The Future Of


Episode Summary

What does it mean to be ‘gender diverse’? And should gender even matter?

Episode Notes

What does it mean to be ‘gender diverse’? And should gender even matter?

In this episode, Amelia and Jessica are joined by gender and sexuality expert Misty Farquhar from the Curtin University Centre for Human Rights Education. The three delve deep into gender diversity, inclusivity and the right age to transition.

  • What’s the difference between sex and gender? [01:38]
  • Using pronouns properly [05:24]
  • What issues do trans and gender diverse people face? [11:37]
  • The future of ‘gender reveals’ [13:44]
  • Is there a right age to transition and what does it involve? [15:02]
  • Is it time to ‘do away’ with gender? [20:53]

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Mx Misty Farquhar
Sessional Academic, School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry

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Episode Transcription

Jessica Morrison (00:00):

This is The Future Of, where experts share their vision of the future and how they work is helping shape it for the better.

Jessica Morrison (00:09):

Hello, I'm Jessica Morrison.

Amelia Searson (00:11):

And I'm Amelia Searson. Today we're talking about gender. In recent years, we've seen an increase in the number of people who identify as gender diverse, with terms like non-binary, genderqueer, and gender-nonconforming, entering everyday language. But how free are we really to be you and me? To discuss this topic with us today, is our guest Misty Farquhar, a PhD researcher and academic at the Curtin University Centre for Human Rights Education. Thank you for coming in today, Misty.

Misty Farquhar (00:37):

Thank you for having me.

Amelia Searson (00:39):

Just to get started, obviously there's been a real shift in the way people refer to their sex and/or gender preferences, particularly among young generations. I think it's fair to say that we're seeing a lot more of that these days. What do you think is the reason for seeing more people express who they really are, rather than suppressing it like they may have many years ago?

Misty Farquhar (01:00):

Yeah, I think it really comes down to language, which is quite a simple answer. There's evidence of people being trans and gender diverse across history and across culture, so we know that it's not something new, but gender diversity was quashed very much in Western society in particular. It was seen as deviant and wrong and in many cases an illness of the mind, but we've come a long way in terms of diversity being okay. Now, because of the internet, there's language available to people. People can find words that actually describe their experience and they can really lean into that.

Jessica Morrison (01:38):

Misty, what's the difference between sex and gender? It might seem like a simple question, but I feel like it's quite central to this topic.

Misty Farquhar (01:45):

Yeah, it's complex, because it is so conflated in society, particularly in law. We use those words interchangeably often, but in a very rudimentary way, sex is biological. So we're talking about things like chromosomes, and hormones, and body parts, and gender is psychological. That's a bit more of a difficult concept to describe, but the way I usually describe it is, if we were all in an episode of Futurama. Two hundred years in the future, we're all heads in a jar, we'd still have a sense in our minds of what our gender was, whether that was male, female, or non-binary. We'd know without having genitals or a body, we would still know how we identified.

Jessica Morrison (02:30):

I hadn't thought about it that way, but a really good way to put it across. Absolutely.

Amelia Searson (02:34):

Who would've known that Futurama could be such a good teaching resource? Like I mentioned before, obviously we've got so many different terms around now that people are exploring and researching. Understanding these terms like transgender, agender, bigender, genderqueer, non-binary, gender-nonconforming, cisgender. Can you tell me about them?

Misty Farquhar (02:58):

That was a very comprehensive list. Cisgender, let's start with that. Cisgender is to transgender what straight is to gay, lesbian, bisexual. It's basically saying, this is a person who has female written on their birth certificate and grows up to identify as a woman. That's cisgender. The reason we have that language is because we would otherwise say there are transgender people and there are 'normal' people. That's quite problematic. Cisgender is the language we use for people who are identifying with the gender assigned at birth.

