I am like a flower. I have so many petals that make me who I am, but at the centre of all those petals is my pistil – my Aboriginality.

I’m Jax. I’m 18 years old and I have had more interactions with the police than anyone my age should have.

I am here to tell you that I am not the problem.

I am like a flower. I have so many petals that make me who I am, but at the centre of all those petals is my pistil – my Aboriginality. This shapes so much of who I am as a person. My flower wouldn’t be my flower if it didn’t have this at its centre.

My most cherished petal is my sexuality and gender identity. I am the first (very proud) gender-fluid bisexual in my family. The journey of coming out and discovering myself as a queer person while growing up in a society and family steeped in homophobia was, frankly, fucking tough.

The freedom and joy I feel at being able to express myself is hard to capture in words. The first time someone validated my identity as a non-binary person felt like an out-of-body experience, except that I was more comfortable in my body than ever before.

Another petal that makes me who I am is the fact that I am the oldest of six kids. From the earliest age I have been a caregiver, a protector, an educator and someone striving to be a good influence – but I am by no means perfect and I know that at times I’ve been both the hero and the villain in my siblings’ lives.

I am also the oldest of too many cousins to count. As someone who has had to look after and nurture almost every one of them, I’ve always felt it was my duty to make our family a safe place for them to be able to live life on their terms and express themselves openly, safely and with pride.

Looking at some of my younger cousins, I don’t think I’ll be the only openly queer family member for long. It’s a big weight to carry the responsibility of opening my family’s minds. They had been bolted shut to the idea that being gay, or trans, or a ‘feminine’ guy, or a ‘masculine’ girl isn’t just wrong or a phase, but is someone’s truth – someone stepping out of a hollow shell. That it’s someone choosing not to live and die miserably. 

Another petal that makes me who I am is the unique way that I view this world. This is something that would never have been possible without the influence of my mum. I didn’t get to live with my mum much while growing up, but she’s in my life now and that’s what matters.

My mum is loving, generous, open-minded and so damn charismatic. Mum is understanding and fights for her beliefs and the beliefs of those she loves, even if she doesn’t always understand them. It was my mum who first taught me that expressing myself emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually was a radical act, and something to be proud of.

It was my mum who taught me that being gay wasn’t a sin, or something shameful; that it was something to celebrate. It was me living my truth.

My mum taught me that while the world is full of both good and bad, expressing myself and living life on my terms is definitely part of the good.

Another petal that has shaped how my life has played out is the fact that I am the child of a criminalised man. I grew up bouncing between him and my nan. It pains me to remember him during my childhood as a sad, scary, shallow and money-hungry man. I also remember him being outrageously funny and an amazing woodworker.

When my dad sings, he always finds a way to work himself into the lyrics like he’s Ice Cube or something. He is fiercely loving in many ways, and fiercely violent and harmful in others.

Dad has always struggled with his mental health and addiction, and has often relied on things like drug dealing to support us as a family. When he was a kid, society forced him to learn how to provide for himself in a world that didn’t want to see him survive – a world that told him time and time again that he was the problem.

It breaks my heart that my siblings and I also had to grow up in a world that told us time and time again that we were the problem. Despite my dad’s best efforts, he couldn’t protect us from this messaging. I hate that my dad grew up in a world that saw him as a criminal from a young age, and I hate that the world sees me and my siblings as criminals because we’re Black and we were born to someone society has painted as a villain.

My great-grandmother and my great-great-grandmother were both part of the original Stolen Generations, and I know this is where my family’s pain started. I loved my great-grandmother deeply and remember her wisdom. I also remember the hurt she carried.

I don’t think any kid my age should understand the term ‘generational trauma’ the way I do. My dad has spent a lot of time in and out of prison and our relationship is complex. This relationship is not simply good, nor simply bad – it’s both and everything in between. To my dad, I think I am many complicated things. I am his child, but I’m also the one who has had to step up many times. I’m the one who looks after him and who cares for him and his children, and sometimes I think he feels like I threaten his authority and his validity as a ‘man’ (whatever that means).

