Michelle ‘Mama Mish’ Sheppard is a highly respected presenter, advocate, and trainer in the gender equity space. As a transgender woman, she appreciates the difficulties within the grey created by the gender divide and not only traverses them herself but brings others on the ride with her.
As part of Transgender Week of Awareness, Michelle shares with the Star Observer what a day in her life is like.
When thinking about a day in my life, I often wonder: “How much is too much to share?”
Despite being as large as I am and appearing in control of my daily existence, I tend to keep my head down as much as I can and not draw too much attention to my person. There are times when I do say “not today” and choose to live and not just exist.
My mornings usually start around 5.30am, because my cat decides to yell out that he wants breakfast. So up I get and start my day. ‘Good Morning, Google’ provides me with the day’s weather forecast, along with the news briefings of the day while I start the coffee pods flowing and maybe some bacon in the air fryer. I curse at the scales, which remind me that I’m due for a weigh-in.
After taking my time to eat breakfast, take my hormones, stare into the abyss that is my mirror wondering why I haven’t had more laser on my face. and do my makeup, I am off to catch the train. This is where leaving the safety of home is followed by an exhausted sigh as I come to the platform and wait just like everyone else.
I do often get surprised by people. A mid 30s to 40s gentleman makes room and allows me to board the train before him. While I appreciate the gesture, it’s something I never know how to respond to. As I find my seat, I get settled and decide to read whatever is either scrolling through my LinkedIn account or the news app on my phone. Now the glaring usually begins.
She is always in her mid to late 40s and just stares like I offended something in her religion. Mind you, I haven’t done anything more than sit and stow my bag, but it continues for the majority of the trip. If it becomes too much, I’ll put my headphones in and just load up my playlist and block everyone out.
So, welcome to Southern Cross Station as we pull in. I accidentally fell into a deep sleep and the conductor has had to wake me up so I can get on with my day. I decide to get a coffee and toastie. As I come to the counter, the woman taking my order asks what I want and anyone who knows me knows I will not alter my voice to sound hyper feminine. I place my order and while this is happening, she is speaking to another woman who came up to her.
Now I know they are discussing me. How do I know? Well, despite them speaking a language other than English, I note the universal language of two women making eye contact with me and then each other; followed by asking me to repeat my order, laughter and looking back at me, which kind of gives it away. Five minutes pass. “Sir, would you like sugar?” Hmmm, was my wing tip eyeliner not tippy enough? “Here is your latte, sir.” Yeah, look, not the day to care, to be honest. “Your Sandwich, sir.” Yeah, thanks. I just smile and keep going.
I’ve worked my way to the connecting platform to travel the City Loop. “Bzzzzz!” Oh. I’ve got a match on my dating profile. Now, this is a bit exciting because it doesn’t happen often. Coffee in hand, taking a sip, I go to read it. “Oh, hi there, just so you know transgender is not something I find attractive at all, but wanted to say proud of you for coming out and how brave it is for you to put yourself out there.” Train approaches. You know what? I wasn’t getting much luck anyway on these apps, and decide to delete them as I board the train.
“Proud of you?”
That replays in my head because it just feels yuck. As I arrive into my station near work, I get a phone call from a well known brand who said they were referred to me to do speaking on diversity at their company. But they inform me that they have no money in their budget. How long is it for? It would be two hours for me to come and do training and talk about the importance of equality. ‘We thought it would be best to have you because you are Transgender and known in the wider community.” Despite a discussion of cost and informing them that this is my business, they reiterate that they won’t pay.
Well, at this stage it is 9.30am. I made the decision a few months back to not read messages or emails after 5pm. Because of my focus on employment for the trans community, I started to receive many messages regarding help on other trans issues: help with their child’s school now that they’ve transitioned; trans people who are now homeless because of a break up with a boyfriend; people deciding to de-transition because it is too hard or they have a life threatening illness; queries to see if my ex wife will speak to their wife and help them because there are no services to help with something like this; or messages involving begging and pleading to help them find work because they don’t know how they are going to pay their rent.
Let me just say that this is heart breaking. In my six years after coming out and going through a divorce, I worked very hard to get to a position to be able to help others. But there is only so much one person can do and I often feel guilty I can’t do more. Another coffee, this time black, at the office machine. Yes, I am aware this is my third coffee by now.
Just before lunch, I go downstairs to the outfitting services to meet one of the transgender women we have in for the first appointment for the day. A look of panic and uncertainty is in her eyes. She is about to get outfitted in some work wear by a stylist, all free mind you, but she is not feeling comfortable because she doesn’t see anyone like her. I come in and offer a reassuring smile and she breathes a sigh of relief and I stick around for a short bit to make sure she is comfortable.