Misty Farquhar (03:36):

Transgender is the opposite of that. So, a person who has female on their birth certificate, grows up to identify as a man or as a non-binary person. All of those other labels that you used can be thought of as fitting beneath that umbrella of transgender, but a lot of the labels that you suggested were non-binary genders. By that we mean, people who don't identify as a man or a woman, some, or all of the time. Myself, for example, I identify as agender. It's the best word to describe my gender. That is, I don't feel like I need gender for my sense of self. Some people might identify as both men and women at different times, or at the same time. There's lots of different ways of being non-binary, which is why there's lots of different labels.

Jessica Morrison (04:27):

As you just said before, I think you touched on the language component. Can we talk a little bit more about the use and importance of language and pronouns? Has language created this space for people to understand and describe their gender more?

Misty Farquhar (04:40):

Yeah. There's a myriad of labels, as we just talked about. People are becoming more used to using different kinds of pronouns, or at least ideally, they've become more used to not making assumptions about a person's gender, based on the way they look. Someone who looks to you like a woman, may not feel like a woman. They may use he/him pronouns or they/them pronouns. It's really that, that there seems to be a lot more acceptance of that, at least in my little bubble, which is a start.

Misty Farquhar (05:11):

Yeah. Sorry. What was the other part of the question?

Jessica Morrison (05:13):

I suppose you've also touched on it there as well. Obviously, language is important. You've said that, but is intention more important? For example, for someone who might not be well versed or have personal experience in this space, they may have the good intention of wanting to refer to someone as their preferred pronoun, but they may stumble because to them, they may see that person and see that they look like a female, but that isn't their preferred pronoun. Can you talk a little bit about that? Because for myself, for example, I would hate to offend someone. It just may be a slip of the tongue and not referring to them as their proper pronoun. I don't want to cause any offence or harm to them.

Misty Farquhar (05:58):

I think largely that's where people are coming from. I think largely people don't want to offend people and they don't want people to be upset by something that they've said. Most trans and gender diverse people will take it that way. They will, and I will do this myself; we will correct people and just say, "Oh, I use they/them pronouns actually," without getting angry about it, because it happens a lot. People are still getting used to the idea of using different pronouns.

Misty Farquhar (06:27):

One of the things that a lot of people are doing now, particularly in workplaces, is wearing, I don't have mine on now, but wearing pronoun pins that say 'they/them', or 'she/her', or 'he/him'.

Jessica Morrison (06:38):

Email signatures too.

Misty Farquhar (06:39):

Email signatures. Yeah, absolutely. That's important, even for cisgender people to do, because it creates a space of safety for people who aren't using pronouns that people would expect. I think that's a really good way of making sure that you don't forget. You can just check someone's badge or emails and there it is.

Amelia Searson (06:59):

I've definitely noticed... Sorry, Jess. I've definitely noticed like on Twitter and people's Instagram bios, friends I have, who are cisgender, they put their 'she/her' pronouns in. As you say, that definitely creates that safe space, doesn't it?

Misty Farquhar (07:11):

Yeah. It indicates that you have learnt something about pronouns and that you're trying, at the very least, to be better at that.

Jessica Morrison (07:21):

What's the time frame been, that you've noticed, where this has become a little bit more, used more commonly in work places? Does that make sense?

Misty Farquhar (07:30):

Yeah, I probably would say within the last five, maybe seven years, people have started to take more of an interest in gender diversity, generally. A lot of that is around, I hate to say this, but marriage equality was actually really helpful in forwarding the movement for trans and gender diverse people. Because, I guess, gay, lesbian, bisexual folk really, whilst not equal, have a lot of equality in our society now. Whereas trans and gender diverse people, health outcomes are appalling, equality within the workplace, in education, is still really bad. I guess people have shifted the focus a little bit to what's going on for trans and gender diverse folk. With that, I guess there's been an increase in–

Jessica Morrison (08:23):

A groundswell.

Misty Farquhar (08:23):

Yeah, absolutely. People in their workplaces are more interested in getting training for example. This week with TransFolk of WA, I'm training in two different workplaces, transgender one-on-one training. People are really, really looking for that now.

