31 March marks Trans Day of Visibility Day, an annual international celebration of trans* pride and awareness, recognising Trans and gender diverse rights, experiences and stories.
This is Ashley Lamont's story.
Growing up in the Central Coast of NSW, for many years, as well as Hannam Vale, a regional town on the Mid North Coast in New South Wales, Ashley didn't always have a strong sense of who she was. Even as a young kid, she felt like something wasn't right.
"For most of my life, I've had this pervasive feeling that something was off, kind of like you'd been writing with the wrong hand your whole life."
In Ashley's high school, gender dysphoria was never openly discussed.
"One of the biggest challenges I've faced was working out where I stood relative to everything else, and where that left me," Ashley said.
"When I was growing up, I had really limited exposure to trans* people. I remember watching a trans* person on a Four Corners program, but that's about it. It took a while for me to really work things out."
It was only after Ashley arrived in Canberra to study a Bachelor of Information Technology at ANU that she finally found the freedom to be her true self.
"I've found that Canberra is a very diverse and inclusive city - I've met a really wide range of people here, with a massive range of experiences in this area."
By talking to queer communities in Canberra and taking the time to figure out who she was, Ashley was able to find her true self - and everything began to feel more and more right.
"When you're living the life you were given at birth, and never know that there's any other way to go, it's so much easier to explain away the way you feel as attributed to something else."
"It's part of why coming down to Canberra was so important for my journey, not only did it let me realise that the range of experiences is broad enough to encompass the way I felt, and let myself consider that that could be me, it also gave me the freedom to take those first steps in exploring who I was, and trying different things to see how it felt."
Now thriving in her third year of her degree, Ashley reflected on what being trans* meant to her.
"For me, being trans* is really about giving myself the freedom to seek out the things that make me happy and make me feel comfortable in my own body, and to really go after them without necessarily worrying too much about what others may or may not think."
"It's a lot of rejecting norms and what I'm conventionally expected to do, and finding my own path instead that suits me better."
To mark Trans Day of Visibility, Ashley encourages students to reach out and talk to people who have been on a similar journey.
"I highly recommend talking to local queer communities online and offline, such as the ANU Queer* Department if you're working these things out for yourself. They have a lot of people who have been through this journey before."
Importantly, Ashley acknowledges that visibility as a trans* or gender-diverse person can often be paired with negativity.
"Far too often, it's easy to only see the negativity in the news and whatnot. But don't forget - most people just want to see you be who you are."
"Most people will be okay with it and will love you for it. Especially in a place like Canberra."
For the wider ANU community, Ashley encourages us all to support the gender-diverse people in our lives.
"Having other people stand up for us is really important. There's only so many of us, and on our own it's easy to have our voices drowned out by hate."
Finally, Ashley encourages any queer or trans* students to put themselves in positions of visibility and leadership within the ANU community if they are able to.
"I try and be that visible person for those that don't have anyone. It's something that I'm very lucky to have the opportunity to do, and I really appreciate being able to do so."
"Seeing others lead the way has been a crucial part of my own journey. By learning about other people's experiences, I was able to see that there wasn't a single way to be trans*, and that it was really about being authentically you than just another box to fit into. It's a long process and it can seem easier to just stick with the status quo, even if it hurts you, but to see people lead the way ahead of you shows that it can be done, which was really reassuring."
"The more of us that are out there and visible, the easier it will be for the next generation."
Come and celebrate Trans Day of Visibility at ANU!
There will be free food, good company and so much pride ️
When: Friday 31 March, 3-5pm
Where: Marie Reay - Ground Floor Kambri
Who: This event is open to all ANU staff, students and alumni
Sign up for the LGBTIQA+ Ally Training, a free 90-minute training session that is available to all ANU students and staff. It aims to equip participants with knowledge and skills to create an inclusive culture for all LGBTIQA+ staff and students and be an effective ally within the ANU community.