Friday, 13 June 2014

Interview with Allyson Hamblett

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Allyson Hamblett, a transgender activist from New Zealand, musician, involved in the work for CCS Disability Action, Agender New Zealand, Outline NZ, GenderBridge, and the Cerebral Palsy Society. Hello Allyson!
Allyson: Hi Monika, thank you for the opportunity to talk with you.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Allyson: Currently I’m the chair of the Local Advisory Committee of CCS Disability Action Auckland. I work as Media Assistant at Spark Centre of Creative Development, writing articles for their monthly newsletter. I am co-founder of Transadvocates. And have been an activist since my university days, when I discovered sociology and started to understand how society is constructed. I have cerebral palsy.
Monika: You have a passion for art and composing music. In addition, you take part in many live performances.
Allyson: I discovered my creativity about 12 years ago when I started going to Spark Centre of Creative Development. I enjoy painting with acrylic on canvas and love portraiture and figures in space. Making art allows me to focus on what I’m doing and forget about everything else.
I went to a piano teacher when I was 10. It lasted 5 minutes. A year later mum and dad told me that the piano teacher said no to teaching me, so I taught myself. 5 years ago a colleague suggested that I write a song. It took me a few hours to come up with the basis of my first song, “Open Your Eyes”. I met Sam Benge a few months later who a professionally trained musician. Five years on we are still working together. I hope to release a CD this year.

Allyson is focused and ready.

Monika: For many years you have been dealing with transgender and disability advocacy. What are the current challenges for this community in New Zealand?
Allyson: Working in the two sectors seems overwhelming at times because of the issues. Disability advocacy seems the biggest challenge at the moment – almost a never-ending battle. Accessible housing is one of the big issues facing the disability sector.
Local and Central governments don’t seem to even understand the word accessible. Guess it’s because the decision-makers and the policy developers have never had to think about walking, let alone using a walker or a wheelchair (I started using a walker 3 years ago).
With the disability sector making up 20% of the voting public we can make housing a central election issue. The Bill of Rights needs to be strengthened. The optional protocol of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities needs to be signed and the wage exemption for disabled people needs to be removed – just to mention the first things that need addressing.
In terms of the transgender community, we are looking forward to having gender identity in the NZ Human Rights Act by the end of the year. The process for changing birth certificates should be simplified and the Citizenship Act 1977 needs to be amended. The health system needs to be able to respond better to transgender patients who begin their transition so that trans people throughout the country can expect the same standard of care.
In terms of sex change surgery, I think there needs to be a public/private system that could give people the choice of where they want their surgery done. The surgeon in New Zealand is retiring at the end of the year, and we don’t know if there are plans to replace the surgeon to continue sex change operations.
I think it would be good for the health system to send people over to Thailand for these operations, and come up with a loan system to help support those who want surgery but who can’t afford to have surgery. Also, a funding system to help with laser and electrolysis costs. I’d imagine something like a health insurance scheme that Targets trans people.
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Allyson: It’s fantastic that the political process has started to include gender identity in the NZ Human Rights Act (1993).
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Allyson: I began my transition in 1998, but was trying to find support from 1996. I met several trans people over those years. CD Rom (now Agender) had started up in Wellington, but I was in the process of returning home to Auckland after studying at Victoria University, so was unable to attend. I found out about Hedesthia which was a trans group in Auckland but discovered that was in the process of closing down.
In 1997 I discovered the Pride Centre in Auckland which was in the very early stages of including trans people. I joined the board for 3 years. I helped organize TransIT; a social support group for trans people. TransIT lasted for about 3 years and developed into GenderBridge (established in 2000).
Through TransIT I met up with 4 other trans women who became friends and really supported me through the early years of my journey. We enjoyed meeting up for dinner once a month before TransIT meetings.

My Sister's Village Little Hucklow by Allyson Hamblett.

Monika: A few weeks ago Jared Leto received his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Dallas Buyers Club" as transgender Rayon. What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far? 
Allyson: I enjoyed watching the “Dallas Buyers Club”. The story was very powerful, and I liked the character that Jared Leto played.
But it would have been great if the role had been performed by a trans actor, and we had seen a trans woman receiving an award for her performance. I also enjoyed watching “Different for Girls”.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities? Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Allyson: The T is strong in New Zealand at the moment. The wider Rainbow sector is behind us, but we are leading the way.
Monika: Is there anyone in the New Zealand transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the 60s and 70s for gay activism?
Allyson: Over the years the trans communities in NZ have become stronger and lots of people in the community are doing lots of work to promote change. Trans advocates are making a very significant change. It's great working with Kelly and Lexie on this project.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Allyson: Yes. I’m in regular contact with a few MPs. Currently, a Supplementary Order Paper (SOP 432) is going through parliament, via the Statutes Amendment Bill No 4. SOP 432 will add gender identity to the sex category of the NZ Human Rights Act. I hope it will pass by the end of the year. I’m also trying to amend the Citizenship Act 1977 so that overseas-born trans people can have their citizenship certificates reissued if they become NZ Citizens before they transition. This will take more lobbying work.
I think everyone can make a difference in politics. Recently I heard that people generally see politics and Government as something that happens to you. Over the last few years, I’ve discovered that one can have an influence on politics.

The Wedding by Allyson Hamblett.

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Allyson: Love is what life is all about. Learning to love yourself is key to a good life.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Allyson: I like fashion, but have become lazy with it over the years. I want to blend in but have forgotten how to stand out. Feel it’s time to see Gok Wan.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Allyson: I have thought about it. I’ve written 15,000 words so far, but have lost momentum. I think I need to achieve more before I start writing again.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Allyson: Ensure Supplementary Order Paper 432 passes into law. In 5-7 years I hope that the Citizenship Act 1977 has been amended. And I hope that I’m enjoying my advocacy work and making some changes in society. I wouldn’t mind trying to get into local or central government. I think I have the skills needed.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Allyson: Start to come out. Look for groups that can support you and just be who you are. Enjoy the process.
Monika: Allyson, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Allyson Hamblett.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

Search This Blog