When I came out at the end of 2011, it was usual practice for trans people to receive a mental health diagnosis from a medical professional, counsellor or therapist to start their medical transition.
After the first appointment with my psychotherapist, he handed me a big orange book, and told me to read it. He knew it was about trans people, but I'm not sure he realised it was a 100-page report on the discrimination faced by trans people in Aotearoa.
While perhaps not the best document to hand over to a newly out trans person, the Human Rights Commission's 2008 To Be Who I Am: Report of the Inquiry into Discrimination Experienced by Transgender People is an enormously important one in the landscape of transgender issues – not just in New Zealand, but worldwide.
Reading about the range of issues faced by a community you have recently connected with is a tough introduction. But the reality is that it's hard to talk about being transgender without talking about the discrimination we face as a minority community.
In the 10 years since its release, the outcomes of this report have undoubtedly impacted my life as a trans man, and the lives of many others in the trans community.
The report was and is a world-leading document, giving clear guidance on what needed to change for trans people in New Zealand to have access to their full rights and practical advice on how this should happen.
Guided by the report, progress has been made. While we are not yet entering a period of trans visibility, we are exiting a period of trans erasure.
Ten years on from the inquiry and the recommendations it made, trans people can now self-define the gender marker on their passport and driver's license as M, F or X. It is now free-of-charge and much easier for trans people to change their records and certificates at tertiary institutions. Businesses, such as Countdown, are working to develop and introduce specific policies for their trans employees which provides them things like leave for medical appointments related to their transition.
In my role as the Human Rights Commission's advisor on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics, I will be ensuring the recommendations in the report and beyond continue to be progressed so that the rights of transgender people are advanced, and the unique issues we face are heard and understood.
Transgender rights are not special rights. We have historically been, and continue to be, at particular risk of human rights abuses. These range from the right to recognition before the law and the right to the highest attainable standard of health, to rights to housing, education, and work.
Most of my trans whanau have avoided necessary health treatment over the fear of being discriminated against or outed as trans. We are also not accounted for in mental health and suicide prevention plans – despite knowing anecdotally that trans people are well-represented in the statistics these plans seek to address.
One of the biggest barriers we face is finding healthcare providers that are knowledgeable and hold expertise regarding our specific health needs. Currently, the provision of healthcare services for the trans community remains a postcode lottery: the services you can access depend on where you live. This shouldn't be the case. Ten years on, trans people should be receiving the same standard of care and consistent treatment pathways regardless of our geographic location.
We also need data on our specific community.
You don't have to read too far down a Facebook comments chain to understand how some people feel about gender diverse people being included in the Census. However, what those people fail to realise is that until trans people are included we will remain without targeted or funded services.
Ten years on, we need to be recognised and accounted for. It's not about being special and it's not a "nice to have". It's a need to have if we are to truly address the issues faced by New Zealand's trans community.
Ten years on, we need far more progress before we have full and equal access to our human rights. Some of us are thriving. Many of us are not.
Driving this change will require government agencies, employers, unions, organisations, the Commission, and trans people working together, because progress cannot be achieved if we continue to work in silos.
I'm grateful to our ancestors and elders for the work they did to break the ground for those that followed, and I'm optimistic about the future for trans and gender diverse people in New Zealand.
The To Be Who I Am report and its recommendations were the foundation the trans community needed to start an important public conversation, and the foundation the Commission, government agencies, and employers needed to develop a plan of action.
It took me 20 of my 27 years on earth to be who I am. Continuing to deliver on these and other recommendations will ensure that all present and future trans New Zealanders can be who they are with full and equal access to their human rights.