Jessica Morrison (08:40):

Do you think also, with, probably a little controversial to touch on it, but I'm just thinking of a case we had early this year [error: last year] in Western Australia, with our Lord Mayor, our newly elected Lord Mayor [Basil Zempilas], making a comment in this space and he committed to having training done at Perth City Council. Do you think it's cases like that, which were obviously horrible at the time for those people who were offended by that, I think it really did bring it to the public light. Do you think that those things spur on? For example, you've said you've got two lots of training to partake in this week, at different workplaces.

Amelia Searson (09:18):

Yeah. All credit to The City of Perth. They have always been very supportive of the LGBTIQA+ community. This was, from my perspective, really out of character for The City of Perth as an organisation.

Jessica Morrison (09:34):


Amelia Searson (09:34):

Obviously, Basil is his own person and can say and do whatever he wants, but I don't think it's a reflection of the City of Perth. What I can say, is that we actually had training booked at the City of Perth, but then we went into lockdown. That commitment has actually been honoured. I genuinely think through conversations with various trans and gender diverse people, that he's also learning.

Jessica Morrison (09:58):

I actually follow him on social media and I've seen that. It is great to see. I suppose it's unfortunate things like that happen, but it brings it into the public. It was in the news, and it became a topic of conversation.

Amelia Searson (10:12):


Misty Farquhar (10:14):

I guess the thing to note about that, is that that was really painful for trans and gender diverse people. It meant that people working in the right space for trans and gender diverse people, were flat out for a couple of weeks, trying to do damage control around this, not just in the media, but also with their peers, making sure that everyone was okay. It's awful, but it is a really good learning experience for people who aren't trans and gender diverse. There just really needs to be a better way of doing that.

Jessica Morrison (10:46):


Amelia Searson (10:47):

Yeah. Getting those conversations started is really what we need, isn't it? That links into the next question pretty well. What is the level of awareness in Australia around supporting those who identify as gender diverse, do you think?

Misty Farquhar (11:01):

Australia is a more diverse place than we like to think. There are definitely places where trans and gender diverse people don't have an easy ride, but it's much easier to be who they are. Places like Victoria, for example, where they have a commissioner for sexuality and gender, in comparison to somewhere like Western Australia, where there's no minister, there's no funding. There's really just grassroots work. I think that the awareness is increasing, but it's nowhere near what it needs to be.

Jessica Morrison (11:37):

What are some of the issues facing people who identify as trans and gender diverse in Australia?

Misty Farquhar (11:43):

The biggest issue from my perspective, is health related, mental health related in particular. There's a lot of research recently that shows inordinate amounts of suicidality amongst trans and gender diverse people, depression, anxiety. This is not because we're inherently unwell. It's because of stigma and discrimination in society. It's because of not being able to access services in a way that affirms who we are. That is a really big problem. There needs to be a lot of money poured into that, in the same way as we would pour money into any group that is disproportionately affected with mental health issues. From my perspective, that's one of the biggest things. Access to medical care is not great. Even simple things like being mis-gendered, or in hospital settings, being put into wards that don't necessarily fit a person's gender identity, using their legal name rather than their preferred name, that kind of thing.

Misty Farquhar (12:47):

The other issue is legal recognition. In Tasmania, in Victoria, now, there's been birth certificate reform, which, this is state law, so it has to happen by state. It allows trans and gender diverse people to have the gender that they want on their birth certificate, as opposed to the one that was assigned at birth. That includes non-binary people, which is incredible. There's never been an option for non-binary on birth certificates. We don't have that in Western Australia. If you're non-binary, you don't get to have the gender you prefer on your birth certificate, but there is movement towards changing those rules. I think ideally, if we're talking about the future of birth certificates, we would not have gender on our birth certificates. It's not actually important. It would be the same as having religion or race on our birth certificates, which is no longer on birth certificates, because it's not relevant.

