Andrea Ingram is visible and proud
Andrea Ingram is a building designer, and as of last year, she became a model too.
She was featured in the photography exhibition, ‘Country Roads to Pride’ put on by Transgender Victoria and Ballarat Community Health at the Victorian Pride Centre in Melbourne last month.
The exhibition is part of a campaign by TGV - a Melbourne-based outreach group for trans and gender diverse people - to “celebrate the journeys that some trans and gender diverse people make to feel at home” with a focus on regional Victorians.
“We live and thrive in many spaces outside the city, although that is where we may be most visible,” the organisation’s exhibition statement says.
Andrea came out as a transgender woman about five years ago, and in March last year she started presenting publicly as a woman.
It was during a trip to Ballarat last year, where she spends time with the local LGBTIQ+ group, that she was approached by photographer James Mepham, who is also trans.
“I had shown them a particular photo of a dress that I had on the on that weekend, which was when I was out and about wearing a cocktail dress,” Andrea said.
“And they said to me, you're very photogenic.”
James invited her to be a part of the project, and on a summer’s evening - after donning a pink wig and beautiful floral dress - Andrea was photographed at a Ballarat park.
James said the project aims to help trans people living in regional and rural Australia feel less alone, because they are at a higher risk of violence, self harm and drug and alcohol addiction, and suicide.
“Visibility is important because people see people that they can relate to, they’re less isolated,” he said.
Andrea’s portrait is a bold kaleidoscope of colours, and Andrea looks right at home in front of the camera.
The point of the exhibition, Andrea says, is visibility.
“Some of the things that I look to promote as much as I can, as an out person, is to be a positive model, or role model, to people of all ages, and of all walks of life.
“To find true happiness within myself has been a wonderful thing.”
Andrea wants other transgender people to be proud of who they are.
She acts as a casual mentor and as support for trans friends venturing out in public.
“To be at peace with myself; there are still things in life that are challenging, but overall, I am free to be myself,” she said.
Andrea hopes to continue modelling, and says there is high demand with many Australian fashion brands for transgender models.
“Just to bring focus in that market, (fashion brands) are wanting people of all walks, shapes and sizes of life to know that they are welcome,” Andrea said.
While Andrea has not faced the same fear of coming out as others have, the attitudes of those around her kept her from expressing her femininity.
Andrea says that too often, mainstream conversations about transgender and gender diverse people focus far too much on the physical transition and that they forget to respect a person’s humanity.
“I think media, in some ways, but also some of the stigma that is about transgender people is really focusing on the wrong issues, not just looking at the humanity of the person.”
Debates on bathrooms or hyper-focusing on the physical transition someone is going through is not only exhausting for transgender people to explain time and again, it cna also cause mental harm.
According to a study by LGBTIQ+ Health Australia, 35 per cent of transgender people aged 18 and over reported having attempted suicide in their lifetime, while transgender people aged 18 and over are six and a half times more likely than cisgender people (people who identify with their sex assigned at birth) to self harm.
Andrea says poor mental health outcomes “relate to the stigma” of being transgender.
Studies have even found that acceptance of and proper healthcare for trans people improves their mental health outcomes.
Knowing she was different to her "blokey“ twin brother from the age of six, Andrea has always felt clarity with her identity, despite coming out in her 40s.
From age eight to 12 she enjoyed a range of design hobbies such as floral dress design and interior design, but says her creative streak was steered toward the “more masculine” architectural design dictated by the gender roles of the time.
“I would say that I tried to hyper-masculinise myself as much as possible.
“But in the end, after a few breakdowns in life, I had come to the realisation that I'm denying who I am.
“And the fact is that I am a woman. My brain is not a man's brain and I had the opportunity to start to express myself.”
These days, Andrea gets manicures and puts flowers in her hair, meanwhile working in construction.
She says gender is not a rigid set of rules, but a way to express how you feel inside.
“The last 12 months have been a hair raising experience, and now that I have affirmed myself, that I am now legally female, I'm able to express myself through my femininity, and the strength of femininity.
“And I see myself as a strong, independent woman.”
Andrea credits a big part of her strength to her group of cisgender (people who identify as their gender assigned at birth) friends.
Trans people commonly move to big cities where they feel safer with a larger community of LGBTIQ+ people, but Andrea’s local friends have also become her allies, and have accepted her for who she is.
“The reaction that I get, especially from (cisgender) straight women, is a lot of positive comments.
“And I’d really hope that they themselves can be free to be themselves and find their true authentic self without that fear themselves.”
She says challenging gender roles is liberating for transgender and cisgender women alike, because both are impacted by patriarchal values.
“I think there’s still a lot of pressure from society, whether it may be a partner who may be saying that you shouldn't dress like this, or you shouldn't dress like that, or stops you from expressing yourself,” she said.
“I just dress how I feel and I think that, in some ways, is what you would call the ultimate liberation.”
You can view the full ‘Country Roads to Pride’ gallery here at https://tgv.org.au/country-roads/home.
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