to playing and doing my rapping, but now instead of remembering lyrics, I have to remember who’s playing and details about them,” he said.

But he said his main focus was still his solo career.

He released his first mix tape to the world last year, and is currently in the final stages of putting together an EP, which will be called ‘Castle’.

“I’ve recently released a single called ‘Talk Like This’, and that was like the trailer to my EP,” he said.

“I’m probably about 70% through it, I’ve written all the lyrics, all the beats are made, we’re just in the final stages, with photo shoots and music videos to be done.”

He said his EP would have poppy, hip hop vibes, with no crazy beats, but nice melodies over the top.

Dean described his music as “conscious hip hop”.

“The issues I’m addressing are only surface level when it comes to my personal life, but I go a bit deeper when it comes to social issues and issues around the world that I like talking about,” he said.

Those issues included mental health and the gap between first world and third world countries.

He predicted that these issues would be explored more deeply as the years went by.

“I’m still young, there are still going to be a lot more issues that arise,” he said.

“Even after five years of writing, I don’t think I’ve written everything there is to write about myself.

“The further you go into your soul, the deeper you get, and the more you learn about yourself.”

He said music is a perfect outlet to deal with any issues he might be facing.

“When I feel anxious or angry, which can be a mental and a physical thing, I write about it, that way I feel like I’ve been able to express it,” he said.

“Anger has probably been an issue for me for about four or five years, whereas anxiety is something I’ve started dealing with more recently.”

He said he also raps about positivity.

“My main musical influence has always been Bliss n Esso, they’re constantly spreading messages of peace, love and unity,” he said.

“That’s something they always take with them, and it’s something I try and take on board as well.”

He credited the support of friend Matt Casey to getting his EP to where he had wanted it to be.

“He’s incredible, he makes the beats, records my vocals, does my videos; he pretty much does everything except write the lyrics,” he said.

He was also grateful for the support of Jets and the hip hop program New Hope, where he had been given guidance in writing and music production, and provided with a space to rehearse and gig opportunities.

Another collaboration he was excited about was the upcoming ‘What’s Good Cypher Volume 1’ group project he was working on with rappers from around Melbourne.

“We make a beat and then each rapper writes their own verse,” he said.

“That’s currently in the works, everyone’s done their own writing, we just need to record it.”

Dean has also completed a Diploma in Audio Engineering and Music Production at Collarts.

He said he was eager to get his EP out in March next year, and that his generation’s ability to use social media as an outlet to get started in the industry was a double-edged sword.

“I see it as valuable because it’s a good way to get your name out there, but the fact that it’s so easily accessible means you’re going to have ten rappers out there rather than just one, it can be very saturated,” he said.

“There are a lot of extremely talented people out there that aren’t getting noticed.”

But Dean’s dreams are perfectly in tact, and he said he’ll do whatever it takes to achieve them.

“The goal is to be a paid and working performer and rapper,” he said.

Words: Joely Mitchell

Photo: Sean Porter

82. Akolda Bil

18 Sep


23-year-old Akolda has come far in his life as a young Sudanese refugee. When I caught up with him, he was completing a student placement at Youth Foundation, which is an organisation that aims to promote youth empowerment and fund youth driven community projects. After helping to facilitate and MC the Youth Foundation End of Year Celebration Akolda is “100% keen to get involved in more projects involving, art, music and media,” and attain his “Certificate 4 in Community Services Diploma.

Akolda tells me that he first connected with Youth Foundation when he was at Parkville College Flexible Learning Centre, the educational facility at the Parkville Justice Centre.

During his incarceration 3 years ago, Akolda wanted to add a basketball hoop to the yard, as “there was no outdoor space during the breaks…you’d sit up against the wall and do nothing.” Working with the Youth Foundation to “make the basketball project happen meant we had an activity, a sport to do, something to connect with.”

Arriving in Australia in 2003, Akolda hoped to escape “the war, the negative vibes and pursue a better life.” But, Akolda struggled, “as many younger African refugee youth do.” His crimes as a younger man after coming to Australia from Sudan (as well as those of his siblings) “was disappointing to my mother…she didn’t bring me here to do this…to be a criminal.”

“Language barriers, lack of support, and not understanding the law system and the uncertainty of going in and out of court” made it hard for Akolda to avoid trouble and bad influence. He was  “anxious and uncertain” and left without guidance and purpose.

Akolda cites “pursuing an education” and “my mother telling me to better myself and get in the right mind space” as the key to reaching out and finding the support he needed to integrate into his community.

Now, he wants to “give back to the community who supported me by doing youth work in a multicultural setting, working with kids like me.” It can be hard to find “positive vibes,” he says, and to know “why they (the refugees in Parkville) are getting punished.” Even now Akolda still faces the occasional hardship due to his criminal record but is grateful for the help he received to make sure he has been able to find employment.

Akolda wants to pursue youth work in the area of advocacy and accessibility, collaborating with youth organisations. He also plans to work with Yarra Youth Services, helping into improve the youth music scene.

Akolda “gives props to Parkville College for giving me motivation and a good study environment.” Without study, “I don’t think I would have gotten this far,” he proclaims proudly. When I ask him what advice to give to young people who are have similar journeys to him, he says it’s important to “understand what’s going on in your community, always have hope, and never give up on your dreams.”