As I write this, my dad has been in prison for two years. For about a year and a half of this, he was awaiting sentencing. He’s due to come home any day now and to be honest, I feel so many complicated emotions about it. I feel excited. I feel scared. I feel heavy. In so many ways my life is simpler without him around, and in other ways I feel his absence like a wound.

Most of my childhood memories are traumatic. Some of the most vivid of these aren’t of trauma inflicted by my family, as the world so often wants to focus on, but rather trauma inflicted by the State. I have countless childhood memories of police beating down my door to arrest my family members: while in the loungeroom watching Nickelodeon with my younger brothers asleep in my arms; while dozing off to sleep on a Sunday night; while at a wake for one of our family’s Elders.

The threat that my caregivers could be violently stolen from my life at any given moment always loomed large. I remember this one time police forced their way in when I was about nine or 10 years old. I knew the drill by then and bundled up all my younger siblings and cousins into one room and hid under the quilt cover. On this particular occasion, I heard the bedroom door open and felt the quilt being ripped from us. I opened my eyes to see a bright light shining in my face. It wasn’t until another officer entered the room and turned on the light that I realised that it wasn’t simply a torch, but the barrel of a gun pointing in my face. I was a child – no more than 10 years old.

This is the same night my dad got charged for resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer as he struggled free of their grip to come to me, his child who was surrounded by police. This is the same night that I felt my heart rip in two as I saw my five-year-old brother, pinned to the window, screaming “Dad, Dad, Dad!” as he watched my father’s face being dragged along the concrete by four officers. 

My heart broke with the realisation that my baby brother was going to grow up in the same world that I was growing up in. I need you to trust me when I say that violence by police officers towards Aboriginal people is real and I need you to trust me when I say that if you are an Aboriginal child whose parents have been criminalised, police officers see you as a criminal, too. This message was drilled into my 11-year-old brain on another occasion when cops burst into my dad’s house, chaos ensued and my aunty ended up being held down by five police officers. I remember feeling rage boiling in my belly and eventually spitting from my mouth when, for the first time in my life, I told the police what I thought of them.

“Oi, you fucking pig. My aunty doesn’t fucking deserve this. My family doesn’t deserve this. What you are doing is fucking wrong,” 11-year-old me yelled. 

Cool as a cucumber, through pursed lips, I remember this slimy cop’s reply: “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “That’s gonna be you one day.”

Can you imagine hearing that as an 11-year-old?

Another petal that makes me who I am is my ability to survive. Just like my dad, my nan, my great-grandmother and my great-great-grandmother, I’ve had to learn how to provide for myself in a world that doesn’t want to see me thrive.

This means that I’m wickedly creative and it also means I can live off just oats, Weet-Bix and hot water for weeks on end. I’ve stolen more times than I can remember – sometimes to feed myself and my younger siblings, sometimes to keep up with the latest trend and sometimes because, if you were in my position, wouldn’t you, too? You need to know, though, that this still doesn’t mean that I’m the problem.

Despite all of this – despite everything I have lived through, everything I have had to do to survive – I am still here. I am smart. I am funny. I am intensely loving and protective of my younger siblings, but man – I can be heartbreakingly cruel towards myself. I have a best friend who I love with the fire of a thousand suns. This best friend is teaching me how to accept love and care from others.

At 17 years of age, I started living alone in a high-density public housing block and there’s not a week that goes by that I don’t open my door to someone in need.

I am trying hard to finish school, but it’s not easy to write an essay on ‘Where I see myself in 10 years time and how school is going to help me get there’ when I don’t know where the money for rent or dinner is coming from. It’s even harder when you get suspended for two weeks for smoking a cigarette. I can’t help but think that if Mr Vice Principal was also living in unsafe public housing and had their 56-year-old alcoholic neighbour banging on their door and hurling abuse all night, he too might want a cigarette on his lunch break.

