This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity
Georgina Beyer: Well, I was born (laughs), and it sort of started from there, I guess. The circumstances: when I was born my father worked in the New Zealand Police at the time, and I think was stationed at Taranaki Street Police Station then. My mother was nurse training, I think through Ballan and hospitals like that. They lived in Dunder Street in Seatoun, and I was born.
And but by about three months or more, or maybe six-months old – certainly before I was a year old – their marriage went on the rocks because my father was a compulsive gambler and he had stolen 18£ from the lost and found at the Taranaki Street Police Station and got caught and was made an example of and convicted and jailed.
And when he went into jail my mother was pregnant again and suddenly she was left solo, you know, and at that time. So, I was put into the Salvation Army Home in Newtown or somewhere at the time, to be looked after. They had a facility there. And I think she must have proceeded with that next pregnancy but arranged for that child to be adopted out at birth, and with my father’s consent but he was inside, and then she divorced him (laughs). I’d say she got it sorted, so to speak.
In the meantime she was not very happy with the care of me being undertaken at the home that I was put in, and she had persuaded her parents in Taranaki to look after me, and so that’s where I went and stayed there essentially until I was about four or five.
And by that time she had remarried to Colin Beyer, and as soon as that happened she recalled me from her parents and I went to live in the family home at that time, which was in Victoria Street in Upper Hutt. And he had freshly, you know, what do you call it? qualified as a lawyer, and so on and so forth, and was starting out in practice. And involved with people, like with colleagues, friends, school friends and stuff from Wellington College days -- Ron Brierley, and indeed Colin my stepfather, his brother Trevor – Ron Brierley and various others established what became Brierley Investments amongst other things.
And so that was the family unit. We moved to Crofton Downs after my half-brother was born, Andrew, who was born in 1963. And I went to Ngaio Primary School. I went to Wellesley Preparatory College for Boys in Days Bay for two years, one year as a boarder, the last year. And then that second marriage, my mother, whose name is Noeline – Noeline Beyer – and Colin, they also had a marriage breakup. And after that mother and children moved to Auckland.
Gareth Watkins: Can you describe yourself as a child?
Georgina: Hmm. (laughs) Best to ask others, I suppose, for observations. For want of a better term my transsexuality began manifesting at about four years of age through play, I guess. When I was on the farm up in Taranaki with my grandparents the only friend of my age was a girl who lived down the road called Joy Mackleton [sp?], and we played together a lot as kids, the farm is just down the road, as you do. And I used to love diving into her dress-up box, and we’d play as kids do. I’m talking three, four, five – you know, kids playing and that kind of thing, and put on little... oh, what would you call it? exhibitions in front of the adults when they’d had a few beers at the end of haymaking day or something like that, you know. “Oh, isn’t that cute,” and the kids would run around doing that, and I’d sort of be in some old bold frock or something. And they all laughed and enjoyed that, you know, and stuff like that.
But I sort of continued with it. I had, you know, kept being effeminate I guess, and so by the time I was a bit older, you know, seven, eight, and I was still doing that behavior it was starting to be frowned upon, and I’m told to stop doing that and so on and so forth. The conditioning. (laughs). “Oh my God! We’ve got a queer son on our hands. Christ, we better start conditioning him.” You know, and you can’t blame them, really.
So I guess on the more serious side of things what I’m saying is that I began to detect that that behavior was unacceptable, and so I started to be more secretive about it because it wasn’t worth the punishment that would come with it if suddenly I was getting caught. You know, a bit of a hiding, I suppose call them, on occasion, especially when I persisted and got caught out because I was too dumb. But I became very secretive about dressing up escapades, waiting for times of aloneness and all of that to be able to, sort of sneak in and do it, learning to replace things in my mother’s wardrobe and stuff like that precisely as I had found them so that she wouldn’t suspect, you know, or anything like that, that I had sort of tried on clothes and things like that and then got bold enough to go marching outside of the house sometimes and down the road.
