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

 

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