By Shannon Chamberlain.
Mel Waters is being forced to perform. Who’s forcing Mel, you ask? It might be you.
Mel is transgender non-binary and identifies as pansexual. This means they are transitioning from the female gender they were assigned at birth to non-binary, which is neither male nor female. Mel feels more masculine than feminine and is sexually attracted to trans men, trans women, cis men and cis women. Every day, Mel has no choice but to act in a drama titled Society’s Assumptions.
Mel owns a trans feminist bike shop called Honeybee Cycles. The storefront is decorated with old classic bikes, pot plants and vintage furniture. Inside, there are bikes hanging from the roof held by thick ropes, photographs and maps line the walls and bikes are parked in uniform lines around the outskirts of the cement floor to make room for old televisions and quirky socks in the middle.
If you were to walk past, you’d see Mel wearing a pair of dark blue denim shorts and a black t-shirt with matching chunky Rossi boots, grinning happily. Mel has some short stubble above the top lip and a lop-sided rat’s tail that swings softly from side-to-side while they’re tending to customers.
Mel also provides bike restoration services. At the back of the store is a workshop where black tyres are hanging on racks, a dusty workbench cradles heavy tools and the smell of dedication mixing with sawdust rests softly in your nostrils.
It’s a home away from home.
Most mornings, 32-year-old Mel is woken by their Italian Greyhound, Shalara and is greeted by what they call a ‘love festival’.
Mel is a self-professed introvert, and enjoys spending quiet time with their dog and a cup of tea before leaving the safe confines of the house to perform society’s idea of gender.
“It’s a big thing like for me to step out of the house… straight away I’m on stage,” Mel says.
Every Tuesday to Saturday, Mel cycles for almost an hour on a black vintage bike with purple handlebars and a brown leather seat from Goodwood to the heart of Port Adelaide for work.
“Me riding a bike to and from work is such a political statement and I’m realising that more and more each day,” Mel says.
“I just hate capitalism.”
Riding also gives Mel temporary relief from an often-negative headspace.
Transgender individuals living in Australia are three times more likely to experience depression than heterosexual people.
“I think a lot of my anxiety is from like this social construct of how you’re supposed to look and be and the pressures of what you’re supposed to do… so I struggle with that,” Mel says.
Behind the scenes, Mel is trying to get the gender changed from female to non-binary on their birth certificate, but it’s been incredibly difficult.
“I have to go through processes, I have to go through conversations [and] I have to go through forms,” Mel says.
“If any employer wants my birth certificate or anyone wants the birth certificate for something it will be against who I identify as.”
Mel is also ‘misgendered’ as female on a license, a passport and on common forms that only provide ‘male’ and ‘female’ options, which makes things even more problematic.
“It’s really hard to sometimes just advocate for yourself,” Mel says.
“I can’t just be carefree… I actually have to say who I am and what I am and it’s really draining.
“On my plane flights I choose Mr because that’s only got two [choices of gender].
“I feel safe to go with Mr on the plane flight because no-one gives a shit and no-one looks at it, but on official forms… I personally feel like I would be fraudulent because they’d be like hang on a minute your birth certificate says this, so this is who you have to be.
“It’s really hard that there’s no ‘other’.
“I don’t know the percentage of people that aren’t trans but… all those people don’t have to like say or do anything. They can go home and cook dinner and watch the news or whatever; whereas trans people and non-binary people have to think: when am I gonna go to the doctor? When am I gonna have to go to Centrelink so that I can go do this? When am I gonna have to go to Medicare and do this?”
It’s also been a struggle with Medicare, who refuse to officially acknowledge Mel as non-binary.
“Medicare made me say ‘male’ and I was really against it. She’s like, ‘Oh we’ll just write on the form on the back that you want to be non-binary,’” Mel says.
“It’s just so hard because it’s all new and not normalised.
When Mel needs a prescription for testosterone to help boost the feeling of masculinity, the doctor also misgenders, which causes significant emotional pain.
“With this doctor that I’ve found, yes he does prescribe [testosterone]… but he misgenders and doesn’t know how to talk to people,” Mel says.
“It’s all smiles and he is lovely, but it would be nice if he was educated about… inclusive language.
“I feel like I always have to apologise for being trans in his rooms because he always fumbles and stuffs up with pronouns…”
For Mel, going to the toilet is often a stressful experience because most public bathrooms are not gender neutral.
“I pretty much just go to the same places in Adelaide [so] that I can kind of navigate myself around that,” Mel says.
“I don’t feel safe going into a male toilet and then I don’t feel comfortable going to a female toilet.
“When I walk into a female toilet… other people assume that’s who I am, but I’m not! It’s affirming that I’m a woman when I don’t identify as a woman.
“I only use the women’s toilet because it’s the best one. I feel safest, but I also don’t feel safe.
“I feel like I’m self-harming myself every time I walk in.
“For some reason things are just accepted as norms… and that we should assume or accept things as the way they are, but the way they are isn’t necessarily safe or inclusive or comfortable for people.”
Mel spends the majority of their life feeling uncomfortable and unsafe. It’s only when Mel finishes work that they can look forward to relaxing in a safe space: home.
At the end of each work day, Mel moves all the items from the storefront into the shop with a look of fulfilment. Mel rides back home and ends the day just like it started, with a cup of tea and Shalara by their side.
Mel is ready to take on the next episode of Society’s Assumptions.