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#1 - Beau James
Transitioning

Sydney Opera House

Since recording the podcast, Donna has continued her transitioning in the new phase of her life. She is now known as Beau James. 

RHODA ROBERTS: Aboriginal culture is all about your connection to country, creation and totemic spirits, kinship systems, moieties and business, men and women's business. It's indeed very gender oriented. So what happens to our mob when they know they were born into the wrong gender, and want to make a change with who they are?

It's a new language and talk for many in the community, and certainly opens up complex discussions about practising culture as the gender they identify with. Transgender Aboriginal people are among the most marginalised group in Australia and it's something we want to talk about.

So joining me today is Donna Carstens, a member of the Mununjali people of Southeast Queensland. Donna is also an accomplished physical theatre circus performer having worked in the community arts, social justice and education sectors. Also having worked extensively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities throughout Australia, Donna is currently employed as the manager of Indigenous Programs at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney.

Well firstly, I wanted to say thank you Donna for joining us on the program. What we're going to discuss is very personal and it is a subject I guess across communities that we need to be much more open about, and that of course is transitioning. So you were born Donna Carstens, little gorgeous girl, a Mununjali girl. You grew up in Brisbane.

BEAU JAMES: Yup. 

RR: Can you remember back when there was a point in your life that you knew you were in the wrong skin?

BJ: Rhoda, it was a very early age for me. I think even from the age of two or three, I knew that the clothes my mother was trying to put me in weren't the clothes I felt comfortable in. And in saying that my mum probably only managed to get me in a dress twice in my life and I think it was a big fight to do that. I remember screaming, crying. It was-- It just all felt so wrong. So from a very early age I knew, and then by the time I got to school grade one, I was attracted to girls, but I knew I wasn't attracted to girls as a lesbian.

I knew ... when I was young I used to always say I wanted to be a man, a boy. These days that's changed a bit with gender diversity and I suppose being 45 and going through this process, I see myself rather as a gender diverse person rather than wanting to be a man as such. And as a young child, you're only given two choices, you're either a man or a woman. So you know, I grew up thinking I want to be a man physically. I like looking masculine and having those physical characteristics. Does that make me a man, does make me a woman? I don't know I'm still questioning those things myself, so.

RR: And for your mother, it makes you a person?

BJ: I think so. I think back in the days, I mean, I'm a child of the '70s so it wasn't talked about much then and I think my mum really had a hard time with it. She had no support. She had a child that kept looking at her saying, I want to be a boy. There was no-one else she knew that was in that situation, so for her I think she was probably as lost as I was in that time. These days, she's the first one to ring me to say, “Hey, April has got something on about a transgender person,” so you know, times are changing.

RR: I think a mother always knows with her child. But it's interesting because there is that misconception, I guess one of the big questions that the first question often arises is what's your sexuality.

BJ: Yeah, well, as I said, I've always been attracted to girls. What does that make me now? You know, and I said, I grew up within the lesbian community, you know, they were my grand, my saviour, my safe place, but I did always feels uncomfortable being called a lesbian because that's not how I identified internally so there was this sort of push-pull thing going on. But in saying that all my partners that I've had have always been open and honest and say to them, I'm actually transgender. I'm not lesbian. So funny little names or tags we still have to put on each other to feel comfortable too within those phases, you know, it's really funny sort of process, so.

RR: And all I saw was Donna, the circus performer and being quite brave with some of the shows you did. Are there elements across the arts like running away to the circus, that is a safe place anyway because they do accept the broader community in a way?

BJ: Well, it's a broader community and you have the opportunity as a performance to show another side of yourself that people don't judge as much, you know. It sort of separates itself from the real world, which is ironically because the shows that I do talk about my real self, you know. So I think it's a safe space. It's also a space that encourages people to become a part of what you're showing them rather than someone preaching to someone or, you know, it's a different space where people can go into a theatre performance and be with you in that journey.

Listen to the rest of the episode on iTunes.

BJ: I think so. I think back in the days, I mean, I'm a child of the '70s so it wasn't talked about much then and I think my mum really had a hard time with it. She had no support. She had a child that kept looking at her saying, I want to be a boy. There was no-one else she knew that was in that situation, so for her I think she was probably as lost as I was in that time. These days, she's the first one to ring me to say, “Hey, April has got something on about a transgender person,” so you know, times are changing.

RR: I think a mother always knows with her child. But it's interesting because there is that misconception, I guess one of the big questions that the first question often arises is what's your sexuality.

BJ: Yeah, well, as I said, I've always been attracted to girls. What does that make me now? You know, and I said, I grew up within the lesbian community, you know, they were my grand, my saviour, my safe place, but I did always feels uncomfortable being called a lesbian because that's not how I identified internally so there was this sort of push-pull thing going on. But in saying that all my partners that I've had have always been open and honest and say to them, I'm actually transgender. I'm not lesbian. So funny little names or tags we still have to put on each other to feel comfortable too within those phases, you know, it's really funny sort of process, so.

RR: And all I saw was Donna, the circus performer and being quite brave with some of the shows you did. Are there elements across the arts like running away to the circus, that is a safe place anyway because they do accept the broader community in a way?

BJ: Well, it's a broader community and you have the opportunity as a performance to show another side of yourself that people don't judge as much, you know. It sort of separates itself from the real world, which is ironically because the shows that I do talk about my real self, you know. So I think it's a safe space. It's also a space that encourages people to become a part of what you're showing them rather than someone preaching to someone or, you know, it's a different space where people can go into a theatre performance and be with you in that journey.

Listen to the rest of the episode on iTunes.

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