Shauna Wilson has positioned myself to educate and influence others in the field of enrolled nursing and the very important area of Diversity and Inclusivity in nursing. She took a moment to discuss her life and new autobiography You Say Different – I Say Individual
Q. What made you decide to write an autobiography?
I had been told many times by those around me that I had a story that needed telling and for people to learn from. There was so much self-doubt and I was my biggest critic. I thought who would ever be interested in my life’s journey? How much was I willing to reveal? Could I go back and relive the trauma that has shaped me into the woman I am today? I had spent so much time trying to forget each episode that I was curious as to how far I had pushed it to the back of my memory.
I was asked by a work colleague to assist in her presentation as part of her university degree. Her topic was transgender health and I assisted with the Q and A. A month later during a conversation with the CEO of the Australian College of Nursing (ACN), Kylie Ward, I mentioned this to her, and she asked me if I was willing to share my story as a Keynote Speaker at the 2018 ACN National Nursing Forum. Kylie understood the apprehension and nervousness that would have been going through my mind in deciding to share my innermost secrets with approximately 600 of my peers. After all, I had not even told my family 90% of it. I left that event and went home and told my husband of the suggestion. I felt I needed to involve him as ultimately this was putting myself out in the public arena. This was not what he signed up for when we started our relationship 8 years earlier. It turned out he was quite comfortable with the idea and gave me his full support.
After 3 drafts of my presentation, the day finally came to stand on the stage. I doubt I would have ever been so nervous at that moment. It was the precursor to putting my whole life’s journey out for all to see. That 20 minutes seemed like an eternity. The preparation of that speech allowed me to dip my toes into my memory. As I wanted them to want more, I only gave them snippets of each decade in my life. It was enough for them to gain a concept of the troubled thoughts and minds someone growing up full of confusion about their identity can have. It introduced them to how society did and, in some places, still does treat those that they see differently to them.
I received excellent feedback from that one presentation that I thought maybe I did have something to teach others and in a small part provide a safe space for others like me to see comfort in knowledge.
When COVID-19 hit Melbourne Australia we were soon to become the most locked-down city in the world. We had five waves hit our shores in two years. During the first wave, we endured a 5-month continuous lockdown with very strict boundaries that would allow us to leave our homes. My husband like many had to work from home but as an oncology nurse, I was allowed to leave home but had to travel with a work permit from my employer and travel the most direct route to and from work. There was only so much television I could tolerate so thought if now wasn’t the time to write my autobiography, then when was? I commenced writing in March 2020 and finished in February 2021. It went to publish in May 2021. I could not have been prouder of myself.
Q. You faced a lot of adversity in growing up and becoming yourself. Was there anything you learned over the years that allowed you to keep a positive outlook?
I learnt that humans are hard to live amongst. You need to find your tribe. It was not until my mid-40s I found mine. That could have been a result of the era I grew up in or that I thought I was alone and had no one to confide in. I feel I was forced into finding and keeping a positive outlook due to the promise I not only made to my mother but what I made to myself. We lost my little sister to suicide very young and I made a promise to my mother that she would never have to bury another of her children. That promise encouraged me to seek out a tribe that could help me stay on the path of finding happiness within.
Honesty for me was the key. Being honest with myself first was so important. Accept who I was. Love who I was. Accept that you can only control those things you can influence. Focus on them and if you can get through life without success with those things you don’t, it doesn’t matter. I found and took on board a good Buddhist saying….
Do you have a problem? Yes…… Can you influence it?…. Yes – then don’t worry.
Do you have a problem? Yes …. Can you influence it? ….No – then don’t worry.
I also adopted the philosophy of the only hurdle that is in front of you is one you put there yourself. You choose to make it a hurdle. There is always a direction to go. It may mean you have to go back a bit or take a detour, but there is always a way forward. It may just take a little longer.
Every step further along my journey was another rung up the ladder of happiness for me.
Q. In your day job as a nurse you provide needed medical care. Why do you think there are so many problems with transgender individuals getting appropriate care?
In Australia, I can only speak for my experiences. I have been fortunate to have been in an environment, and a time where accessibility has been readily available. I transitioned in 2005 at a time when if you identified as transgender you were medically discharged from the military with a mental health illness. This policy changed three years after I was forced discharged. You now have the full support of Defence to complete your transition within your service and at the taxpayers’ expense. Whilst this contradicts what I just stated earlier, being discharged did allow me to find assistance in the civilian healthcare sector which was not available to me in my service at the time. I was accepted into the Monash Medical Gender Clinic. Everything I needed at the time followed the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care, now WPATH. I have since found myself having to educate many doctors and nurses in transgender care. Mostly on the mental health side. I have found myself explaining to an emergency department doctor why a woman was refusing to stop her medications before they could treat her. Her medications helped her identify with who she was. In her mind stopping them would take her back to being someone she did not identify with.
