‘Once you enter through those doors of the orphanage, you no longer exist. They tell you what to do and who you are.’
Alexandra was born a boy, and placed in a Catholic children’s home in regional Queensland as a young baby, in the early 1940s.
Growing up, Alexandra never liked male clothing and didn’t feel comfortable wearing the clothes the nuns in the orphanage set out for her to wear.
‘For every misdemeanor, I was punished. I was hit across the knuckles a few times … There was no love there at all. You couldn’t go up to a nun … and say, “Sister I don’t feel comfortable in men’s clothes”. They’d say, “Serve you right” and belt you.’
She’d wanted to live as a girl from as far back as she could remember, but on the few occasions she said such things, the nuns expressed their disgust and other children did the same.
Alexandra remembers being belted by the nuns often and for minor things. She was also blamed for others’ misdemeanors and some of the older kids followed the nuns’ example and belted her as well.
The nuns repeatedly told Alexandra that she was bad because she was an orphan and she liked girls’ clothes, and she believed them. Their bullying affected her schoolwork and her grades dropped as she retreated into herself, and this led to further punishment.
Alexandra reported that there were no doors on the showers and the nuns would watch children as they showered. She remembers being strapped on her bare buttocks, something she found humiliating.
She also recalled seeing several boys in her dormitory being called to go and help the priests in the presbytery on the same grounds as the orphanage. Alexandra believes these boys were sexually abused but they never talked about it. She recalls going there herself but has no memory of anything other than the presbytery door.
In the mid-1950s, when she was 14, Alexandra was sent to work on a farm and stayed there for several years. She never finished her education. Alexandra disliked the hard labour at the farm so much that she sometimes escaped and sat on a hill and watched the others work.
After that, Alexandra was taken back to the orphanage. This time around, she discovered that her siblings also lived at the orphanage. She never connected with them because they were among those who’d often bullied and assaulted her.
In the early 1960s, when she was 21, Alexandra was discharged from the orphanage. She moved to a different town, found work, and not long afterwards transitioned into a woman. She said it was difficult but also the most liberating thing she’d ever done.
At different times in her life, Alexandra has had thoughts of ending her life. She has a positive relationship with a counsellor, which has helped her to keep going.
Alexandra received $33,000 through Queensland redress, and in the early 2000s she received $3,000 from the Sisters of Mercy. She thought money couldn’t erase her memories of the orphanage and though the payment was welcome, she would have liked an apology from the nuns.