Words: Taylor Carre-Riddell

Picture: Sean Porter

81. Darren Murray

7 Aug


As a profession, teaching is about a lot more than helping students to learn the assigned curriculum. Teachers often hold a support role, ensuring the health and well-being of their students and Darren Murray understands this more than anyone else. A teacher at Viewbank College since 2007, Murray, who teaches PE and Health (and Japanese occasionally), is more recognisable in the school as the Health and Well-being Leader. In charge of implementing programs to ensure that students are supported and experiencing strong mental health at the school, Murray’s work in the Health and Wellbeing domain over the last nine years has left a positive impact on Viewbank College and everyone within it.

Murray believes the formation of Viewbank College’s Friends of Health and Well-being committee has led to the changes in the schools Health and Well-being programs. This was also “the beginning of [his] involvement” with health and well-being at the school. However, this wasn’t his first entry into the world of health and well-being. The culmination of his own experiences and experiences of those around him has been the catalyst for his journey. These experiences have translated into skills in areas such as mental health which he admits “has become a bit of a specialty area, even if [he’s] not very well-trained” in it. He’d witnessed similar drug and alcohol education programs in Western Australia where he lived and taught before his move to Viewbank. He has “been able to apply a similar model”  by including the whole school community – teachers, parents and students – in the discussions around health and well-being.

Through his work in Health and Well-being at Viewbank College, Murray has established programs such as “Heads Up Week” for Year 8 students. Inspired by the Resilience Project, the cohort spends their week learning about mental health and developing skills, resilience and positive strategies to combat poor mental health. The program is delivered by all of the teachers the students will have across a week. Often, the content will be delivered in a way that is relevant to the domain of the teacher with the art based projects delivered by Art teachers and outdoor activities or activities pertaining to physical health delivered by Sport and PE teachers. While in the College this may be the best known of the Health and Well-being programs presented, Murray explains that there are “overlay programs” in each year level.

“In Year 7, we have a focus on nutrition and physical activity,” he says. “We have a fun run and we have a sugar workshop where we watched ‘That Sugar Film’ and analysed how much sugar there is in foods.”

He also explains that there has been a push to drink tap water for the benefits to our health and that of the environment and this campaign has culminated in chilled water taps now at the school.

In Year 9, students participate in a mindfulness program and the Year 10’s have guest speakers present content related to careers as they undertake subject selection for VCE and drug and alcohol awareness too.

“In Year 11 and 12 it’s harder to access students and I feel like we still have a long way to go with health and well-being,” Murray admits. “We have done programs over the years with the leaders about drugs and alcohol but I think it would be good to do some more work about mental health in particular because the stress and anxiety levels are high.”

Murray also talks about the changes made by the school in terms of diversity and inclusivity especially for LGBTQ students, referring to the work of students such as Skye Lacy (known for their LGBTQ activism in the Viewbank College community) to create change in the school community, calling these changes a “highlight”.

“We’ve come a long way in my time here in relation to gender and sexual diversity,” he says. “I know that we’ve got gay students and transgender students in the college and they feel well supported, they feel comfortable in their own skin and they’re included in Viewbank College.”

As well as being passionate about health and well-being, Murray is also passionate about properly engaging students in the classroom, encouraging students to fully engage with the content rather than sit passively and experience what he calls “death by PowerPoint.” As a visual learner, he is a fan of using the whiteboard in class and creating mindmaps to deliver the content in a clear way that demonstrates the interrelationships of the content.

Murray’s latest project at the school is the implementation of the State Government’s “Respectful Relationships” program at Viewbank College, focusing on creating a positive and safe environment for all at school regardless of gender or sexuality. Citing the progress made in the campaign for gender equality by individuals such as Rosie Batty, he acknowledges that “we could still improve a lot” to achieve an environment safe for everyone. This program is still in the developing stages but will hopefully have a positive impact on Viewbank College.

The work of Murray to improve health and well-being has not gone unnoticed at the school and is contributing to changes in school culture and improving the health and well-being of students by making these conversations about mental illness and other struggles more common to break the stigma. “When I was your age I wouldn’t have known what depression was,” he says to me. Thanks to his work, mental health is no longer taboo at Viewbank College.

Words: Eloise Derrett

Picture: Sean Porter


80. Gavriel Garrison

26 Jun


Gabe BWGavriel Garrison (Gabe) is an Honours student at La Trobe University, studying Psychology and Science, an unabashed fan of Laverne Cox and a committed transgender activist.

He is friendly and all-smiles, weaving jokes into the conversation with ease. But at the same time, Gabe is so articulate and passionate that within minutes of meeting him, I’m convinced he is already changing our world for the better.

Gabe has been advocating for transgender issues ever since he came out as transgender in 2015. “This was the catalyst for me,” says Gabe.

Since then, Gabe has run Transgender Day of Visibility events, and also attended and spoken at the Banyule City Council’s inaugural event for Transgender Day of Visibility.

As Queer Officer for the La Trobe Student Union in 2016, Gabe focused on “expanding trans issues on campus”.