Jessica Morrison (13:39):

I haven't thought about it that way.

Amelia Searson (13:40):

That's really interesting. ... So, Misty: gender reveals. They're everywhere, it seems. They get crazier and crazier. Can you tell us about them? How did they begin? Do you think that we will see a shift away from them?

Misty Farquhar (13:59):

Didn't one of these cause a fire in California?

Amelia Searson (14:01):


Misty Farquhar (14:03):

Literally in the middle of a pandemic?

Amelia Searson (14:05):

A massive, massive fire, yes.

Jessica Morrison (14:07):

That's right.

Amelia Searson (14:07):

They're crazy.

Jessica Morrison (14:07):

It was their car exhaust of something. They made it come out blue. I do remember seeing that.

Misty Farquhar (14:13):

Yeah. From my perspective, I think gender reveals are really weird. Why are we so concerned with the genitals of a baby? Is it just about communicating privilege? Are we saying this child is going to do better in life because it has a penis? I'm not sure what the sudden fascination seems to be with these events. I don't remember it being a thing a couple of years ago, so it seems quite new. I don't know where it came from, actually.

Amelia Searson (14:42):

Any excuse for a party, I guess.

Misty Farquhar (14:44):

Why do we need an excuse for a party?

Misty Farquhar (14:48):

I had heard that the person who came up with it though, was trying to get people to move away from it now. I hope that this doesn't continue.

Jessica Morrison (14:58):

We've obviously talked about gender reveals and it comes into this a little ... transitioning between genders and the right age to transition. I caught a part of Louis Theroux's transgender kids documentary on the weekend. He visited a child who was beginning to transition at the age of five years old. To me as a parent, I was, I suppose, a little shocked seeing that, because that's only four years away from me with my child. I suppose putting myself in those parent's shoes, is there a right age to transition? Or is this a loaded question?

Misty Farquhar (15:34):

Well, I guess we need to understand the nature of transition first.

Jessica Morrison (15:37):


Misty Farquhar (15:38):

Perhaps I could start with that?

Jessica Morrison (15:39):

Of course. Of course.

Misty Farquhar (15:41):

Transition ... Most people when they think of transition, they think of medical transition, so surgeries and hormones, which is part of transition for some people, but not for everyone. There's also the legal transition, which is changing birth certificates and names and that kind of thing, and there's social transition. That is changing your name, changing the way you do your hair, or the way you dress. Often that social transition is the most important part.

Misty Farquhar (16:07):

When we're talking about young people, typically what a transition would look like, would be that social transition and puberty blockers, which are reversible. All puberty blockers do is stop the process of going through puberty. It stops that increase in male hormones, or female hormones, or whatever, so that the child can, when they come of age, make a decision to either go on to hormones, or not and whether or not they want to have surgeries later on. It just stops that process from occurring, so that it's easier. Particularly for trans women, testosterone is a very, very strong hormone. Once that's in the system, it's really difficult to reverse that. It makes that process later on, easier for young people.

Jessica Morrison (16:55):

I suppose, in terms of the right age to transition, is it essentially a case-by-case basis? There really is no right age, is there?

Misty Farquhar (17:03):

Yeah. Many people have a sense of their gender very early on. Cis-gender people will talk about knowing that they were a girl or a boy at two or three years old, and it's no different for trans and gender diverse people. They know. It can actually cause quite a lot of distress for young children when they can't be affirmed in that gender.

Amelia Searson (17:26):

Since it is a case-by-case approach that we should be taking, how do you think that would fit in with law? When it's written up, do you think the language should be more ambiguous? What are your thoughts on that?

Misty Farquhar (17:45):

There's nothing illegal about social transition. Social transition, it's up to the parents and the child really. In terms of legalities and accessing puberty blockers, et cetera, typically, what happens in law, is they say under the age of 12. From the age of 12 things change, but under the age of 12, there's very strict rules. I'm not fully across the specifics of those rules, but that is a way of keeping it broad.

