IT STARTED out with a conversation between friends.
"I was in year nine," Bendigo resident Alex said. "My friends came up to me and said it feels really weird to call you she and your first name, can we refer to you by your surname?
"I've never been very feminine. I have always been a tomboy. So I was like, that sounds pretty good. I would like to try that."
The now-20-year-old started off using a number of different pronouns to see what felt the most right.
"I went through a time where I said I'm non-binary, use they/them for me," he said. "But then I thought actually he/him feels a lot better and I like being referred to as a man so maybe I'm a trans man.
"I thought, this makes me feel really happy. This is really strange, maybe I should look into it?
"I was on the internet at the time and kind of knew that trans people existed but I was thinking oh my God, maybe this is me?"
Alex grappled with the reality of the realisation.
"At the time it was very hard for me to accept because I had always taken a lot of pride in being a girl and proving that girls can be strong and that girls can do anything," he said.
"So coming to terms with the fact that maybe I wasn't a girl was very hard."
I thought I'm going to do this loudly and I'm going to do this proudly.- Alex
Alex said his family and friends made him feel comfortable and accepted when he came out to them in 2017.
But growing up in a place like Bendigo, he was not sure if there were other people like him in the community.
"I had never heard my family talk about trans people," he said. "I mostly only saw negative stuff in the media, which has started changing, but I thought I'm the only one I know of."
Rather than hiding into himself, Alex decided to be publicly open about his identity.
"I thought I'm going to do this loudly and I'm going to do this proudly so other people don't feel the same way I felt and they know there is someone they can go to," he said.
"I wear a trans patch and everything so anyone can see that they're not the only one here, there is someone here who is like them.
"They can feel safe being there. They're not going to have to face any aggression. I'm already there, they know someone is on their side, and I'm happy there so they're probably safe."
Alex soon realised there was a growing trans community in Greater Bendigo.
"The first time I realised how many trans people there are in Bendigo was at the clothing swap, which was so wonderful for me," he said.
"Before that, the only people I knew who had come out were either friends who had come out after me or friends who I had met in senior high school who had come out. So I thought it was just us.
"I went to more events and I thought oh my God, there are more people and it's not just people my age. There are older trans people in the community who have been here longer than I have.
"It's not just me or the few friends I had in school who ended up coming out, it's everyone all over the place. That was wonderful.
Alex still feels some anxiety about possible negative reactions from members of the broader community but he still wants to be open about himself.
He said there were a few small ways that allies could ensure trans and gender diverse people felt safe and comfortable.
"If you don't know someone's pronouns, you should offer your own first instead of demanding their pronouns and them not knowing if you're safe to come out to," he said.
"You're just saying - hey, this is who I am, are you comfortable giving them to me? That gives the person the choice rather than the demand.
"The second thing is that when people misgender people they do this big, oh I'm so sorry, I didn't mean it. Just correct yourself and then keep going.
"You don't need to make a huge fuss out of it because it's more awkward if you make a huge fuss every time. If you just go, oh sorry and correct yourself, then it's so much easier."
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