THERESA Davis always knew she was "different" to other people.
"I really started to notice that I was very feminine when I was about five or six years old," she said. "I had a lot of trouble dealing with it.
"My father wasn't so supportive but mum just accepted it. In myself, I probably wasn't emotionally quite mature enough to understand what was happening but I just knew I was different."
Growing up in Gippsland, there weren't any spaces where Ms Davis could learn to be herself.
"I always had trouble fitting in and when it came to school, it wasn't the best experience," she said.
"Once I got out of school, I started to make a lot of other friends that were gay or gender diverse. But I never came across or knew anything really about transgender people.
"There was just hardly anything around and the only representation of us that I ever saw was really negative in many respects."
It was not until her mid-20s that Ms Davis started learning more about the transgender community.
"I met a few people who helped me to learn a lot more about myself and where I fitted in," she said. "When I got to that point, I just had enough of not being who I really was.
"You just get to that point where you think I need to do something because I just can't cope. I just can't keep going."
It's how you are, it's how you are born.- Theresa Davis
Ms Davis read up on people like Marsha P. Johnson, an African-American trans woman who lead activism for the LGBTIQ+ community in the 1960s and 1970s.
"That gives you a bit of courage and someone to look up to but to also understand the changes that you're going to go through to be yourself," she said.
"It won't always be what you expected. You have to be aware of certain things and you sometimes have to take certain precautions."
It wasn't until her father passed away in 2015 that Ms Davis was able to make tangible steps towards identifying as a trans woman.
"I just went to Mum and said, 'Mum, I think I'm transgender'," Ms Davis said. "And she just said, 'You're 100 per cent sure about it?'
"I said, 'yeah definitely', and she said, 'ok I will support you 110 per cent'. From then on, she helped me with every aspect of it."
Ms Davis, who was living in central Victoria at the time, said the realisation was liberating but also terrifying.
"Then came all of the thoughts of oh no, I'll have to go out in society, I'll have to do this, I'll have to do that. What are people going to think?
"So I went through a bit of a rough time and I saw a clinical psychologist. She helped to build my confidence right up."
Ms Davis learned to feel comfortable by doing mundane tasks like going to the ATM or the supermarket in the early hours of the morning when there were not many people around.
"It was about just slowly, gradually getting your confidence up and feeling comfortable in yourself," she said. "Having somebody build up your confidence makes such a difference.
"There are so many trans people who build it up and then something happens which is negative or they have trouble dealing with it, so they go back down again.
"It becomes a roller coaster ride. It can be very difficult to go through those things."
Having that confidence made life easier for Ms Davis, although there were still challenges. She said spaces like workplaces still had a long way to go.
"It is changing," Ms Davis said. "There are a lot more allies and a lot more outreach programs that businesses are running for staff to get a better understanding.
"Things are slowly changing but it depends on who is directing a lot of those changes too.
"It can be a lot of small things that make workplaces unwelcoming - how they address you, if they try to include you in things, gender neutral bathrooms.
"Things like gender diverse bathrooms are not really a priority for locations. I think it has to be."
Ms Davis said it was important to note that being transgender was not a decision.
"It's how you are, it's how you are born," she said. "They've proven that scientifically.
"Why would you make a decision to go through all of that trauma? Nobody would ever want to do that. It comes down to the way you are and who you are meant to be."
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