Ausnew Home Care | How a wheelchair helped 18-year-old Mac embrace his

How a wheelchair helped 18-year-old Mac embrace his true self

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Growing up, Mac struggled with his identity.

He didn't want to be perceived as the "gay kid" or the "trans kid" and was frightened of what would happen to him if the wrong person saw anything out of the ordinary.

He saw it as his job to make sure everyone else was comfortable, believing that existing as a queer person was asking too much from others. 

"I watched what I wore, muted my personality and didn't engage with the queer community," Mac says.

But Mac knew from childhood that he didn't fit within the expectations of his gender.

"In grade five, we had this 'girl power' program, which was all about empowering young girls as they become women and talking about various things like puberty, expectations, dating, all that stuff," Mac recalls

"As you can probably imagine, while the school had good intent, it wasn't very helpful for me."

A man with purple hair looks at the camera
When he was younger, Mac tried to suppress his identity out of fear of what others would do or say to him.(ABC News: Karen Brookes)

Once high school arrived, Mac began to understand more clearly that his experience of puberty would be different to many of his peers.

"When I hit year seven, I realised that boys and girls don't play with each other, that you have to wear a girl's uniform and you have to act and behave in a very different way, so that all made me start to question everything," he said.

Mac's period of questioning his identity came at a time when the world was debating marriage equality.

"The media loves to focus on the violence that occurs, so it's not very hard to look it up and find these things," he said.

The day everything changed

Then one day at school, Mac had a seizure.

At just 16 years of age at the time, Mac says it was completely out of the blue.

As the ambulance pulled up to the hospital, Mac began seizing again.

"I got to skip the queue to the ER, which can be quite long, so I have to say that was good timing," he quips.

Mac spent five days undergoing various testing before being discharged with a warning to take things slowly.

Soon after, Mac seized again.

When he came around more than 24 hours later, Mac had lost feeling and movement below his waist.

"I was in a, quote unquote, mini coma," Mac said.

But Mac doesn't dwell on that moment of realisation.

It was a lot to process and, at the time, he doesn't think he truly understood how his life was about to change.

But he looks back almost fondly at his time in hospital.

"I ended up having the most wonderful roommate next to me. He was absolutely hilarious," Mac says.

"We mucked around a lot. We were kind of the party room, which is very funny because the room I was in was the most serious room, too.

"I thank him for allowing me to have a more positive experience during hospital, otherwise it would have been a much scarier and harder time."

A man with purple hair looks towards the right, laughing. The camera is at a low angle, meaning the blue sky is the background
Mac and his roommate in the hospital stroke unit were known among the doctors and nurses for being a cheeky duo.(ABC News: Karen Brookes)

Mac then moved to the rehab unit at the local Children's Hospital and underwent intensive rehab, regaining some of the movement he had lost.

"I still use a wheelchair outside of my house, but I've got a very, very atypical gait," Mac says.

"The nickname for it is 'drunken sailor', which I think is hilarious."

No use hiding

Back at home, Mac suddenly found himself forced out of his safety zone — in a wheelchair, he was now visibly different from everyone else.

"My only option was to embrace the stares and get comfortable with the discomfort of standing out. It was a huge adjustment but, over time, I got desensitised to the looks," he says.

And this was the final push he needed to conquer his fear of being recognisably trans.

"If people are going to stare, I may as well be my true self," Mac said.

A man in a wheelchair in a park. he holds a pride flag out behind him
Mac says he had to 'get comfortable with the discomfort of standing out'.(ABC News: Karen Brookes)

"I may as well dress how I want to dress rather than what would allow me to walk unnoticed and express my full personality rather than filter it to keep others comfortable.

'Now I'm grateful for my wheelchair'

Two years on, Mac has now turned his attention to advocacy.

It's a call that can seem overwhelming, but one that Mac has learned is as simple as existing.

"You — simply existing being happy with who you are and loving yourself — can be a form of self-advocacy. When you are from a marginalised background it can be very hard not to internalise all of prejudice and bigotry [that] you endure," he says.

"I'll always wear button-up shirts, often dye my hair, because that is very much associated with trans men and lesbians.

"Not that those things make you queer, but they were things I once avoided at the possible risk of it being associated with being trans. I now wear [them] really proudly."

A man with purple hair wraps himself in a pride flag
Not everyone has the opportunity to be out safely, and the privilege to do so is something Mac says is important to recognise.(ABC News: Karen Brookes)

Mac says becoming an advocate was a natural pathway.

"Being trans and disabled means I have had to advocate for my rights my whole life, it was a skill that I had been forced to develop from a young age."

But Mac recognises he has a certain privilege in being out and proud.

"It is not a privilege that everyone has to be visible. Everyone should be able to, but that's not the world we live in," he says.

"Not everyone has the opportunity to exist openly, but also not everyone can choose be not visibly queer. For me, being out was a huge adjustment but, over time, I got desensitised to the looks.

ABC is partnering with International Day of People with Disability to celebrate the contributions and achievements of the 4.4 million Australians with disability.

The ABC’s Takeover Melbourne program gives a voice to young people across Greater Melbourne. If you would like to find more stories or learn about the next Takeover Melbourne intake go to the Takeover website.


Source: ABC

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