By her early teens, Xanthe was not comfortable living as a boy, and was terrified that someone at the school might find out about her gender variation. ‘I was really super-sensitive about it, but also trying to “man up” as much as a 14-year-old transgirl can.'
In the early 1980s, ‘There weren’t a lot of positive role models for transwomen’. When a classmate bought ‘transsexual pornography’ to school, everyone laughed at it. Xanthe joined in, ‘I felt that if I didn’t laugh I would be discovered’.
Xanthe first met Brother Jacob through army cadets. By the time he’d arrived at Xanthe’s Christian Brothers boys’ college in suburban Sydney, inappropriate sexual behaviour among the Brothers had become entrenched.
For example, Brother Delaney sometimes dropped his pants in class, talking about the perils of masturbation, until he was taken away in an ambulance. Soon after, he was working at another local school. Other Brothers would take the children into a room, ostensibly for reading tuition. The Brother in charge would ‘press their bodies against our backs, and reach their hands in front, and touch us in really strange ways’.
Xanthe quickly ‘got a sense’ of Brother Jacob, and decided that he was ‘definitely suss’. Within a year, he’d been promoted to principal of her school.
One day her religious education teacher (himself known by the Catholic Church as a paedophile) sent her to Jacob’s office. The other kids sniggered. Jacob had a reputation as a homosexual who kept a giant jar of Vaseline on his desk.
Jacob shut the office door after her, and closed the blinds. He asked about her family, then sexual topics: what swear words she knew, whether she masturbated, if she’d ever had sex.
It was ‘super strange, but because he was a religious person and I was brought up in a very dogmatic, Catholic, working class family, we were just taught to accept these people had ultimate authority over us.
‘And also that it was not just a physical authority, it was like an authority spiritually. There was no point in me lying, because he had a direct line to God. And so I kind of framed my responses in the context of it being a confession’.
When Xanthe realised Jacob was masturbating, she started crying. He went to ‘comfort’ her, pressing her against his erection. He put his hands down her pants, pushing her buttocks apart.
She escaped, running back to class. Another student greeted her with a ‘head job’ gesture.
At home, she told her father what Jacob had done. He said she must have misunderstood, and that Jacob was ‘helping’ her.
A fortnight later, a class bully stuck a ruler into Xanthe’s bottom. She punched him, and was sent to be punished. Jacob was very angry, giving her ‘six of the best’. As he strapped her, she stared at him, and did not flinch: ‘I felt like that was the only way to show him that I was a good person.’
Later though, ‘I then started to internalise it, and see it as being something that was my fault.
‘And I made this really strong link to my gender variation ... that because that I was “wrong” as a person this is why it had happened to me. And if I was “right” as a person that it never would have happened.
‘And I think at that point in my life, right when I was really starting to discover a different sense of gender about myself, that at that point that the pathway that I could have followed in terms of developing a much healthier sense of who I was as a person, I was shunted off onto another track’.
When she was nearly 30, Xanthe broke down when her father began extolling the virtues of the Catholic Church. ‘At that stage my Dad seemed to change his attitude about what had happened. Even though he wasn’t prepared to condemn the Church for what they had seemingly allowed to happen, he still got in contact with them.’
He arranged for her to see ‘some Catholic-sponsored psychiatrist’. ‘It wasn’t a very successful experience.’
The abuse continued to haunt her. Whenever she contemplated sex, ‘all I could see in my mind was Jacob’s leering face, and I just couldn’t do it. ... I started to have nightmares about his face, just his disembodied face’.
Xanthe married and had children, but her relationship broke down. During marriage counselling, her therapist asked her if she had ever been sexually abused. Xanthe told her about Jacob.
The counsellor explained ‘“This is not anything that happened because of what you did or who you are. It’s because of what other people did to you”. That blew my mind.’
In the early 2000s, Xanthe met up with a teacher who still worked at the college. When she told him she was still struggling with the abuse by Jacob the teacher said that Jacob was dead. Suspicious, she looked Jacob up – discovering he is now a priest in another Order.
After this, Jacob tried contacting Xanthe numerous times, leaving messages on her mobile and work phone. She does not know how he got her details. ‘It just totally freaked me out’.
She then reported the abuse to police. Jacob gave a ‘no comment’ interview, and she was advised that unless she had other witnesses they could not proceed. She feels police were ‘complicit’, perhaps due to local community links with the Church, or did not take her matter seriously.
Almost immediately, Xanthe was contacted by Towards Healing, even though she had not given them her details either. They offered a ‘pastoral response’, then a very small compensation payment. She eventually negotiated a more significant amount of ‘shut-up money’. The process was traumatic, and she is concerned Jacob still has access to children across Australia.
Although Xanthe said that ‘the life I could have had was stolen from me’, she recently underwent gender affirmation surgery. She is very happy with the outcomes of this. ‘Here I am, two years after transitioning. ... I live my life as Xanthe. My friends and my family love me.’