Payback: The Custom of Assault and Rape of Sistergirls and Brotherboys; Australia's Trans and Sex/Gender Diverse First Peoples

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    To date, little research has been conducted into the lives of trans Indigenous Australians, also known as sistergirls and brotherboys. The author recently completed a 3-year research project into the lives of trans people living in Australia's remotely located Northern Territory as well as sistergirls and brotherboys. This research is groundbreaking because it analyses, for the first time, the issues impacting these populations. This article draws out the most pressing difficulties sistergirls and brotherboys experience, that is, transphobia within traditional Aboriginal communities. It has become a push factor for many sistergirls and brotherboys to leave their communities, yet, migrating to large residential areas leads to further discrimination. There may be racism within predominantly white trans communities and difficulties with language because, for example, English, for many Indigenous Australians, is their third or fourth language. Furthermore, sistergirls and brotherboys may experience a loss of identity because community and country are essential aspects of Indigenous Australian's sense of self, well-being, and spirituality. Transphobia in traditional Aboriginal communities manifests in the so-called custom of payback, through which retribution for social transgressions is brought on community members. To illustrate this custom, this article focuses on Crystal, one of the author's interviewees. Crystal is a sistergirl from the remote Tiwi Islands on the north coast of Australia and, for decades, her family and community enacted payback because she is a sistergirl. This payback took the form of verbal harassment, physical assault, and rape not only against Crystal herself but also immediate members of her family, and, as a result, several committed suicide. She rejects the notion that payback should be a protected custom; rather she demands that it is her human rights and the human rights of all sistergirls and brotherboys that need protecting. Crystal refuses to be silenced and she advocates on behalf of sistergirls and brotherboys. In 2012, Crystal was elected to the local Tiwi Island council and, in doing so, became the first sistergirl and trans woman to be elected to an Australian government office. Crystal is known as Aunty because she helps the younger generation, but because she has won the respect of her community, she is now also known as Elder.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)37-41
    Number of pages5
    JournalViolence and Gender
    Issue number1
    Early online date23 Jan 2018
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


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