The transgender and drug user movements in Australia: Shared goals, pleasure and resistance

Stream: Communities and Leadership
Date: Friday, 1 April 2016
Time: 2.00 pm – 3.45 pm


In Australia, trans people and drug users comprise two of the most marginalised social categories. Injecting drug use among Australian trans populations is higher than among cisgender (non-trans) populations. Furthermore, many trans people are injecting drug users and vice versa. Injecting drug users and trans people face many similar problems and goals: bodily autonomy; employment; housing; criminalisation/decriminalisation/legalisation; (de)legitimisation; dealing with medical and justice systems. These are all problems that present attainable goals. While comprising two separate identity categories and movements there is much that can be made from alliances between trans and drug user movements in Australia.

The practice of injecting drugs, and more particularly injecting drug use within marginalised communities, such as the trans community, has been interpreted as one of many supportive factors in shoring up the claim that drug use is pathological and an adaptive behaviour of the “maladapted”. However, working at the intersection of critical trans and critical drug user politics, we offer a departure from such narrow concepts of drug use and “addiction” to instead view drug use, particularly injecting drug use, as a legitimate practice that is central to the shaping of identity, practices of pleasure and resistance, and expression of bodily autonomy. We do this under the urgent imperative for harm reduction initiatives to respond to and accommodate trans people who use drugs, particularly people who inject drugs, just as trans initiatives must respond to and accommodate people who use drugs; all under the aim of working together to achieve common goals.


Nyah Harwood (Presenter), Centre for Social Research in Health (CSRH), UNSW, Australia
Nyah graduated from Southern Cross University in 2013 with 1st-class honours and the university medal. Nyah was on the organising committee for the first Queensland Transgender, Sistergirl and Gender Diverse Conference in 2012. Her research interests are strongly focused on critical drug-user, sex work, and trans-feminist politics.

Commencing her PhD at CSRH UNSW in 2014, Nyah's research explores the experiences of trans people who inject drugs in Australia, positioning injecting practices as forms of resistance with the potential to form new power relations, and a re-claiming of the body.

Jude Byrne (Presenter), Australian Injecting & Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL)
Jude Byrne was one of the earliest drug user activists and has been a member of the injecting drug using community for 40 years. A former President of AIVL the Australian peer based drug user group and currently employed by AIVL as a project worker, Jude is also the Chair of the International Network of People who use Drugs (INPUD). Jude works internationally for the meaningful representation of users, including speaking on behalf of her community at various global forums. Jude Byrne is a former winner of the International Rolleston Award.