A former Wollongong man who became Australia’s first legal transexual has applauded Bruce Jenner’s public debut as a woman.
Jenner, a former American Olympic gold medallist and reality TV star unveils her new look – and new name of Caitlyn – on an upcoming cover of Vanity Fair.
In April, Jenner, the former patriarch of the Kardashian/Jenner family, spoke about her transition to being a woman in a television special that drew millions of viewers.
For former Wollongong resident Estelle Asmodelle, who had sex reassignment surgery 30 years ago, it was a familiar story.
Ms Asmodelle, who featured on the front page of the Mercury in 1986, said her transition helped gain recognition for transgender people in Australia.
She hopes Jenner’s bold stance will provide more awareness and support for Americans struggling with gender identity.
‘‘I lived in America for years and despite appearances it’s still a fairly conservative society,’’ she said.
‘‘For Bruce, now Caitlyn, to come out on TV and talk about the transition and appear on the cover of Vanity Fair is a huge thing.
‘‘It will be very confronting for a lot of Americans but that’s a good thing. Having that public exposure is the only way to change attitudes and laws around equality for transgender people.’’
Ms Asmodelle supports last month’s call from leading Australian paediatrician Dr Michelle Telfer for law changes for transgender kids.
At present, adolescents under 18 can’t get cross-hormone treatment without Family Court approval.
‘‘This is an important period as it’s the time children often come out to family and their doctor,’’ she said.
‘‘While precautions need to be taken, for government to prevent access to services and medication is fundamentally wrong and will create tremendous anxiety.’’
Ms Asmodelle was born a boy in Bowral in 1964, later attending Chevalier College which at the time was an all-boys school.
She moved to the Illawarra to study at the University of Wollongong. It was during her studies, that she made the decision to be her ‘‘true self’’.
‘‘Transgender people experience their awakening at different periods in their life,’’ she said.
‘‘For some, like Jenner, it’s after they’ve married and had children. For some, like myself, they have the realisation at quite a young age. I remember at the age of about eight getting dressed for school in my sister’s tunic, and getting in trouble.
‘‘You get conditioned into accepting your physical gender – not just by your family but by society in general – so I went along with it for many years.’’
At UOW, Ms Asmodelle felt the time was right to change.
As a musician and hanging with an alternative crowd, she thought her decision would be accepted.
She was wrong.
‘‘I discovered an interesting truth that the flamboyant supposedly modern people I was hanging round with weren’t as accepting as some of the more conservative people who offered me support,’’ she said.
‘‘My greatest relief though was telling my family. My mum and sister were on board from day one although it took my dad a while to come to terms with.’’
Back then, she was forced to live as a woman for one year and undergo counselling before she was allowed to undertake hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery. It was a tough time but she pushed through and underwent medical feminisation and surgery at the age of 22.
She still considers the day of the 11-hour sex change operation as her birthday.
‘‘I’m 30 this year – I count my age from when Estelle was born,’’ she said. ‘‘A rebirth is the only way I can talk about it as it was such a monumental thing.’’