Empathy, the key to a woman's soul

KATHERINE Wolfgramme's eyes were the first to change. 

Then it was her skin - it started to glow.

But the most remarkable change for Katherine, now 43, when she transitioned from a man's body into a woman’s was empathy.

"That's the biggest difference between males and females," Katherine says.

"When I was asked the difference as an 18-year-old, I was stumped. I didn't know."

“But with the wisdom of years, and growing into myself, I have to say the difference is empathy."

Katherine was first told she wasn't a girl at age four.

She was at Sabbath school when her teacher told her she couldn't be a nurse because she was a boy.

"I told her, no, I'm a girl, I'm a girl," she said.

"She said I wasn't and shook me and I just started screaming and crying and yelling no, no, no."

Katherine, like many others in the world, had a woman's soul inside a man's body.

"To find that out is the most uncomfortable, loathsome feeling because you’re trapped, you’re a prisoner.

"You pray to God every day he will change you back, and you want to die, because it is a grave, grave mistake, however it happened.

"Everyone is telling you you're wrong, but you know you're right."

Katherine was raised by her Seventh-day Adventist great grandparents, who, later in her life, became strong supporters for her transition.

As is Polynesian tradition, she was raised with her grandmother doing the cooking and cleaning in the house.

“I think I was fortunate nana and grandpa were Pacific Islanders because transwomen are more accepted in that area,” she said.

"When I did go through with it, my uncles were very disapproving - but it was them who said God made me this way and that I couldn't help it.

"As good Christians, they couldn't turn me away."

Katherine says her childhood and adolescence were full of contradiction: how she felt in her mind, spirit and soul was not what her family and society expected her to be.

People called her names everywhere she went and yelled things out from the safety of their cars.

All she could do was look forward to age 18, when she could legally become the person she knew she was.

"I had a dream when I was 14 - when I was deeply unhappy - and in it I was with a man, my husband, and I asked him to put a necklace on, and he said stop, look at yourself in the mirror, look - you're a beautiful woman," she said.

"I saw myself, my real self in the mirror and I was calm.

"I knew then that my future would come to me, my deepest desire would come."

The transition itself was not a simple process - Katherine faced years of change and discovery and the hormones gave her cravings for food and love. 

But she was determined to live through anything, because of how she felt.

"Honestly, it was a small price to pay for freedom," she said.

"You cannot change your mind but can change your body - it is the easiest option to give you the will to live."

It's these differences that have allowed her to wander the world and live in Melbourne, Sydney, Paris and Perth. 

She has dabbled in public relations, theatre, journalism, art and hospitality, while along the way being dressed by Alex Perry, participating in the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics Games in the Priscilla section, and being part of Les Girls.

She landed in Daylesford, her sanctuary, six years ago.

“I feel safe here and have learnt from so many strong women in the town,” she said.

“I knew I would always end up here, no matter how far I travelled around.”

While figures surrounding the number of transgender people in Australia remain unclear, they have been around since the beginning of evolution, with the Egyptians performing sex changes more than 4000 years ago.

Across the world, there are many different names for the same thing.

In Fiji it is Viavialewa, Tonga it's Falati and many third-gender people in Samoa identify as Fa'afafine - male at birth, and explicitly embodying both masculine and feminine gender traits.

For some cultures, it is an integral part of their identity.

"I have no idea what makes you know you're a woman - it's just a state of being," Katherine says.

"I understand people won't get it, but we are talking more and more about it as a society and if you know me, you will know I’m just Katherine and my gender is a non-issue.”

And now with years of experience and a small country town to call home, she realises success means only one thing.

"Success is measured in so many ways: what people drive, what they own, where they live, how they live," she said.

"I've had the apartment in Toorak, the money, the boys, but for me true success is contentment.

"There is a great happiness in that and it should never be disqualified."

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