Despite all of this, I am still here, sharing my story with you. Despite all of this, at 18 years of age, I can now call myself a writer. I had always dreamed of telling complex stories, like the one that I have lived and am living, but from a vantage point miles away from that of the average white, middle-class reporter or researcher – and here I am, doing just that. Here I am, sharing the stories that other people won’t let us tell, sharing the stories that help people understand that we are not the problem, sharing the stories that help other kids like me know that they aren’t the problem either.

Because I am not the problem.

We are not the problem.

Trans Histories and the Legacy of Jack Jorgensen

“In a moment of growing backlash towards the transgender community, I’ve been drawn to the history books. The story of a Victorian man whose death in 1893 became a sensationalised headline reminds us that gender non-conforming people have always been here.”

In a moment of growing backlash towards the transgender community, I’ve been drawn to the history books. The story of a Victorian man whose death in 1893 became a sensationalised headline reminds us that gender non-conforming people have always been here.

An illustration of a Victorian mounted rifleman from the 1890s overlays a newspaper article about Jack Jorgensen. Image: Australian War Memorial.

In 1893, a 42-year-old man died on the floor of a rickety old stockman’s hut in Elmore, a small Victorian town on the lower reaches of the Campaspe River. He’d refused multiple offers to be taken to the nearby hospital in Bendigo and took his last gasping asthmatic breaths huddled in a dusty blanket.

Shortly following his death, a sensational report was published in the Bendigo Independent:

Perhaps the most surprising item of the day’s news is the discovery that a farm labourer at Elmore, member of the mounted rifles who died on Tuesday is discovered to be a woman. Nobody suspected her sex. She took part in the rough work of the farm. She gratified her martial instincts by joining the mounted rifles, be-straddled her steed and learned to gallop and wheel and shoot with the best of her comrades, and no doubt in actual war would have stood fire with the coolest of them. And yet, all the while she was a woman.

Bendigo Independent, 7 September 1893

The man was called Johann Martin ‘Jack’ Jorgensen. His sister, Mrs Theresa Neumann, who travelled from South Australia to Bendigo to identify the body provided an origin story of sorts. She said that ‘Johanna’, had been ‘a pretty girl until she’d been kicked in the face by a horse’, leaving the teenager with a flattened nose, damaged eye and scarred face. Their family had subsequently emigrated from Germany to Adelaide, where they all lived together until Jorgensen’s parents became ‘much annoyed’ by his insistence on wearing male attire. Instead of falling into line, Jorgensen left his family far behind, bound for the Goldfields of Victoria.


One hundred and fifty years later, I too moved to the east coast in search of a more authentic life. While in the early stages of my own gender journey, I was always on the hunt for people like myself in history; I was always searching for proof that I wasn’t crazy, brainwashed or a fad. Jack Jorgensen soon reared his head in Joseph Furphy’s Such is Life, immortalised as ‘Nosey Alf’ in that ubiquitous Australian classic. I found more evidence of my kind in Lucy Chesser’s seminal text, Parting with My Sex: Cross-Dressing, Inversion and Sexuality in Australian Cultural Life. Suddenly, my imagination was filled with gender transgressors who too had called this place their home.

In their 2017 book, Trans Like Me, CN Lester wistfully reflects on this urge to find yourself in the past:

What a tremendous gift it would have been, to have known that there were people in history who might now be called trans, people who lived as the genders they knew that they were, regardless of what society had told them. To know that they had claimed their own lives with honesty and courage, and that maybe I could follow their lead and do the same.

I gobbled up antiquated newspaper articles on Trove, taking in every detail of Jack’s portrayal. One long-dead wordsmith from the 7 September 1893 edition of the Ballarat Courier provided the following sketch:

[Though] she was tall and powerful, and capable of lifting very great weights … [and] her masculine clothes appeared to be worn in a natural manner, there was a feminine tone in her voice which she could not quite conceal.

Apart from the tall and powerful part, I could relate.