And of course the neighbors, whatever, would see. You don’t go into the shopkeeper dressed up like that and not be noticed by your local shopkeeper who sees you every other day, you know, in there. And yes, mother... they’d find out and you’d get told off. So, all that kind of stuff.
This wouldn’t be unusual kinds of reactions that all of us in our various forms probably went through, of learning that what we were thinking was just quite normal for us is not approved of, and so you suppress it and therein starts the incredible mountain to climb after that. You don’t know it until you’re a bit older and worldly wise and you capitulate, or some kinds of behavior or problems begin to emerge, not always overt, but sometimes more introverted, you know? You just learn to shut down on things and avoid the ridicule, avoid getting yourself into situations of having the gay bashing happen, you know, till you’re yelled at, “You little poofter. Stop being a girl’s blouse!” You know, and that kind of stuff. And we all would have tolerated it probably at some stages, you know. Hmm. It’s easy in hindsight to look back and sort of try and figure out why things happen. At the time you just cope, don’t you? And I did so right up until college.
So by the time you get to high school and stuff like that, and I guess having been to, you know, a mix of State school and private school I had a bit of both worlds, so to speak, strangely enough. My first night at Wellesley College when I boarded there I was sort of strangely terrified, and it was a bit of a culture shock for a – what were you? 11, 12, 13 – and I’m suddenly being put into this all-boys school. And temporarily I had to stay in a dormitory which was for the senior kids, form 2 kids. And I can remember... no, I won’t put this on the record. I don’t think it’s necessary. I don’t want to bring the school into disrepute. (laughs) But boys will be boys, you know. “Oh, what are you doing?” “Oh, what’s that?” I’ll leave it there, to the audience’s imagination.
Gareth: At that time were you aware of any talk about either homosexuality or... [interrupted]
Georgina: No, I think those.... No, no, no. Those definitions didn’t.... It was just sort of: I exuded a behavior, it was disapproved of, I suppressed it, and you know, because they might have won the battle but I’ll fight the war. (laughs)
And until I read “The Little Red Schoolbook”, which we all did at the time, which was sort of a notable little wee publication the schoolkids got hold of and it talked about things beyond... you know, about homosexuality and bisexuality that sort of defined sexual orientations, et cetera, and it had other things in it like swear words.
Anyhow, anyhow, sort of suddenly it wasn’t just man and woman, there were some alternatives. So, when I did sort of get my head around that sort of stuff a little bit I began to wonder where I fitted, and you would think one would naturally assume that you were a homosexual male. But because I’d always had the battle, I guess, with: But I’m a woman, or, I’m a girl, I’m a female. You know, I’m always... if I was.... (laughs). If it wasn’t for a quirk in birth and stuff like that I would be, and so the psychological with the physical reality, I suppose.
And then more deeply, was I attracted to men who were like that? And no, I wasn’t. You know, the perspective I had was of a more female sort of visceral reaction to attraction and stuff like that. So, I don’t get it off with gay men, (laughs) knowing that may sound... you know, I don’t... that’s not my preference, if you know what I mean. I’m straight in that sense. So, that puts you in a conundrum when you’re that young of wondering, well, if I’m not a gay man and I’m not a woman, so what the fuck am I? You know, I don’t feel right. Oh yes, physically, I’m the... so okay, I’ve got to be the man.
And on the two occasions where I had a what you could call heterosexual encounter, which was set up by well-meaning school friends at a school party and stuff like that, and of course, yeah, and present the goods because it would be gossiped about, you know, from the other participant’s point of view as well, and I hated it. I absolutely hated it, you know, from that... not the person or whatever, but, you know, turned me right off. No thanks! I want the snatch, I don’t want the snatch. (laughs) I want a snatch, just to put it sort of... I think you can print that.
Gareth: When you were young did you understand why your family was saying, “Oh, don’t dress up”?
