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On 25 April 2019, I walked up Swanston Street in a grey coat that matched the subdued skies. It had just gone 8 am, but already the pubs were teeming; uniformed men clutching pints of beer spilt onto the footpath. Along the street, the usual herd of trams was replaced by navy cadets marching in formation, pimpled and raw in their starched white uniforms. Anzac Day was here again.

I’d been up since 4 am, when my alarm shrieked through the pitch black. Barely awake, I’d leapt into the shower, inhaled toast, and thrown myself into the Uber waiting downstairs. The morning was frigid and the driver kept the heat on high as she sped through deserted streets.

I was going to my first Dawn Service—​not to stand in sombre silence with the other pilgrims, but to provide commentary from the ABC radio booth set up next to the Shrine of Remembrance. The ABC needed a historian to join the regular morning host, and my media-savvy but over-committed colleague Clare had passed on the gig. I’d done radio before, but nothing of this magnitude.

Originally a day of military commemoration, Anzac Day has become a de facto birthday for Australia. According to popular mythology, 25 April marked the ‘birth of the nation’ on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. It is a public holiday that arouses strong emotions, that has cultural warriors at loggerheads each year, and I’d been called upon to provide analysis for the national broadcaster. To put it mildly, I was shitting myself.

The broadcast passed in a blur, nearly three hours flying by as the host and I interviewed guests, talked history and passed commentary on the official proceedings. As I dispensed historical factoids about Black diggers and the Treaty of Versailles, the sky slowly lightened, fading from black to charcoal to oyster grey. All of a sudden, it was over. I had made it, without going blank live on air or otherwise humiliating myself. Job done. It was 7.30 am, and my work was over for the day.

I was ejected from the makeshift studio into the dewy Botanic Gardens, body flooded with adrenaline and relief. What now? Caffeine pulsed through my veins from the soy latte I’d downed on air. It was a public holiday, my time was my own, but I was too wired to go home and rest.

Looking for purpose, I drifted back towards the city, trailing the veterans and families who’d attended the service back up St Kilda Road. The air reeked of grilled meat and reverberated with military drums; the usual commuter frenzy of a weekday morning replaced by a strange cocktail of carnival and mourning. Sausage sizzles and death, pomp and ceremony.

As I weaved through the crowds assembling along Swanston Street, my mind replayed the radio broadcast. Like most historians, I had serious misgivings about Anzac Day’s jingoism, but was pleased to have the opportunity to inject some honest history into the conversation. My performance wasn’t perfect, but I’d made the key points from my notes. I’d even enjoyed bantering with the impish bald host, whose eyes shone with curiosity as we discussed World War I. Once again, the white-knuckle ride of live radio had lit up all my pleasure centres. Already I was hungry for more, looking for the next hit.

But something niggled.

On air they’d called me ‘Anne’, my legal name and the moniker I’d embraced without question for thirty years. Yet that wasn’t my name anymore. Unbeknownst to almost everyone, I’d recently acquired a new identity, a new gender—​even a new name. Few people knew the truth. I’d told my immediate family and a handful of close friends. But out in the world I continued to perform the identity on my birth certificate. At work, at the dentist, at my yoga studio, on my electricity bills—​and now, today, on radio—​I remained ‘Anne’, a lady historian who wrote about ladies in the past. A woman doing women’s history. A girl, a chick, an ‘F ’, a miss, a ma’am. Female.

​I remained ‘Anne’, a lady historian who wrote about ladies in the past. A woman doing women’s history.

Except it wasn’t true. I was living two lives, and the strain was beginning to tell. The performance of ‘Anne’ consumed more energy than I had to spare. On radio that morning, I’d cringed and squirmed every time a she or her was lobbed in my direction. Each female pronoun was an accusation: you’re a woman, and don’t you dare try to pretend otherwise.

‘Anne is joining us this morning, and she’s a historian at La Trobe University,’ the radio host reminded listeners every quarter hour. She, she, she.

‘So, Anne, tell us about the nurses who served in World War I,’ he’d prompt.

I’d smile and answer with pre-prepared soundbites. People pleasing, over-achieving, as always.

But the whole time, my soul was screaming: I am not Anne. I am not a ‘she’. These were facts I knew to be incontrovertible, even as they defied all reason. Despite my breasts, despite my vagina, despite my high voice and menstrual cycle, ‘woman’ was not a container where I belonged.

Yet every single person told me otherwise. Every stranger somehow knew, incontrovertibly, within half a second, that I was female. They were all so sure, so confident in calling me she and miss and ma’am. Who was I to question that, to challenge the whole world?

Lost in these mental thickets, I’d reached the top of the city. From the concrete grid of the CBD, I emerged into the lurid green of Carlton Gardens. My feet took me up Nicholson Street, north towards Fitzroy. Perhaps I’d visit a friend who lived in the Cairo flats, an Art Deco complex opposite the gardens. Away from the beating drums of the CBD, the morning was still and deserted, shrouded by a mournful Melbourne sky. It was only my mind that was on fire. Anne, she, woman, lady—​don’t try to deny it, you silly little girl. Who do you think you are?

