Tiwi Islands’ Sistergirls: Remote Island Community With Highest Population Of Transgender People In Australia

A remote island community called the Tiwi Islands off the northern coast of Australia is home to the highest population of transgender people in all of Australia. Roughly five percent of the indigenous people on the Tiwi Islands identify as a “sistergirl” or “Yimpininni” in their native tongue. The term refers to indigenous people who identify as transgender, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

Buzzfeed reports that the tiny Tiwi Islands in northern Australia are well-known for their high concentrations of “sistergirls.” Despite having the largest population of transgender people on the island, the sistergirls say they still struggle with the stigma associated with their gender identity. One sistergirl on the Tiwi Islands says that she came out as a “Yimpininni” at the age of 10. However, her family was not thrilled about the idea and wanted her to keep her real identity a secret so that she wouldn’t face hardship in the community.

“I told my parents, ‘For you to accept me I have to go away’, and I lived in Darwin with my aunty who accepted me. She told me, ‘Be safe here with me, I don’t want you to be out yet. I accept you to be who you are, but I don’t want people to hurt you.’ I said, ‘I understand, Aunty, but I want to be out there. I don’t want to be behind closed doors any more.”

The sistergirl says that it was an older transgender woman in the community that gave her “courage and strength” during the difficult times. She notes that her mentor told her never to do a “silly thing” like commit suicide, but ironically, her mentor would go on to kill herself following struggles with her gender identify.

“We used to talk on the beach all the time about life, and she used to say this to me, ‘No matter what people say to you or what they call you, never ever go and commit suicide. It’s just not right.’ It turned out that she would do that to herself. And what’s really sad, when I lost her I said to myself, ‘Why did she have to do that?’ Because I remember she told me not to do that silly thing.”

According to the Daily Mail, girls as young as six come out as transgender in the Tiwi Islands. Despite some of the struggles discussed by the sistergirls, they note that the community overall is very accepting of the Yimpininni but that there is still work to be done.

[Image Credit: CCAS]