Two factors influence the type of care a transgender patient will receive. Firstly, education of both the patient and the practitioner. They need to know the services available to them. How to find them; what questions to ask and whom to ask. There is so much literature available but it is a case of you don’t know what you don’t know. Secondly, this is widespread in Australia for most medical care. Locality plays a big part. Australia is huge, and most of the population and services are only available on the east coast border. There are very minimal services available for transgender healthcare outside the major capital cities in Australia. You are even less likely to come across a healthcare practitioner who knows anything about your specific medical needs.
There is a big push in the healthcare sector for culturally safe inclusive care to be part of all interactions with patients. Diversity and Inclusive recruitment is providing education through learned experience. This in my eyes is the best way to learn. Far better than what you will get out of a textbook or policy is written by someone with no intimate knowledge. Stigma and prior poor experiences have the opportunity to discourage people from attending for assistance.
Q. I saw that you had been working to try and get some restrictions removed around certain LGBTQI+ being allowed to donate blood. Is there any way regular people can help in this fight?
Over the course of 14 years, I made 119 blood product donations to Lifeblood Australia. I had received many text messages thanking me for my contribution and that my donations had gone on to help multiple patients each time. Then, on the 8th of December 2020, I entered the donation centre and was informed that not only could I not donate but apparently, I should never have been donating. Being transgender meant that I fall into the same exclusion as men who have sex with men.
Since that time, I have taken this to my state politician who addressed it with the CEO of the Therapeutic Goods Administration. I also raised it with the CEO of Lifeblood itself. As a result of these meetings, I was invited to be a part of a working party to work through how Lifeblood could bring about changes to the policy that would be more inclusive of the LGBTQI+ community. An invitation to be part of an Australian contingent to represent Lifeblood Australia at a conference being conducted with the Canada Blood Services has come to me which I am excited to be a part of.
People could start by asking the question….. Why? Approach their local member of government and champion inclusivity. Become an ally within the community. The next time they donate a blood product ask the staff what their organisation is doing to make the process more inclusive. Sometimes change has to come from within. A very good mantra is ‘front of mouth, front of mind’. It is often hard to change someone’s opinion or belief in one conversation. It will take several conversations so the more it is in their mind the more chance of success.
Q. Now that you have published your autobiography do you have any plans for a new project?
Apart from my nursing role, I am putting my focus into advocation for the transgender community. I have been published in the Australian College of Nursing quarterly magazine. I have also written a recent article for an online blog on how and what nurses should embed in their practice relating to transgender health. I am consulting with the Rainbow Foundation in Vietnam on transgender health in their country. It is hard to believe that the LGBTQI+ community are still outcast there. I have provided several links and leads on support and education. I will also be presenting via online format shortly to their consumers. There are more interviews in the pipeline as we speak. In August I have been invited to speak to a not-for-profit here in Australia called Sunny Street. They provide healthcare to the homeless and are keen to learn more about Trans health. As many who transition do not find a supportive network they find themselves homeless. There must be knowledgeable healthcare providers available for them to see.
Q. If people want to know more about you or your book where should they go?
On the webpage and just inside the back cover is my speaker’s bio if anyone is interested in my speaking at their event or organisation.
Final four questions we ask everybody
Q. When the zombies take over the world where will you be?
Oh, that is easy. I will make my way to my bathroom and do my best makeup and then join them roaming the city and all the best clothing and accessories stores. I will start with Tiffany’s and Prada.
Q. What is your favourite fandom?
I would say my mum. She is the best mum I could have wished for. She stood by my side through all the drama I was involved in during my transition and I love her to bits.
Q. What piece of art, be it in the form of music, a book, a film or a picture, do you think people must experience before they die?
This one is even easier to answer. Everyone needs to read my book. That goes without saying. But seriously, I found TransAmerica a brilliant movie to watch and learn about the emotional and familiar trauma that is quite common among those that are seen to be different. Hidden Figures is important for young girls to see as it shows how far women have come in the fields related to STEM and hopefully ignites some passion.
Q. Give one fact that most people would not believe about you?
That I was a prison officer in a maximum-security prison for just short of ten years. Clearly in a different life but hey……when you are trying to live by others’ expectations of the role you play in society you go to extremes sometimes…lol