Amelia Searson (18:14):

Misty, non-gendered language in clinical settings has been a huge topic in the news lately. What is the impact of using words like chest feeding and gestational parent?

Misty Farquhar (18:26):

Yeah. I haven't come across that in the news. That's really interesting to me and I think that's fantastic. I think that wherever possible, we should be using gender neutral language. In training sessions, I encourage people to use they/them pronouns, for example, until they know otherwise. You never know what a person's gender is. You would always use they/them pronouns unless someone told you differently. I think clinical settings too. I think there are definitely times when medical professionals would need to know about a person's genitals or perhaps about their hormones, but all other circumstances, it really isn't relevant.

Amelia Searson (19:07):

Because as you say, there is that distinct difference between sex and gender and we need to focus in a clinical setting on the sex, rather than the gender. Is that what you mean?

Misty Farquhar (19:17):

Yeah, if it's relevant. Sex isn't always relevant either.

Jessica Morrison (19:23):

Just following on from that. Something else that's been in, I call it the mainstream media, is gender critical feminists and transgender rights. J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame, was quite, I'll say, divisive. She was quite controversial, her tweets at the time around the protection of women-only spaces. Can you go a little more into that? Obviously it generated a lot of conversation online at the time.

Misty Farquhar (19:51):

Yeah. J.K. Rowling's not the first to make those kinds of comments. There are a lot of people who seem on the surface to be really good feminists, who are not trans feminists. They are TERFs, which are trans-exclusionary radical feminists. People like Germaine Greer for example, is considered to be a TERF – that is people who have a platform around speaking on behalf of women, saying that transgender women are not actually women. They basically talk about transgender women as men. I don't really understand where that comes from. For me, if a person says that they're a woman, they're a woman. Transgender women might have slightly different experiences to cisgender women, but they certainly have experienced a lot of oppression and in some ways more oppression than cisgender women.

Jessica Morrison (20:46):

Because they're marginalised.

Misty Farquhar (20:48):

Yeah. And they've had to live much of their life often, as something that they're not.

Jessica Morrison (20:53):

Just to finish up Misty. What do you think the future of gender diversity is? Can we expect to see more people identify as gender diverse in the future? We have touched on this throughout the podcast, but what's your take on it?

Misty Farquhar (21:04):

Just personally, I think gender is dumb. It's time to do away with gender. It at one point was important because gender roles were important, because women were oppressed, but it's becoming less and less important in society. Young people are really embracing that. There was a recent article actually, which said, I think it was like, half of young people don't identify as a man or a woman, or male or female. Young people are really in particular embracing this. It's a combination, I think, of the increase in awareness around gender diversity, the increase in language that's able to be used. It's almost a non-issue for young people. I think hopefully in my lifetime, there'll be a time where we're not so obsessed with what's in people's pants.

Jessica Morrison (21:57):

Good way to finish that. Look, I think you're right. As you said, it's awareness and with time. I think you've seen things change, just in the last five years. Hopefully we'll continue to see more change.

Misty Farquhar (22:08):


Jessica Morrison (22:09):

Thank you so much for coming in today, Misty. That's all we have time for today. Where can people connect with you?

Misty Farquhar (22:14):

People can connect with me online, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. My handle is mistyglo on all of those. If you're interested in my dogs, you can also follow me on Instagram.

Jessica Morrison (22:24):

Fabulous. We'll be sure to add your details into the show notes, along with our email, if anyone would like to reach out. Thank you Misty, for coming in today and sharing your knowledge on this topic.

Misty Farquhar (22:32):

Thank you.

Jessica Morrison (22:34):

You've been listening to The Future Of, a podcast powered by Curtin University. Leave us a comment where ever you find this episode. We'd love to hear from you. If you've got something out of today's episode, please rate us. Bye for now.

Amelia Searson (22:45):

See you next time.