‘I actually feel quite guilty because I’m having such a great time travelling around, living in my car and meeting all these lovely people. Everybody who stops to talk to me is a nice person. Not all the nice people stop. Sometimes they don’t feel comfortable approaching someone sitting on the street and some of them are busy and that’s fine.
‘I try to make sure that people know that I’m alright. I actually make enough money selling my scarves to get by.
‘One thing that’s changed over the years is that we’ve become more of a cashless society. I’m thinking of going to Officeworks and seeing if I can get one of those portable EFTPOS machines but I have to upgrade my phone. That’s my problem. I’ve got a stupid phone – all it does is make and receive phone calls and send texts.
‘It’s alright though. One of the things I do is I’ll suss out if there is an ATM around the corner. That also gives them a bit of a cooling off time.
‘I’ve actually said no to a couple of people because I can see it in their eyes, they’re buying a scarf out of pity and I don’t want that. Their scarf will be put in a drawer and not worn and not loved. I want people to wear them and enjoy them. If they’ve got to walk 20-30 yards and go to an ATM and get money and come back that gives them thinking time and they might think, ah, I don’t want that and they can walk the other way and not have to walk past me again.’
‘I started transitioning when I was 17 – it’s been about 5 years. I grew up on the Central Coast which has a very low trans population. There was probably me and someone else that was known for it in the gay community. Even the gay scene was really low so it was pretty bad.
‘I went to a Catholic School as well. I came out as a lesbian when I was 14 at the school which was not my best choice. I dropped out of high school because I went in to hospital for mental health reasons when I was about 17. And then I decided I needed to transition to a man and start doing the right thing for myself. There were a lot of members of my family who were quite actively not alright with it.
‘It sounds really weird but I didn’t think she [my partner] knew that I was trans because it wasn’t brought up. From the very beginning, there was no issue whatsoever. We’ve never had a problem with that. But on the Coast it was always something that was raised; there were always people talking about it.
‘When we met, she just didn’t give a second thought to being eccentric which helped lessen the anxiety about how people looked at me or how I behaved. Was I feminine or masculine enough? None of her friendship group even addresses that. They’re all so confident. I think her confidence has really rubbed off on me.’
‘People often forget their manners when greeting me and others with facial differences, severe skin conditions and disability. They blurt out what they are thinking about my appearance – often rude and insensitive and often projecting their feelings of insecurities. I just want people to say hello before launching into these questions – though I’d prefer they didn’t ask me at all.
‘I’ve just written a book called “Say Hello” – a memoir and manifesto about living with a facial difference and being disabled. It has stories of my life until now, anecdotes from other people, and advice for engaging with people with facial differences, severe skin conditions and disability.
‘From reading the book, I want people to be confident in their own skin – no matter how different it might be, and to remember their manners when talking to someone people with facial differences, severe skin conditions and disability.
‘I’ve loved receiving messages from people with Ichthyosis (the rare severe skin condition I have), telling me they felt alone until they read my work.’
‘When I threatened to move out, she would always say to me, “If you move out you’re not part of the family anymore”. At the start she said she’d disowned me. She didn’t talk to me at first. It was really messy. There were a lot of words and anger but she also grew up in a war zone and her family wasn’t the most affectionate. So I don’t really hold that against her. I understand her reaction and I expected it. She always threatened to do that and she did it in the end.
“I moved out of home last year and in Arab, but also Iraqi families in particular, that’s a really big no-no. I went through a period where my family’s relationship, until now, became very fraught because of that. It’s seen as betrayal to the family. The culture is rooted in family and you can’t break it up until you’re married and you have your own family.
“My family’s quite conservative and I just didn’t fit there anymore. I couldn’t really see myself growing as a person. I had to sensor my thoughts a lot and I didn’t want to live like that. As soon as I saw the opportunity to move I did it.
“It’s definitely a clash of culture. I’m a writer and I guess that’s also what my writing’s about – the relationship between first generation immigrants like my mum who came here in adulthood and their kids who came up here being Australian with different values.”
