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Over the weekend, Canberra GP Dr Clara Tuck Meng Soo made news headlines with her decision to hand back her Order of Australia Medal in protest against former tennis champion Margaret Court receiving the nation’s highest honour.
Ms Court, a Minister in the Pentacostal Church, is an outspoken opponent of same sex marriage and open critic of transgender people.
In 2018, Dr Soo became one of Australia’s first GPs to undergo gender transition, and she featured in a HerCanberra Magazine feature in 2019, Trans, Happy and Free, outlining the journey she undertook to “welcome my gender home.”
On Friday, upon a leaked news report that Ms Court was to have her honour upgraded from an Officer of the Order of Australia to a Companion, Dr Soo took the decision to hand her own medal back.
In a letter to Governor-General David Hurley, Dr Soo outlined her reasons. With her permission, we reprint the letter in full.
“I was awarded the OAM in 2016 for services to the Canberra Community as a medical practitioner. My working life as a general practitioner in Canberra has been defined by the principle of non-judgmental care and I have done a lot of work with the HIV community, people with drug dependency and the LGBTIQ+ community. It is therefore with great disappointment that I read today that Mrs Margaret Court is to be promoted to a Companion of the Order of Australia, which I understand to be our highest civilian honour.
I am sure that the Council for the Order of Australia will be aware of the controversy that surrounded Mrs Margaret Court when she was presented with a special trophy at the Australian Open last year to mark 50 years since her Grand Slam in 1970. Even within her field of achievement of tennis, there was strong dissent to her being given that honour and recognition at the Australian Open. No one disputes her achievements in tennis. However, I am sure that given the controversy surrounding Mrs Margaret Court, the Council for the Order of Australia will be well aware of the derogatory and very hurtful remarks she has made about the LGBTIQ+ community and all who support them.
As I’d mentioned, I have spent a significant amount of my working life working with and advocating for disadvantaged communities in Australia. I may also add that I have spent most of my adult life as a gay man before my gender transition to a woman in 2018. My partner and I were one of the first couples to undergo a civil union when that legislation was passed in the ACT and I am also one of the first general practitioners to undergo a gender transition in Australia. I therefore have both professional experience as well as lived experience of the communities that Mrs Margaret Court makes these derogatory and hurtful remarks about. For myself, I am very fortunate that I have a loving and supportive husband who loves me for who I am as well as lots of wonderful friends and colleagues. However, I know that there are many LGBTIQ+ people who do not have the supports I have. We know that transgender adolescents have the highest self-harm and suicide rates in our community and the remarks that people like Mrs Margaret Court make are very damaging to their morale and health. By giving this promotion to Mrs Margaret Court, the Council for the Order of Australia is sending a strong signal to these distressed youth that discrimination and prejudice towards them is tolerated in our Australian community.
Given the message that the Council for the Order of Australia is sending by giving this promotion to Mrs Margaret Court, I would like to return my OAM. I do not want to be seen as supporting the values that the Council for the Order of Australia seem to be supporting with this promotion of Mrs Margaret Court.
Yours sincerely, Clara Tuck Meng Soo”
Dr Soo has been a doctor at the Interchange General Practice for more than 20 years and is now Practice Principal at the Hobart Place General Practice and East Canberra General Practice.
In 2019, a few weeks leading to her coming out as female, Dr Soo wrote to all her patients to let them know that she understood it might be confronting for them and she would organise an alternative GP if they needed.
Not one patient left her.
And on her first day in a dress, a very cantankerous 80-year-old Chinese patient bashed on the door with a complaint about his blood tests. As Dr Soo hurried to calm him down, he turned to her with a huge grin and said “By the way, congratulations” as he pulled out a pearl necklace from his bag to present to her.
Born the son of traditional Chinese tiger-parents with a strong streak of social conservatism, Dr Soo knew from a very young age she was female.
“When I was about seven, a group of boys at my primary school pulled me up and told me to walk like a boy. I wondered what I was doing wrong, and what I was meant to be doing?”
By age nine she developed a crush on her male teacher and figured she was gay. By the time she was a teenager she saw The Sound of Music and remembers “floating around on a romantic cloud wishing with every part of me to have a husband like Captain Von Trapp.”
She met her own captain, Paul, in 1993, and they lived harmoniously as a gay couple. Meanwhile, Dr Soo’s practice was going well and earning a reputation as a place which provided professional and non-judgemental care particularly to the LGBTQI community.
Dr Soo treats about 40 transgender patients and says they have been a constant source of support and information in her own transition.
In 2019, she and Paul married as husband and wife. Paul’s reaction when he saw his partner in a dress for the first time was “one of surprised delight” and he has always cherished Dr Soo’s feminine traits.
Dr Soo has undergone gender-affirming surgery. She is doing this because, while her outer transition satisfies the community’s sense of what a female should look like, the surgical transition will satisfy her own sense of being a woman.
Dr Soo says her parents have found her late-life transition to be challenging. But she felt some sense of acceptance when her mother cleared out her wardrobe of dresses and offered them to her daughter to wear.
And she attributes her decision to transition to ghosts. Yes, ghosts. In 2017, a holiday in Singapore coincided with the Chinese Festival Night of the Hungry Ghost.
“In my teens I had often experienced a nightmare about being chased by a ghost. But it stopped in my late 20s and I feel that was because I had accepted my sexuality and had come out as gay.”
But after Singapore, the nightmares returned and Dr Soo said she had to stop and think about what it was in her subconscious that she was suppressing.
“After thinking about it, I realised, I needed to welcome my gender home.”