I follow up with the attendees of her next session and make sure they will be OK without me and another transwoman comes in bursting into tears and having a panic attack. She was afraid during the walk from the train platform to the front door, because she has a history of being attacked in Queensland by a group of men.
After we help the clients and I am no longer needed, I find a quiet spot where I can just have a moment of silence. Other days I decide to try and find some shoes, size 12.5 or 44 for those playing at home, or a new dress for a gig tomorrow night. I am 6’ 3”, or 191cm, and a bit overweight, and trying to find clothes for a masculine build is not the easiest of tasks. I go into the dressing room with an outfit, and nothing is scarier than getting stuck in a dress that’s too small.
I was in what I can only assume to be a full body finger trap, not impressed at all and my heart is pounding because I need help and I don’t want anyone coming in to help me and see me half naked. I quickly find the way to get it off and leave because I am embarrassed and head back to my desk.
Before heading to my desk, I pop in to have a tea with some friends and as I enter someone announces, ‘Oh, there’s a man down here?’ I don’t make myself known but I feel hot and red from embarrassment. I need to book in some voice therapy sessions. I walk in and smile but decide to only pass through and smile, but the person who said it apologised so many times it just adds to the embarrassment and I’m just thinking: “Please. Please stop.”
Back upstairs, after a follow up call with a couple clients and some training material development, I get a text to call my bank to follow up on a query. “Good afternoon, sir.” Yeah, OK, maybe I really should do voice therapy. Because I don’t have the service code, they won’t speak to me further. Despite answering all the security questions, they are ‘struggling’ to identify me.
“What you will need to do is go to the branch to identify yourself.” Right. OK, sending a message to the voice clinic right now.
Following a walk to the bank downstairs to identify myself, the banking manager agrees it’s ridiculous and she calls the supervisor of the department. The situation carries on for about 45 minutes. I have to go back to work, and this is becoming embarrassing. But in the end, the crisis is sorted and my bank accounts are unlocked.
I finish around 5pm and it’s time for my side hustle. For over five years, I’ve been doing speaking and training on trans issues. I arrive, meet and greet, set up and try to catch my breath. I deliver a great session and have a drink or two with staff and hand out my stack of cards. One woman is the parent of a transgender daughter and, excited to meet me, says: “I can’t wait to tell Bron I met Mama Mish!”
I offer to take a photo with her and give her a tight warm embrace, and she leaves all excited. I take a moment and feel quite proud about what just happened. My moment is interrupted by a couple cis men from the LGBTIQ community who want to discuss the work I’m doing. One of them comments: “Michelle, you’re a woman now, why don’t you dress more like a woman?” Just because I chose not to wear a dress doesn’t mean I am not being a woman. I leave feeling pretty good, despite the fashion police comment. My shoulders feel relaxed and I walk to the platform to catch my tram. It’s 8pm.
I board my tram and headphones go in. As I’m reading, I turn around and there is this older man just staring at me confused. I look down and just focus on my music and check my phone for the platform for my train. I look up and the man is still staring. Each time I check we are eye to eye. Damn it.
I rush to the train, which I have one minute left to catch, and find my seat. It’s thirty-five minutes till I get home and my phone has died. Across from me, a group of women start picking up their volume. I look over and one woman nudges the other and points to me. I leave in my ear buds to appear like I am occupied. I get up to wait for my train to arrive at my station and another woman speaks up to the group of women behind me. “Hey, why don’t you just back off and leave her (me) alone, she is just trying to get home like the rest of us.”
I am standing in front of the exit door with nowhere to move to. One of the women replies: “Are you serious? Look at him, he’s a pervert and there are children on this train.” I just stare out the window and the group argue with the one woman.
I exit and scurry out the door and down the ramp to go home. It’s dark and cold and it is only a five minute walk home, but feels like it’s twenty in the dark, especially after the people make a fuss. I just feel deflated and decide to call my ex and ask to come over and see our girls. I jump in my car and head over to spend the few minutes I have before they go to sleep.
My oldest is already in bed and my youngest wants a book read. After I read her a story, I send her to the toilet and make sure she brushed her teeth. “Good night, Daddy,” then a quick cuddle with my oldest who hasn’t fallen asleep yet but was listening to me read to her sister. “Good night, Dadda.”
I say good night to their mother and her boyfriend and go home and feed my cat. I pour a glass of Glenfiddich thirty-year-old single malt. I take the next thirty minutes in my chair, closing my eyes and replaying my day through my head. Once I finish my glass, I strip down and climb into bed. Staring at the ceiling, I think to myself: “Everything’s going to be alright and everything’s going to be OK.”
Good night, Google
Good Night, Michelle
A day in the life of Melbourne transwoman Michelle Sheppard – Star Observer
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