A knight, a symbol of strength on a long journey. And a crimson heart – broken into the pieces of a puzzle – to remind its wearer of his values. The bold tattoo inked across Sim Kennedy's chest is based on one of his own artworks and represents all the 23-year-old has drawn on during his slow transition from female to male.It's not been easy. Like other young people who are transgender or have diverse genders, Kennedy has experienced structural discrimination and abuse. Before his transition he was forced to move schools twice to escape discrimination.
"Other people make you feel like there's something wrong with you, rather than just embracing it," he says.
Australia's first report on the mental health of young people who are transgender or have diverse genders has revealed high rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Transgender or diverse gender are umbrella terms for people who do not necessarily identify with their physical gender. It can include those who identify as asexual, androgynous, queer or transsexual. Almost half of the 190 young people interviewed for the study had been diagnosed with depression and two-thirds had suffered verbal abuse.
One person in five had been physically abused, and 90 per cent of those thought about suicide following that experience.
Threats and harm were most likely to occur on the street – 40per cent – and school – 38 per cent, participants said.
But the study from La Trobe University, funded by mental health charity beyondblue, found support from parents and teachers could make a huge difference to a young person's wellbeing.
Report author Elizabeth Smith said young people who were supported by their family were half as likely to become depressed, and if they did they were much more likely to seek professional help. Teachers who used appropriate language – including referring to the student with their preferred pronoun and being respectful of their students' privacy – meant gender diverse students were less likely to drop out of school or be bullied, Dr Smith said.
At first Sim Kennedy's family were concerned about his decision to transition and needed time to grieve, but they offered him support and helped fund surgery on his chest.
This was combined with hormone replacement, counselling and time to adjust, Kennedy says.
"I don't know how much worse my mental health would have been if it was not for my family," he says. Depending on the context, Kennedy identifies as male, transman, feminist, androgynous, a lad, but not as a man.
"For me being male was more about the body rather than about the gender of being a man."
For four years he has volunteered at YGender, a grassroots social support and advocacy group for young people, and has spoken extensively with state government health ministers to lobby for better funding.
He says this report, published on Tuesday, will highlight the experiences of those he has worked with in the community and hopes their voices are heard by politicians and the public.
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