Yves Rees

In winter 2019, Victoria’s Labor government tabled legislation that would make it easier for trans people to correct the sex marker on their birth certificate. Previously, trans people were required to have surgery on their reproductive organs before they could amend this foundational legal document. This requirement caused significant problems for the many trans people who don’t want or cannot afford surgery. Unable to correct their birth certificate, trans people often lived with a mismatch between their gender presentation and legal identity, a situation which forced them to disclose their transgender status and expose themselves to harassment and discrimination – or worse.

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Yves Rees’s memoir All About Yves charts their experience of coming out as trans. The book documents the challenges of the transition in a colonial society built for and around the gender binary. Rees invites the reader into their everyday life. The point is to make their ‘gender legible in a world that refuses to see it’, and the author sets out from this premise.

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In the pre-television era of the early twentieth century, radio reigned supreme. It offered news and light entertainment, but also a means of communion and solidarity for the many women confined to the domestic sphere. In her new book Sound Citizens, historian Dr Catherine Fisher explores how a cohort of professional women broadcasters, activists, and politicians began utilising radio to improve the status and rights of women in Australia. In today’s episode, we hear from writer and historian Dr Yves Rees, who reviewed the book for ABR’s recent September issue. Rees is a David Myers Research Fellow in History at La Trobe University and co-host of the history podcast Archive Fever. Yves has published widely across Australian gender, transnational and economic history, and also writes on transgender identity and politics.

 

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In the era of perpetual Covid lockdowns, many of us can relate to the isolation of the mid-twentieth-century housewife. Like her, we’re stuck at home, orbiting our kitchens, watching the light move across the floorboards. Each day mirrors the last, a quiet existence spent mostly in the company of the immediate household. Yet whereas we can flee our domestic confines via Netflix or TikTok, last century’s housewife had fewer avenues to the wider world. There was reading, of course – books or magazines or newspapers – but this was usually reserved for the end of the day. For most waking hours, her hands and eyes were needed for cooking, cleaning, mending, childcare, and a thousand other tasks.

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The Calibre Essay Prize is one of the world's leading prizes for an original non-fiction essay. This year was the fourteenth time ABR has presented the prize, which is now worth a total of $7,500. The winner of this year's prize is Dr Yves Rees, whose essay is titled 'Reading the Mess Backwards'. Rees, who came out as transgender aged 31, describes their essay as 'a story of trans becoming that digs into the messiness of bodies, gender, and identity'. The full essay appears in the June-July issue of ABR.

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When I’m ten or so, my brother appears shirtless at the dinner table. Ever the eager disciple, I follow his example without a second thought. It is a sweltering January day, and our bodies are salt-crusted from the beach. Clothing seems cruel in these conditions. As my brother tucks into his schnitzel, tanned chest gleaming, I grow conscious that the mood has become strained. Across the table, my parents exchange glances. The midsummer cheer of recent evenings is on hold.

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Today’s transgender community is woefully ignorant of its past, beholden to ‘historical amnesia’ and the ‘erasure of much trans history’ – or so Barry Reay would have us believe. Reay, a prolific historian of sexuality at the University of Auckland, begins his new history, Trans America, by decrying the supposed trans failure to look to the past, before setting about the task of correcting, as he puts it, ‘the significant structural and conceptual weaknesses in trans history’.

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Six years after the ‘transgender tipping point’ proclaimed by Time magazine in 2014, the trans and gender-diverse (TGD) community continues to surge into the spotlight. From Netflix and Neighbours to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (which named ‘they’ its 2019 word of the year), transgender experience is enjoying well-deserved recognition and representation. Visibility, however, is not without its problems. Internationally, growing awareness has triggered an anti-trans backlash, with the TGD community becoming a conservative scapegoat du jour. The United States is experiencing a spate of anti-trans violence, while ‘bathroom bills’ proliferate in red states. In Australia, the 2016 moral panic over Safe Schools was followed in 2019 by The Australian’s anti-trans campaign (with sixty-eight articles, ninety-two per cent of them negative, published in six months), as well as the transphobic fearmongering of TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) over Victoria’s birth certificate reforms – not to mention Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s attacks on ‘gender whisperers’.

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