‘I was asked to be the voice of Hubert in the eBook called “I Didn’t Like Hubert”. We made the eBook to raise the funds for the Humpty Dumpty Foundation so they can buy life-saving equipment for sick babies in hospitals.
‘Hubert is full of life and full of energy. I’m not sure what age he is but he is a young child. He has the most amazing imagination ever. He uses his imagination to create incredible adventures. When I was a you ng child I would have loved to hang out with him and visit his make-believe world. But the other kids don’t seem to see just how cool and full of life he is. The other kids in the story seem to think he is weird because he dresses differently and has his crazy hat and a pet rat. But one day one of the kids notices just how much fun is Hubert is having and begins to change her mind about Hubert.
‘I feel a connection with the character Hubert and there’s a story to it. I love the fact that Hubert has big dreams because I always dreamt of being an actor. I am lucky to be living my dream. Hubert gets to play all these different, funny characters when he is playing his imaginary games. And with my acting I get to play different characters when I am acting. I feel for Hubert when the kids say unkind things to him. I have had times when people have said unkind and not very polite things to me and it has made me sad but then I remember I am living my dream of being an actor and have been involved in fabulous projects and have worked with amazing actors and directors from around the world. I am proud of my achievements and I don’t worry about the things they have said to me anyway.
‘I think the themes in this story are something that everyone can relate to – young and old. Children are very clever and I know that they will understand one of the main messages of “I Didn’t Like Hubert” that being different is OK. Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone and try something new. You may surprise yourself with how much fun you have!’
‘We try to make really positive upbeat music so we can share good energy with people. We never intended it to be like that but the feedback that we started getting when we started performing goated us in to really creating a safe positive space through our music so people could express themselves openly and not worry about things that don’t really matter.
‘We just want people to feel like they’re either in love or they are loved and that they can express that love through dancing or singing along or just being a part of a group of people who are focused on the same thing.
‘In society as it is, it’s almost like built-in to be shy and to watch yourself, but the fact is that we’re all on the same planet. It sounds so cheesy and I know people have said it in more elegant ways but we’re like one consciousness and we should stop and experience that together sometimes. Music is our language of doing that but you can see that in art or theatre or anything. We just choose to bring people to that realisation through music.
‘I’m part of a 12-piece hip hop soul funk band called The Regime who get pretty active in the Inner West. If we’re not gigging, we’re busking.’
‘I used to work on breakfast radio every morning on triple j and I’d wake up at 4.30 and leave the house when it was really dark and no one was out. But there’d be an old lady that slept out the front of our apartment door. She was there every day for a year.
‘It was kind of weird as I would always ask her if she needed anything but there was always a disconnect between her and myself. I guess that comes down to communication and what I can offer someone in that situation.
‘It’s not just money – it’s a blanket or do you need a phone call, or an OPAL card? Do you need a shower or do you need to use the bathroom? It’s those things. Taking part in the Newtopian Sleepout is definitely opening my eyes up to everything.
‘I’ve learnt a lot about homelessness so far – about how prevalent it is and how difficult it is to get out of the system. So many Australians, and I have as well, get caught up in this mind-set that we have Centrelink, why don’t you just get the dole, you know? You never really understand the complexity of any issue until you place yourself within that community. Not that I’m necessarily doing that just by sleeping in Newtown Square for one night but certainly just by being a part of this program I’ve learnt a lot more about homelessness. It’s made me more aware of what I can do as an individual in everyday circumstances that I will now be more aware of.
‘The thought of homelessness is terrifying. There are so many things that life could throw at you in any situation. I guess we all have our time at being “the one” at one stage or another and for now everything is good in my life and that’s why I’ll help out while I can.’
‘It’s really important to accept that there are differences between us but those differences aren’t an obstacle; they’re actually a way of helping us connect. Just because we are different and we come from different backgrounds doesn’t mean we can’t combine our energy, skills and experiences for the benefit of everybody.
‘Everybody’s got something to contribute. You’ve just got to find a way of helping that person contribute. Be open to engaging with people. All you have to do is talk to them – just a conversation. That spark can take a person anywhere.’