Sistergirls are Aboriginal transgender women (assigned male at birth) who have a distinct cultural identity and often take on female roles within the community, including looking after children and family. Many Sistergirls live a traditional lifestyle and have strong cultural backgrounds. Their cultural, spiritual, and religious beliefs are pivotal to their lives and identities.
Crystal / Photographer: Rhett Hammerton
Patricia / Photographer: copyright w.geiger@bluewin.ch
Andrea / Photographer: Alexandra Hullah

Cultural Context

Sistergirls may be stigmatised by false perceptions that Sistergirl identity is a western concept, that it did not exist before colonisation or that it will lead to a loss or breakdown of culture and is therefore taboo. Discrimination may lead to higher incidents of mental health issues, depression, alcohol and other drug issues, homelessness and even suicide. Many Sistergirls however are accepted and celebrated as strong leaders and have key roles within their communities.

There is documented evidence and oral history of Sistergirl identity in some communities pre-dating colonisation. A number of historic and contemporary words exist to describe Sistergirls including “Kwarte Kwarte” in Arrente, “Kungka Kungka” in Pitjantjatjara and Luritja, “Yimpininni” in Tiwi, “Karnta Pia” in Warlpiri which can be interpreted as “like a girl”. Whilst “Kungka Wati” in Pintipi and “Girriji Kati” in Waramungu literally mean “woman/man”.

Gender Affirmation

There is a strong diversity within the Sistergirl community and people express their identity in different ways. Some Sistergirls may present in ways that don’t fit into typical gender stereotypes and may not wish to or be able to have access to hormones or surgery.

There may be financial, geographical and educational barriers for Sistergirls to access gender affirmation medications/surgery.

Some Sistergirls may not understand the pathways to be able to medically affirm their gender due to remoteness and isolation. Technological barriers to people accessing information or services such as phone, internet and Skype compound this.

Due to traditional cultural practises, some Sistergirls may not feel the need to medically affirm their gender, whilst for other Sistergirls not being able to access the means to medically transition can affect self-esteem, mental health and wellbeing.

Simone / Photographer: Beyond Blue

Displacement

Some people may be forced to flee their communities due to discrimination or domestic violence. This may lead to a sense of rejection and isolation, including cultural isolation. The displacement may lead people to experience homeless­ness, poverty, language barriers (English may be a second or third language), addiction and discrimination racially and in employment.

Voices from the community

CRYSTAL JOHNSON

“It is a spiritual journey for a boy to become a woman. The truth of that is in your heart and soul, it takes great courage and strength to listen to that truth. To make that change you have to believe in yourself and then everything will fall into place. Kindness makes you the most beautiful person in the world no matter what you look like. Be yourself and embrace life.” ~ Crystal Johnson.

Crystal / Photographer: Alexandra Hullah

ROSALINA CURTIS

“We are Sistergirls and we want to let you know that we exist throughout Australia, even in the remotest of communities, and we are strong in our identity.

In working with us, please remember that it is our legal human right to receive fair and equitable access to appropriate services. We want to empower you in knowing that discrimination on the grounds of gender identity and sexual orientation is illegal in Australia, which is inclusive of Sistergirls.” ~ Rosalina Curtis, Arrente Sistergirl.

“I’m an Arrente Sistergirl from central Australia. It’s really hard to transition in the Northern Territory, there are many barriers that prevent Sistergirls and Brotherboys from being able to transition. I’ve now moved to Sydney, and compared to the NT it was so easy here to access services that supported me to medically transition. It’s been hard moving to the big city, there are times when I really struggle, it can be really isolating. I had to leave my job, my family, my community.

I’m a first nation Arrente Sistergirl why should I have to leave my family and country to be able to transition.

I’m worried for other Sistergirls and Brotherboys whom may want to transition. As a leading Sistergirl representative I’m advocating for less complex pathways and greater support for Sistergirls and Brotherboys to be able to transition, including from Indigenous health services.” ~ Rosalina Curtis (Sistergirl), Sisters & Brothers NT.

“We have our own vision of reconciliation where we work together sharing our journey’s and struggles.

Our unity has made us strong and we are creating social change together. It’s really important for people to learn about our culture and language. We need to learn to work together across all cultures to build a stronger community.” Rosalina Curtis (Sistergirl), Sisters & Brothers NT.

Brie & Rosalina / Photographer: Katherine Soutar

BRIE CURTIS

“My Grandmother told me when I was young that Sistergirls have always existed within Aboriginal culture, even before colonisation and Sistergirls are still here today.

Colonisation and early missionary contact have influenced traditional cultural beliefs creating stigmas around Sistergirl identity. However I still have my faith in God and I can still be a Sistergirl. Many Sistergirls have strong Christian beliefs and values, our culture and religious beliefs can co-exist. I believe in the Christian and Aboriginal cultural values of unconditional love, acceptance, happiness and family.” ~ Brie Curtis, Arrente Sistergirl.

“Rosalina Curtis talks about moving to Sydney to transition”, ABC News, April 2015

“Sistergirls”, SBS Living Black: S18 Ep3, March 2013

“Arrerente elder defends Sistergirls at first LGBTIQ meeting”, CAAMA Radio, October 2015

“Sistersgirl share their story”, Bent TV & YGender, August 2014

“Roaslina & Simone”, Beyond Blue Family Support online, December 2013

“Sistergirls and Brotherboys celebrate at Pride Carnivale”, CAAMA Radio, October 2014

“Danii’s story”, Think About It Project, 2013

“Transgender youth”, SBS Insight, September 2013