TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains references to depression, anxiety, suicide, self-harm and sexual abuse.
Former Home and Away actor Mat Stevenson has a message for everyone when it comes to how we treat members of the transgender community – show some empathy.
Stevenson, who played Adam Cameron on the Aussie soap in the nineties, appeared on The Sunday Project on January 17 with his transgender daughter Grace Hyland, to share their story and to bring awareness to the tragically high rates of youth suicides among teenagers who identify as transgender.
According to the National Centre for Transgender Equality, “Transgender people are people whose gender identity is different from the gender they were thought to be at birth. “Trans” is often used as shorthand for transgender.”
Grace, who knew from the age of four or five that she identified as female, began her transition at the age of 12 after consulting with doctors, psychologists and other experts.
“I came out at 12 and then I went through a gradual transition until I was 14, to grow my hair out, to get my name change sorted, to sort out my blockers,” the 20-year-old explained to The Project co-host Lisa Wilkinson. “And then by the time I was 14, I was fully presenting as Grace to the public and at school.”
Stevenson revealed that at first, he felt somewhat awkward “calling Grace sweetheart instead of mate” but that he recognised it was nothing compared to what his daughter was experiencing.
“As a bloke, it was pretty awkward to go to my male friendship group and say my son’s now my daughter, but then I look at the challenges and the difficulty of sharing that in comparison with the challenges that Grace sailed through and they pale into insignificance,” the actor said.
When asked to share how his friends had received the news of Grace’s transition, Stevenson said, “I mean, some of my mates were pretty seamless, they got it. Some just couldn’t get it. Some really struggled with the concept. I’m a member of the local cricket club, I remember one of the boys came up to me, and said ‘Stevo, I just, I don’t get it mate. I just don’t get it.’ And I said, ‘It’s OK buddy, you don’t have to get it, all I’m asking you to do is love my daughter and show some empathy’”.
Addressing the high rates of adolescent suicide in Australia, Stevenson shared a devastating statistic. “Trans-adolescents are 36 times more likely to self-harm. To commit suicide,” he said. “There’s a distinct correlation between lack of support and self-harm. I didn’t want my daughter to become one of those statistics.”
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Grace, who boasts over 130,000 followers on TikTok, explained that while she is in a good place and can therefore ignore hateful comments from social media users, she worries that other transgender teens will not fare so well.
For Stevenson, it’s much harder to cope with seeing people make such ignorant and unnecessary comments about his child. “I really struggle with that,” he said. “When people make comments like that to courageous people who are trying to navigate their identity, it’s like a loaded gun.”
Meanwhile, Grace offers this advice to parents who may have a similar story to hers and her Dad’s. “For parents who are scared for their child’s future, just know that with your support. They can have such a happy life, but they really do need your support,” she said.
Without community or familial support, young transgender people can find themselves at higher risks of depression, anxiety, homelessness, substance abuse, exploitation and sexual abuse or assault.
In 2020, Juno star Elliot Page made headlines when he announced that he is transgender, opening up greater conversations around the subject and hopefully paving the way for deeper understanding around the transgender experience.
Please visit the Beyond Blue website or call 1300 22 4636 if you are experiencing depression, anxiety or thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
For support or information related to people who identify as transgender, please access one or more of the following resources.
— Trans Pride Australia: Trans Pride Australia creates a safe and supportive space to: Connect with other TGD people and family, friends and allies in a closed online environment.
— The Gender Centre: The Gender Centre is committed to developing and providing services and activities, which enhance the ability of people with gender issues to make informed choices.
— LGBTQIA Support Services – ReachOut Australia: A resource for people who have questions about, or feel like they need support related to, sexuality or gender.
— National LGBTI Health Alliance: The National LGBTI Health Alliance is the national peak health organisation in Australia for organisations and individuals that provide health-related programs, services and research focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people (LGBTI) and other sexuality, gender, and bodily diverse people and communities.
— QLife: QLife provides Australia-wide anonymous, LGBTI peer support and referral for people wanting to talk about a range of issues including sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings or relationships.