In an article that wouldn’t be out of place in a current edition of The Australian, except perhaps for its literary verve, a correspondent from the 8 September 1893 issue of the Bendigo Independent went on to ponder the reason behind Jack’s decision to live his life in a different gender:

Nobody can quite explain the impulse which so continually impels women to undertake a lifelong hypocrisy of the kind described. Is there a subtle quarrel betwixt the sex of the soul and body in these cases, or does the disguise carried out with such amazing resolution and ingenuity, represent mere feminine perversity, the disgust of a woman with their own sex and its conditions? These female imposters in breeches are not on the whole entitled to much admiration. But at least they display a capacity for sustained and obstinate purpose which applied to better ends would deserve unbounded praise.

As I followed the trial of Jack’s life in old newspapers, I looked for my own answers buried within his life story.


Once he’d left his family and arrived in the Goldfields, Jack soon found work as a cook at Craven’s Hotel in Heathcote, requiring him to wear his female attire. Before long, he’d returned to wearing breeches and a shirt to take up a role on a farm building fences but was soon arrested for this gender transgression.

I read on eagerly as one Constable Dwyer provided an account of Jack’s own words. ‘After arresting her she said the men’s clothes suited her better than woman’s; that she was always called a man when in female attire and called bad names.’

This too rang a bell.

I was imagining myself in Jack’s place, shocked and humiliated, being tried as a criminal for simply going to work. I was heartened to read his employer John Duff speak up in his favour: ‘I engaged her as a man to work on my land. She was dressed in man’s attire. She worked hard. She was a very good and willing person to work. I know of nothing against her character.’

The Magistrate dismissed the case but ordered Jack to resume wearing dresses. At this, he pleaded to be allowed to remain in male attire, ‘stating that she had always been accustomed to do so as a boy in Germany, she had fought as a man in the army, and … had a better feeling towards the ladies than the gentleman’.

To speak these unspeakable words in a courtroom; I was in awe of his bravery.

The magistrate refused Jack’s request, stating that ‘the laws of the country would not permit her to wear any other than the attire of her own sex.’

But Jack did not acquiesce.

Instead, he moved thirty miles away to the town of Runnymede to continue his life as a man. He bought land, joined a volunteer cavalry corps, and even voted in elections (a privilege denied to settler women until 1902, and to Indigenous people until 1962). Later described by his comrades as ‘a short and stubbly, eccentric fellow’ who spoke in broken English in an unusual, falsetto voice, Jack was well-regarded for his excellent horsemanship, sobriety, and first-rate culinary skills. According to the newspapers, his many efforts to find a wife were unsuccessful, a fact that caused him considerable heartache throughout his life.


A question haunted me while scouring over what remains of Jack’s life: Did Jack have to die so young in that dusty bush shack? Why did he refuse to go to hospital? Was the sad case of Edward de Lacy Evans, a fellow Goldfields gender transgressor ringing in his ears? He must’ve surely read it as a cautionary tale.

De Lacy Evans, a thrice-married Goldfield’s quartz miner, was taken to Bendigo Hospital against his will in 1879 following a workplace accident. After refusing to undress and attempting to escape, de Lacy Evans was committed to the Bendigo lunacy ward and sent on to Kew Asylum in Melbourne. There, he was forcibly stripped and was revealed to be biologically female, triggering a cruel and salacious national media scandal.

This news coverage must’ve terrified Jack. Does that explain his apparent decision to choose death over shame, humiliation and being forced to live the rest of his life as a woman?

What must his last moments have been like knowing that his lifeless body would soon betray his secret? Was his past even really a secret to those rough-living men who pleaded with him to go to hospital? Country townsfolk always know each other’s business.


It’s a melancholy truth that queer and trans people tend to find evidence of their own kind in the history books when things have gone horribly wrong for them. So, I’m comforted to know that in this tale at least, Jack died on his own terms after living the life he’d chosen for himself.

But while I’m taking comfort in Jack’s legacy, what would he make of me? Could he have imagined that someone like him with access to mind-boggling hormone and surgical treatments would pick over the few words he spoke on the public record in a tiny, rural police court on one of the worst days of his life? Would he be proud of his posthumous visibility?

Or maybe he would shout at me in his falsetto, German-tinged voice, and tell me to stop poring over his bloody private business and to get a real job?