“My main goal for my term… was to implement a gender neutral bathroom policy on campus,” says Gabe.

“Unfortunately, across most of Australia and in educational buildings, the only gender neutral toilets we have are the disabled toilets, which creates limitations.”

“We managed to get La Trobe University to approve all of the disabled toilets being labelled and specified as gender neutral toilets. That was about 88 toilets. We did an audit of the building and we found 3 extra male toilets, that we then renovated into gender neutral toilets, which was a start.

“One of the things we’re working on is for La Trobe to adopt a policy that all new buildings built on campus have a gender neutral toilet, just like you would a disabled toilet. Disabled toilets cater to specific needs, and they should be used by people who need them. It’s about creating a space for people who need a gender neutral toilet,” Gabe says.

Gabe’s has hopes that in the near future this policy will be implemented not only in Universities, but across the State.

He says, “In 2019, Victoria is coming up for a review of all the building codes and what I’m hoping is that we can get the universities on board, and other places like the Banyule City Council on board, in advocating for a similar policy to be adopted. But, not only in places like universities. Swinburne, Melbourne and La Trobe have already started doing this. So, we’re hoping to be able to take that to the review board and say, look, all these universities have done it, they’re all backing this policy, let’s introduce gender neutral toilets into public buildings as an additional part of building plans. That’s the end goal!” Gabe says.

Gabe’s determination to create positive change for trans people is reflected in his studies and future career aspirations.

“I’m doing [my degree] specifically so that I can specialise in gender and sexuality and be able to work with organisations who work with trans individuals,” says Gabe.

“My long term goals are to basically usurp the medical gatekeeping system they have around transgender people and access to health care. I want to change the current model that most places go through, which is the WPATH Standards of Care.

“[Trans people] all have unique issues, but we’re treating them with this standardised thing that doesn’t fit everyone. It’s a big problem for the community.

“You have to go through weeks of therapy… Basically, you have to jump through hoops, and those hoops cost money! And not all marginalised people have access to money. So, what we in the community are advocating for is moving to an informed consent model. If you can give legal consent, you get access to your medical request,” Gabe says.

Although he hasn’t chosen his Honours topic yet, Gabe knows he wants to focus on “something that’s going to benefit the community.

“I am interested in trans people who are also autistic, because it’s been shown so far in preliminary studies that… if someone is trans they are also 25% more likely to be autistic.

“There is no therapy catered towards trans people and there is very little therapy catered towards autistic people. Now you put the two together and there’s an extremely poor amount of assistance for someone who is trans and autistic.”

Gabe plans to “carve out an empirical research field in gender and sexuality… focusing on being trans and the underpinnings of that.”

“When you are born, the very first thing that is imposed upon you, even before the colour of your skin, is gender,” says Gabe.

“Our culture divides people down these two paths that, having gone through the experience, are actually very different. But they’re only different because of arbitrary lines. We’re actually more alike scientifically.

“You don’t learn anything about that in school. And it’s such an important issue.”

Overall, Gabe is working to change the lens through which trans people are viewed.

“Honestly, there’s so much focus in our community on just surviving. There’s so much focus in the media on suicide, self harm and negative outcomes. I want to change the focus… to what makes these people special, what makes them unique, and what makes them resilient.

“I think it’s really important for future trans people to see other, out and proud trans people, in prominent and successful positions, thriving, because growing up in my day there was no such thing. There was nothing positive about trans people,” Gabe says.

“Your feelings about whether you’re going to be successful, survive and go on (as Laverne Cox would say) to thrive, can become quite diminished when we have no role models. It’s incredibly important for us now to create a space for future generations so that hopefully, one day, they will never have to face this.”

Gabe checks himself and laughs then, adding, “I’m not going to be one of those sour people who’s like, I had to walk two miles to school back in my day! But I would be so happy if [younger generations] didn’t have to deal with what we have to deal with today.”

When I ask him about the source of his motivation, Gabe tells me, “It’s not easy. There are days when you get up and it’s a struggle.”

“But what fuels me is going down and giving a speech at Banyule’s first Trans Day of Visibility and seeing trans children in the audience and knowing how much of a profound impact that is going to have. And it’s not because I’m profound or important. It’s because there is someone there that’s like them and that’s what’s profound… They know they’re not alone.

“That’s what gets me up everyday, knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of us around the world fighting the good fight. We’re all fighting it in different ways. We’re all activists. Literally just getting up, going out and existing is an act of radical defiance as a trans person,” says Gabe.

“That’s why exposure is so important, because it’s about moving from a model of just tolerance to a model of acceptance. Tolerance isn’t truly accepting things, you know?

“We have a lot to offer the world, we have unique experiences that you can’t really get any other way. And that provides really intense and valuable information.

“I spent the first 20 years of my life walking around convincing myself that I was a woman. And now, at 29, I’ve spent the last 4 years in my transition living in the world another way and it’s incredibly different,” says Gabe.

“I think people could learn a lot from trans people, if given the chance. Knowing how people thrive in the face of adversity is a really important question and is really current today.”

Words: Annabelle Pendlebury

Photo: Nicole Squelch