Alice Springs Trans woman Disrespected, Sectioned, and Terfed

Nicole Garraway
Nicole Garraway said that she would never return to the Alice Springs Hospital.
Nicole Garraway
Nicole Garraway said that she would never return to the Alice Springs Hospital.

Nicole Garraway went to the hospital this past October in her home town of Alice Springs seeking treatment related to her genital reconstruction surgery. She woke up in the hospitals’ mental health ward.

How did that happen?

This past week I befriended Nicole Garraway on Facebook after clicking a google alert with a bad link to an article reporting she had been involuntarily ‘sectioned’ at an Australian hospital.

Sectioning, it turns out, is not done on a meat counter, but the butchering that it entails can be nearly as devastating.

My new friend Nicole said that the Australian Broadcast Company (ABC) had indeed written a story about her hospital ordeal. But the reporter who authored the article had accidentally, prematurely published it on Tuesday, December 9.

The ABC reporter told her that they had taken it down and were going to publish it on Saturday. But this seemed to me, a publisher with many contributors, very odd indeed. Once something hits the web it’s there for eternity. Plus, publishers, as a rule, do not give their authors the authority to publish.

Nonetheless, we agreed to wait on the ABC out of courtesy.

Yesterday Nicole relayed that ABC told her that they were going to wait until the new year before publishing. Then Nicole shared a TERF Reddit with me called ‘Gender Critical’ where they posted the ABC article retrieved through Google archive.

In the absence of anything else, Reddit becomes the ‘Internet’s Front Page’ just as advertised.

The accompanying comments by the original TERF poster “messengerfromhades” in the ‘gender critical’ board are incredibly hurtful and potentially physiologically devastating to Nicole.

Gender Critical
“Gender Critical” people seek to portray themselves as feminists but in fact are nothing more than haters with a keyboard. The acronym “TERF” was originally gender-specific but it is now recognized to be fully SO and gender-inclusive.


I asked Nichole if she still wanted to go ahead with the article. She replied,

“Yea it’s all good. If there is hate it means people are seeing it and that’s what matters. I’m strong so it’s all good. If there’s anything that I can do to help our community through let me know.”

The ABC article which can be accessed by clicking here reads in part:

“After going to the hospital for the third time and having my genitals looked at by about the 20th doctor they finally decided to do something about that,” Nichole told ABC NEWS reporter DANE HIRST

“It literally felt like one doctor would have a look at it and then go talk to another doctor about it and say ‘go and have a look at this man-made vagina’ it was really uncomfortable.

“I’m just a freak show to them.”

Ms. Garraway said the frequency that people were looking at her genitals and the frustration of not being taken seriously started to take its toll — but at no stage did she do anything which indicated she was a danger to herself or others.

Waking up from surgery

After waking up from surgery, Alice Springs Hospital staff told Ms. Garraway, that she was being sectioned and would be transferred to the mental health ward.
“I got to see the doctor the following day — they basically asked ‘why are you here? you don’t see like you’re in much distress’,” Ms Garraway said.

Nicole Garraway was released that day.

So when she raised her concerns over being mistreated and ignored to the level that they had no choice but to hear her they involuntarily sedated her and moved her to the mental health ward.

In the UK and Australia, it turns out, 75% of patients in hospital mental health wards are involuntarily committed in what one cis woman described as the “scariest moment of her life”.

This tragic experience isn’t unique to trans people or a one-off for cis people.

Nichole describes a bleak landscape for gender non-conforming residents of the Northen Territory. Many she said have left seeking trans healthcare elsewhere. The exodus has been going on for years reports the ABC in 2015 “Young transgender people ‘forced to leave NT’ due to lack of services.”

Ms. Garraway is now calling for a change in how transgender patients at the NT hospital are treated, so nobody has to go through a similar experience.

Advocates ‘not surprised’ by Nicole’s story.

Charles Darwin University sociology researcher and lecturer Dr. Stephen Kerry said Ms. Garraway’s story was an example of a “very common issue” transgender people had accessing healthcare in the Northern Territory.

“When people who are trans or sex-gender diverse go into see a doctor, in any capacity, they’re not always going in there about trans issues,” they said.

“[Doctors] don’t always treat the person and the person often gets really agitated by the way in which they are treated and that came across as being antagonistic — or in Nicole’s case — in need of extraordinary medical intervention.”

In 2017, Dr Kerry published a paper on the health needs of transgender and gender diverse people living in the NT.

As part of the research, Dr Kerry interviewed 26 people — almost all of whom had since left the Territory.
“Primarily this is because of issues around health,” they said.

Alice Springs psychologist Phil Walcott echoed calls for better training for Territory doctors.

Dr. Walcott said while the acceptance of gay and lesbian people in Central Australia had been steadily growing, the awareness and education of some people was still “trying to catch up”.

“The more we are educated, the better armed we are to help manage issues with the community,” he said.

“There are clearly practitioners in Alice Springs and at the hospital that do support and give encouragement to those in the transgender community — and then there are individuals that may not be quite so supportive.

Is it going to get better?

A spokeswoman from the Central Australia Health Service defended the hospital’s inhuman treatment of Nicole Garraway and excused the impersonal treatment and downplayed her reaction to it.

The spokeswoman said the Central Australia Health Service launched a Plan of actions 2019 – 2022 Respecting people with diverse sexualities and gender identities

It’s a good plan. But it’s not enough to formulate plans to treat trans people with respect. The health system needs to fully implicate them.

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Kelli, Busey is managing editor at Planet Transgender


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