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30 November 2018


Big Issue vendor Tina


Tina sells The Big Issue in Perth

One of the best things I remember about my childhood is going round to my grandmother’s place to help her with the garden and round the house. I used to stay over some weekends and I really enjoyed that. I knew I was a bit different from an early age, but it was not until much later in life that I found out that I had gender dysphoria syndrome. This brought meaning to the fact that I had always believed that I was a woman in a man’s body.

I did not talk to Mum about it as I did not want to make her sad, but I think she knew anyway. This became more evident as I started to grow up, but my dad couldn’t accept it or even talk about it. It became quite bad and I lost all contact with him. I have not seen him for years and I’m not even sure if he is alive.

I was in a special stream at school for children with learning challenges. I have spina bifida, so my employment options are a bit limited. I did work in a factory once and also in a furniture-making business, but the smell of glue got to me and I left.

After Mum died I moved around for a while – staying in a few places. I was homeless for a while after I had to leave the hostel I was in. I used to get on the train and sleep or get a bus and just get my head down for a while.

I tried to get work but my spina bifida got worse and I had chronic back pain, which made it impossible to lift anything or do most jobs. I was put on a pension and was unemployed for nearly 20 years when the Big Issue opportunity came along. John, who sells the mag at the railway station in Perth, brought me to the Big Issue office and I started selling that day. This changed my life.

I used to sit at home all day doing nothing. Now I get out early in the morning and meet new people every day. I also bought a bike recently with my extra cash, so now I get around all over the place. I have a much more positive attitude and I am even planning to get into the IT industry. I like to work with computers and help friends when they have problems. I built a computer from scratch and have enrolled in a computer course at college.

I would never have done this if I had not started with The Big Issue.

Photograph by Ross Swanborough

Interview by Jim Petrie