Being Trans


Runtime - 6:19

Frank Film asks what it’s like to be trans in Aotearoa New Zealand

“As soon as the testosterone started hitting, and as soon as I started to feel that I looked more male, things just started to make sense,” says Nick Winchester, who came out as as a trans man at 27. “I stopped feeling like I was fighting with my body every day, and I stopped feeling like everything was so hard.”

Winchester, a business consultant, says his energy and enthusiasm for life has redoubled since transitioning. And, seeing him bound through the golden Port Hills tussocks with his dog, Rogue, his joie de vivre is clear.

Jennifer Shields, the healthcare lead at QTopia, says that Winchester’s post-transition contentment is a common feeling – known as gender euphoria. “[It’s] that moment where who you are is really in sync with how you’re feeling and looking, and how people see you and describe you. Everything just clicks.”

Gender euphoria doesn’t have to come from medical transition, says Shields – often it comes simply from feeling supported by friends, family and community. Small acts of consideration, like using someone’s preferred pronouns, can have a profound impact.

Family support has contributed to Winchester’s self-confidence. “[Mum has] very much become a supporter. When I was running Kindred, an organisation for mentoring trans youth, she would come and give talks to the kids.”

It took both Winchester and Shields a long time to understand and accept that they were trans. Shields came out as a trans woman in her second year at university. “There are so many moments, looking back, where I could have identified it earlier, if I’d had the understanding.”

“I tried really hard to make the best of what I had,” Winchester says, of his life before he transitioned. “But I couldn’t get happy with my body. It never felt like it was me.” Now, Shields and Winchester are both openly trans. Although living authentically has made them both happier and more confident, they say that transitioning doesn’t come without risks.

It’s now a few weeks after anti-trans activist Posie Parker’s visit to New Zealand was met with nationwide protests. Since Parker’s arrival, there has been a documented surge of online hate towards the trans community.

Winchester has observed a large amount of online abuse towards people who are openly trans, including death threats. “That feels, definitely, like it’s increasing.” He says some of the abuse is horrific, with phrases like “extermination season” being used.

Shields agrees that things are “full-on” at the moment. “But what we’re seeing is a really vocal minority, particularly in online spaces.”

According to the Disinformation Project, there’s a significant overlap between anti-vaccine and anti-trans online groups. Transphobic rhetoric often originates in the United States, and is parroted in New Zealand online spaces. One common accusation is that trans women transition purely to gain access to womens’ bathrooms and commit sexual assault.

“We know from organisations like Women’s Refuge and Rape Crisis that this just doesn’t happen,” says Shields. “Trans people are much more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. A lot of what they’re saying about trans people now is exactly the same as what was once said about gay people.”

Winchester and Shields lead busy, fulfilled lives. Winchester bikes, walks or runs through the hills whenever he gets the chance. Shields practises vintage photography in her spare time: two favourite subjects are her cats and her partner’s flower garden.

Even so, like many trans people in Aotearoa, both admit to moments of fear and vulnerability.

“It’s a community that’s pretty over-represented, sadly, in stats around self-harm, suicide, substance abuse, and homelessness,” says Shields. “But we know that that isn’t inherent to the community. It comes as a result of having to exist in a world that doesn’t see you for who you are.”

“I’m tired and I’m scared,” says Winchester. “And if I’ve been doing this for 12 years and I’m tired and scared, I can only imagine how it feels for someone who’s just starting out.”

“We genuinely just want to live our lives.”

Producer/Director: Gerard Smyth
Editor: Oliver Dawe
Researcher/Writer: Nicole Phillipson
Production Manager: Jo Ffitch
Sound Design and Mix: Chris Sinclair