The phone in my pocket promised escape. Without interrupting my stride, I unlocked the screen for a hit of Twitter. There was the usual Anzac Day history wars, especially fierce this year as the federal government had announced a $500 million funding boost for the War Memorial in Canberra. Historians and shock jocks traded barbs back and forth. In my agitated state, the vitriol was almost soothing. Each lobbed grenade that condemned Anzackery or mocked political correctness gave my monkey mind something solid to grasp onto. Here was a battle I could apprehend with language and reason, a conflict that demanded only the measured analysis I’d honed over a dozen years in universities. Today, as on most days, critical thinking provided a safe space from myself.

But something else was trending on Twitter this morning. The cover of an interstate tabloid—​let’s call it DT—​featured a hysterical attack on healthcare for trans kids. According to the paper, poor confused innocents were receiving ‘unnecessary sex change procedures’ due to a sinister left-wing ‘gender agenda’. Think of the children, the article screeched. Never mind that all transgender healthcare—​for kids or otherwise—​was subject to strict gatekeeping procedures. Never mind that trans kids never receive irreversible medical intervention. The article was pure fiction masquerading as news.

As I scrolled through the hateful words, I stopped dead, fuming. Primed for a fight. Enough. This insult could not go unremarked.

Frozen on the footpath, as tram after tram clanged past, I composed a tweet that attempted to give voice to the pain inflicted by this poor excuse for journalism.

I am trans, I tapped out in a fury, adrenaline pumping for the second time that morning. It took me 30 yrs to start coming out. For years I struggled with debilitating gender dysphoria in silence because I was terrified of the violent transphobia that pervades society. Many times I considered suicide. Headlines like this cause untold harm. Shame on you DT.

I am trans, I tapped out in a fury, adrenaline pumping for the second time that morning. It took me 30 yrs to start coming out. 

By the time I’d finished, the sun had cracked open the clouds. Before I could second-guess the tweet, I sent my outrage into the Twittersphere. It wasn’t a big deal. My Twitter following was minuscule. All my fellow-historian followers would be Anzac-focused today. I’d tweeted about transphobia before, and those words had sunk without a trace. Today, if I was lucky, I’d get five likes. I put the phone back in my pocket and continued walking, fury sated.

Twenty minutes later, I was curled up on my friend Sandro’s couch, regaling him with a blow-by-blow account of the Anzac Day broadcast. Always the dapper gent, he’d opened the door in a pressed shirt at 9 am on a public holiday. He now poured steaming cups of tea as I narrated the morning’s events.

‘And then we interviewed this old dude from the RSL, who said that . . .’

Mid-sentence, my coat pocket began to vibrate. My phone was pulsing with notifications. What was going on?

I unlocked the screen. Turns out I’d been retweeted by a senior historian. That was unexpected. I put my phone back in my pocket and resumed the story.

‘. . . and then another journo interviewed people in the crowd. Heaps of people had family connections to the war.’

Moments later, my phone started buzzing again. What now? Turns out I’d been retweeted by a local journalist. As I scrolled through the notifications, I was retweeted by an interstate journalist. Then a national media personality. What the hell? Turns out there was an appetite for something other than Anzac stories this morning.

Taking refuge in Sandro’s bathroom, I stared at my phone in disbelief. The notifications kept coming. New likes, comments and retweets each minute. Soon I was up to a thousand likes. Did this mean I was going viral? Was I going to get trolled? Already there were a few haters in the comments, calling me an ‘it’, mocking my pain.

Turns out I’d accidentally announced myself as transgender to the entire internet. Without meaning to, I’d come screaming out of the closet, shrieking ‘trans’ to all and sundry. Some cocktail of sleep deprivation and post-radio adrenaline had given my subconscious licence to broadcast the words I’d been swallowing for years. The dam of my silence had broken before I’d even realised it was starting to crack. By the time I arrive at work tomorrow, everyone—​every colleague I hadn’t told—​would have seen or heard about this tweet. Maybe even my former PhD supervisor would find out. Already my old boss, a former student and an ex-boyfriend had responded. All three of them seeing my most raw and naked self.

I swallowed, took some shallow breaths. Maybe that coffee during the broadcast had been a mistake, giving me a buzz that destroyed my inhibitions. I’ve always been sensitive to caffeine. Perched on Sandro’s toilet, phone in hand, I could feel a vulnerability hangover coming on.

This Anzac Day was meant to be about performing a sleek professional self on radio. It was meant to be about public engagement, about building my profile—​all those career goals I pursued to avoid thinking about my gender. But it turned out that 25 April 2019 actually marked the public implosion of Anne. Her time was over, ready or not. I’d finally stopped pretending I was female and named a truth that was as strange and terrifying as it was undeniable. I was not-woman, I was trans. It was one of those facts you know in your bones, however much you wish it wasn’t true. I wasn’t a man, but I most certainly was not female. I was trans. There was no going back, no un-knowing this fact. Now everyone else knew, too.

I only wished I knew what came next.

This is an extract from All About Yves by Yves Rees (Allen & Unwin), available now at your local independent bookseller.