ChillOut 2020: How Katherine found strength living in this country town

GLITTER: Katherine Wolfgramme dressed in a kaftan as part of the Mardi Gras Campaign. Photo: 'Camilla'

GLITTER: Katherine Wolfgramme dressed in a kaftan as part of the Mardi Gras Campaign. Photo: 'Camilla'

A FAMILIAR face will return to Daylesford as this year's ChillOut Festival ambassador.

Katherine Wolfgramme, a well-respected transgender woman, will return to her former home for her role at the festival.

The town holds a special place in her heart - she lived there for seven years and it was a place she felt safe, accepted and where she could be herself.

"I absolutely love country life, the silence, the fresh air, the splendid isolation. It is a town I knew that I would be safe because of the diverse population, and a place that I could find my spirit," she told The Courier.

But the road to acceptance has not been easy for Ms Wolfgramme.

Travelling to Daylesford on the back of all the colour and glitter of Sydney Mardi Gras, Ms Wolfgramme said it was an honour to return 'home' in her role as ambassador.

"I found my strength in Daylesford from the strong women who live there, who think nothing of doing the right thing from day to day," she said.

Ms Wolfgramme is an award-winning Trans Awareness Trainer who owns a Gender Diversity Consultancy and is also a Board Associate on the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Board of Directors and Ambassador of the Gender Centre. She was formerly the Board Director and Public Officer of Wear it Purple.

Throughout her life, Ms Wolfgramme has been a trans child, a trans youth and a trans adult.

The greatest shock for me as a child was finding out I wasn't a girl. Words cannot describe the horror of finding out you are the wrong gender, especially for a five year old child. All your happiness, all your innocence suddenly disappears and all you are left with is the darkness of gender dysphoria.

Katherine Wolfgramme

But now, Ms Wolfgramme finds herself as a trans 'elder', a role model and community leader.

Ms Wolfgramme was born in Fiji in 1972, and her family moved to Melbourne two years later. In 1990, at 18 years of age, she left home to transition.

When she transitioned into Katherine thirty years ago this year, it was not easy for LGBTQIA+ people.

"A lot of people tried to make us feel ashamed for how we were born. It was so unfair," she said.

While some people would verbally abuse trans people simply because they felt they had the right, many were thrown out of their homes, employment was also near impossible and sometimes even charity was difficult to come by for religious reasons.

"I felt so liberated when I marched out of my family home as soon as I was 18, I could no longer be stifled and judged by my family for how I was born.

"Before I transitioned I would have been described as extraordinarily effeminate and gender fluid, once I transitioned I just looked like a girl, because finally the outside and the inside matched."

She said life became liberating when she met others her age who had also left home, but despite the liberation, their lives were tinged with sadness.

"At 18, somehow we were still too young to leave home. There may not have been many laws to protect us but there were many predators who found us all so easy to exploit...and we had no family to spend the high holidays with, so we started creating our own families.

"To be frank, I still prefer to spend the high holidays with my gay family, I think because we share the same pain of growing up oppressed and then finally rejected."

This year marks 30 years since her transition - since she became Katherine - but it is the fact that she survived that she wants to celebrate most.

"I would estimate 90 per cent of the people who transitioned with me thirty years ago have died. Unlike all of the wonderful anti-discrimination laws that exist today, we had none of that, we only had each other."

In 1997 she decided she wanted to travel back to her birth place with her boyfriend. But at that time, the only name which could be used on a passport was that listed on a person's birth certificate.

With some negotiating, she did manage to make that trip to Fiji.

"I am the first transgender woman in the history of Fiji to legally have a female name on my birth certificate, a legacy I proudly leave the trans women of Fiji to enjoy.

"Advocacy is not a word that I really used in my vocabulary until very recently, I have always liked to call it 'doing the right thing', sometimes for me to do the right thing is to force people to do the right thing legally," she said.

It was particularly gratifying and took great courage, as in 1997 Fiji was a homophobic country still dictated by a military government.

More recently, she took legal action against all establishments hosting bingo nights that carried a transphobic slur beginning with the letter 't' in their slogans.

"[It] had become misused by transphobic people to specifically target young transgender women like objects to debase their humanity.

"Many times the hosts of these games would ignore the outcry from trans men and trans women and fool the establishments that they had a right to use the slur... even though they were not trans."

Understanding she had the capacity to 'do the right thing', she engaged a law firm, Allens, to take on the case pro bono. The lawyers then sent out cease and desist letters to establishments across NSW and the ACT, on the premise that the word did not belong to them.

The establishments complied, and then so did other states and territories across Australia.

While she suffered bad press, character assassination and hurtful posts on social media as a result, she stands by her actions.

"Nationally the word is no longer used commercially and this makes me very happy. Many young trans women have approached me to say thank you over the years, some young trans and gay people cannot even believe the word was so freely used once so I know I did the right thing," she said.

Going forward, her hopes for transgender people are "as big as the sky".

"It is my hope that one day transgender people are seen no differently than right or left handed people," she said.

To others who are currently in the process of transitioning and potentially facing hardship, she said: "Trans is not your weakness, trans is the epi-centre of your strength, we have survived since the dawn of time, and you shall survive too.

"Transitioning is about finding happiness and finally being a whole person, body and soul, be less outraged by the world and be more euphoric that you have found the freedom to be you and let go of your dysphoria.

"Once you transition it should no longer exist, stop fighting and be happy with who you have become.

"Through the worst of times, experiencing the worst the universe could throw at me, I was still happy inside, because I was still Katherine and no one can take that from me."

ChillOut Festival will take place from March 5-9.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

This story How Katherine found strength living in this country town as a transgender woman first appeared on The Courier.