A PINUP fashionista from suburban Carramar has found a liberating lifestyle and fresh confidence as a woman.
Rachel Oliver (57) says Perth’s pinup social groups have helped her enjoy her femininity following her gender transition last year.
Miss Oliver said groups such as Perth Pinup Community on Facebook were empowering for women and allowed them to enjoy each other’s company.
“They are great social meets; they are fantastic for friendship building,” she said.
“The pinup groups in Perth are very accepting of me as a woman.”
While she generally likes to blend in, Miss Oliver said she had also developed a taste for pinup and vintage fashions.
“When I transitioned that allowed me freedom to express myself in that way,” she said.
“If you’ve got curves like me, then it’s perfect because it does emphasise the positive curves that women like me have.
“It’s just a style of clothing that I like to wear; I don’t wear this to go out shopping.
“I just appear as a middled-aged, normal, everyday woman in the street.”
Her interest in pinup extended from her part-time business trading in military books and materials relating to war, including 1940s artwork depicting pinup models.
“I’ve been doing that for 23 years; I’ve got a lot of knowledge,” she said, adding that often took people by surprise who saw her as female then found out that she knew a lot about war.
Before her transition to Rachel, Robert worked as a nurse in the UK, Middle East and Australia, and raised a daughter (now 23) and son (19).
“I finished nursing in 2000 to concentrate on raising family and my business,” she said.
“Last year I separated from my partner of 34 years.”
Miss Oliver described the gender change as “international phenomenon” that stemmed partly from society’s acceptance of gender diversity.
“There are more mature age transgender women coming out now,” she said.
“Older people like myself feel free to come out now, whereas many years ago we would probably have gone to our graves with this gender dysphoria.
“They are raising their families (and) when their families are older, they are feeling free to treat dysphoria.
“It starts in childhood; as a child I wasn’t happy about myself as a boy.
“I can recognise now in retrospect things that I noticed about myself when I was a child.
“About seven or eight, I remember going to bed and praying that I would wake up as a female.
“We are talking about the 1970s which is a different country than we are in now.
“There was no chance of coming out as transgender; I didn’t even know what transgender was.
“My choice of career was quite different to most men at the time; I became a registered nurse.”
Having little interest in sports or socialising with men, Robert found a “macho” way to compensate for that.
“I was a parachutist for 10 years; it was very macho,” Miss Oliver said.
In order to transition, people have to take hormones, which leads to physical changes such as softer skin and hair, and more curves. Some also elect to have surgery.
“Once you are on hormones, you are on hormones permanently for the rest of your life,” Miss Oliver said.
She said she went to hypnotherapist Marian Cameron for help on weight loss, and found therapy was integral to her transition.
Miss Oliver said generally she had no problems being accepted and, based on feedback from contacts around the world, acceptance in Perth was higher than normal.
“There are more positives to being transgender than there are negatives,” she said.
“My dysphoria is cured; I’m very happy living as a woman; I blend in quite well.
“I have a passport which states that I’m female.
“There are some negatives; in society there are still some elements of non-acceptance.
“Although we are protected by anti-discrimination legislation, there is still discrimination in the workplace. It’s difficult to find work.”
She said because Australia did not have marriage equality, transition often affected the legal position of marriages.
“If you want to change your legal gender marker, then you have to get divorced,” she said.
Miss Oliver said couples might become same-sex by default if one transitioned, although generally being transgender did not alter their sexuality.
To increase awareness and counter assumptions, she participates in the Human Library program in South Perth.
“Most people will not realise that they have met a transperson,” she said.
“There are quite a few of us and we do blend in.
“When people come to see me as a ‘human book’ they ask questions about transition, about its effects; about physical changes.
“It allows them to ask us those questions without feeling that they are being offensive.
“It allows me to answer the questions and dispel the myths and assumptions.”
While transgender people come under the bigger Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and/or Intersex (LGBTI) umbrella, Miss Oliver said it was not about sexual preferences.
“Transgender and intersex are gender-based, not sexual-based,” she said.
“Transgender and intersex are exclusively about changes in gender.
“The community myth and misconception is that if you are transexual then you are gay.”
While as a man, Robert was attracted to women, as a woman, Rachel is still attracted to women.
“This causes problems in marriages; it’s the reason my former partner didn’t want to stay; she said she didn’t want to become lesbian,” she said.
Miss Oliver said transgender people were “just normal people with a lot to contribute to society”.
“We are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances,” she said.
“I’m just an ordinary woman; I have the same worries as everybody else.
“I go shopping; I wear clothes because they keep me warm or make me look better.”
Miss Oliver said she became passionate about women’s rights since her transition.
“I’ve seen it from both sides; I’ve seen it from the male viewpoint and now I’m seeing it from the female viewpoint,” she said.
“I’m a lot better person than I used to be. I’ve become extremely tolerant.
“One of the things that’s made it easier is the acceptance of other women; I’ve found overall that women are very positive and very accepting of transwomen.
“It’s like being welcomed into the sisterhood.
“It’s been liberating.”