The young Australian who changed trans rights for children: ‘Everything I do, I do for the kids’ | Documentary films
Georgie Stone is sat in front of her computer, lit by a desk lamp. “So, update: I’m gonna talk a little bit about boys,” she groans into the webcam, face contorting into a cartoonish cringe. “I’ve had a crush on this guy for about 10 months … and turns out he had a crush on my best friend.”
For a second, it feels like the tribulations of adolescent romance might be her only concern. In that footage – which comes from a new documentary short called The Dreamlife of Georgie Stone, spanning the first 19 years of her life – the trans advocate is just 16. And yet, by then she had already spent a significant chunk of her life in courtrooms.
Assigned male at birth, Stone won a landmark case in the Australian courts at the age of 10 that meant she became the youngest person in Australia to start using puberty blockers – the first stage of gender-affirming healthcare. Five years later, she went back to receive the official sign off on the second stage of her treatment: hormone therapy.
Throughout those years, there was a chasm between the urgency of medical care required to ward off the rapidly approaching spectre of male puberty and the snail’s pace of the legal system – a roadblock which remained steadfast even as Stone’s family and doctors supported her treatment. Stone eventually won her case but, fuelled by the trauma and frustration of the process, she started a national petition to ensure no other Australian trans teen would have to endure what she had and to remove the courts from such a personal decision.
Stone’s campaign gained traction, soon mushrooming into a frenetic blur of media appearances, pride marches, flashing cameras and speeches delivered to crowds of politicians. Her petition was successful, meaning trans teens in Australia no longer had to go to court to start gender-affirming treatment. But it thrust her into a sudden, newfound visibility that she wasn’t entirely sure she desired.
“I’ve never really had agency in my own life story,” says Stone, now 22 and an actor who, earlier this year, wrapped up a three-year tenure as Neighbours’ first trans character. “[Dreamlife] is the first time in my life that I’ve actually had control over the way my story has been told.”
The documentary – which comes to Netflix globally this week after premiering earlier this year at Tribeca film festival – captures the galvanising power of Stone’s activism, but it also affords her the space to revisit her formative years away from the harsh glare of the spotlight. Positioning itself in opposition to the current affairs programs and news reports which punctuated Stone’s adolescence, Dreamlife is decidedly more elliptical: a hazy, poetic melange of home videos, old computer recordings and footage of Stone’s life shot gradually over the course of six years, all framed by her preparation for, and recovery from, gender-affirming surgery.
Plumbing those personal archives was revelatory, says the documentary’s director, Maya Newell. “You look at the images of Georgie as a two-year-old, and as a five-year-old, and as a nine-year-old, and she’s just there, very calmly, throughout her whole life saying, ‘Hi, this is who I am, and I’m waiting for the world to catch up.’”
“I knew who I was!” Stone adds. “And always have. But I had forgotten how articulate I was in talking about it … it was a bit cathartic.”
The documentary started as a collaboration between the pair in the aftermath of Gayby Baby, Newell’s 2015 documentary about the lives of four children with same-sex parents which reignited a national conversation around marriage equality (and became the subject of much conservative hand-wringing). Newell had heard about Transcend Australia, an organisation founded by Stone’s mother to support trans children and their families, and decided to reach out.
“I felt that with transgender and gender-diverse young people … [there’s] a lot of vitriol around their lives, and lots being talked about, but rarely do we hear them speak,” Newell says. “So it was an offering out – my desire to see if there could be a collaboration that could be as powerful as what happened with Gayby Baby.”
Stone was 14 when they first started shooting. “I would’ve been very, very excited to get in front of the camera,” she laughs. “I hadn’t come out to anyone – I wasn’t sure if I wanted to come out to anyone. But at the same time, I did want to see other trans young people like me out there. It was this turning point in my life where I started to become more eager to be vocal.”
That visibility, however, came with its own pitfalls. “The more advocacy we were doing and telling my story, the more I started to value my privacy and want to protect what I had,” Stone says. “Because every time you tell your story, it does take a little bit from you … you have to be very vulnerable.
“It’s dangerous enough being a trans person living in this world and being yourself … There aren’t enough structures in place to protect us at the best of times, let alone being public.”
As Stone’s profile increased, the chorus of commentators grew ever louder, all hungry for a slice of her identity to mould into their own political agendas. Online, she received hatred and death threats; even in progressive circles, she found herself, at times, pigeonholed and made to explain and re-explain basic trans concepts.
“There’s this expectation that I’m the one who’s supposed to educate people.” she says. “Which is so boring.”
Dreamlife, then, is an antidote, offering an astounding nuance to a discussion too often reduced to crudely drawn lines in a culture war. In the space of a few minutes, Stone expresses her fears around gender-affirming surgery as candidly as she talks about crushes. “I don’t want to be trans,” she sobs in one particularly stirring scene. “But it is who I am, so … I have to live with it.”
The documentary, Stone says, is a homage to that younger self – and the film she wishes existed when she was coming of age.
“If I had things my way, I could’ve just gone about my life and not had to fight or advocate. But I had no choice in my existence being political fodder … So everything I do, I do for the kids. And in service of 10-year-old Georgie.”