Georgina: No. No, not at all. No, I mean we’re talking ‘60s, ‘70s here and so the knowledge of this kind of stuff was limited to Danny La Rue. You know, I think the most famous transsexual person in the world at that time had been Christine Jorgensen, who had had the first sex change in the 1950’s. So there was that. There were others; April Ashley and all of that who were famous sort of old models and stuff. But you know, really there were people, you know, it was in the general population.
And there was an indoctrination remember, of a pretty conservative Christian moral, you know, that kind of thing. Good God, it was illegal. I mean, men were put into prison. Well, not just men; gay people were put into prison here for two years, you know, or something like that. Men who dressed as women weren’t allowed to walk the streets like that. You weren’t allowed to wear things like, you know... sort of funny laws and things that required you weren’t allowed to wear women’s underwear and you weren’t... and men weren’t allowed to be.... You know, like the queens who worked in the shows in Auckland and stuff like that in the ‘60s, and all that – Carmen’s, and all of that sort of thing – had to walk in public spaces as men, not dressed up in drag, you know, to go from club to club or whatever else. You know, gig to gig really was what they were doing.
And part of the allure in the drag entertainment scene at the time was that you didn’t know that these beautiful, exotic creatures were biological men. And that’s what I mentioned before that in those days it would have been terminology like female impersonators and drag queens, and yeah, that was sort of that era. But I was too young, of course. I came in at the tail, you know, at the end of that era.
Gareth: How did you go at school? I mean, were you bullied? Was it a positive experience?
Georgina: Because I took an interest sometimes at college, anyhow in drama, when anyone who did a sissy thing like that, you know, and because I was relatively useless at sports – okay, the sports I was good at was tennis and swimming, and so but rugby and cricket, I hated them and, you know, I had to play in them. But anyhow, I think I learned the gift of the gab to get myself out of.... Yes, yes there was a certain amount of peer pressure, I suppose, to conform, and that wouldn’t be unusual. A lot of people go through that at that time.
And but I seemed to have a very good rapport with girls and was sort of a bit of a magnet if I say so myself, because I had no particular and probably posed no threat, if there would have been such a one, or unwanted advances and all of that sort of thing just didn’t come from me. (laughs) But we could have a good yarn, you know, and that sort of thing. So guy friends could see me as a very good conduit to get to various girls, and so I became a bit of a Dolly Levi, really. (laughs) Matchmaker. You know, and that made me cool with the guys because, well, you know, I’d get them onto that and they sort of thought that I must have been some rampant stud, you know, the sort of Austin Powers of the day – (laughs) Yeah, baby! – with the girls.
So, it was quite a good façade even though I did theatre, and doing theatre I belonged to Manurewa Theatre in Auckland for a while, while I was at college. And I guess it was a way of being able to wear costume and makeup and stuff like that, and to step into roles and characters that could be gender indifferent or whatever, and pantomimes and things like that where you might be the girl or whatever, the damsel in distress or whatever. So I’d seize those opportunities. Other than that it was a way of sort of also getting some positive reinforcement if you were good at what you did. And so I took to sort of doing that performing stuff like a bit of a duck to water, which I guess in later life proved to be the beginnings of a very handy transferrable skill. (laughs) And boy, have I transferred that skill over several careers, put it that way!
But yes, this escapism, I suppose, to be able to be who you really wanted to be while you had to live in this conformed, straight and moral time and world, and the world and the society that you mixed in, in order to preserve a coping mechanism, I suppose, so you didn’t have to deal with the ridicule which you would get, which would be the lessons learned, you know – oh, I don’t want to have to tolerate that. And that wouldn’t be unusual. A lot of people sort of would have coped with getting through that time until you got to the point where you pushed back and started to stand up and say who the hell are you? You know, and start to become activist about it.
And for me I guess that came from being shoved into the street scene, self-inflicted of course. I put myself into the... you know, ended up in the street scene as a way of surviving and then realizing that that’s where people who were marginalized sometimes ended up living on this fringe of society. You couldn’t fully participate in regular life, i.e., so I’ve left school. Well, lots of 15, 16-year-olds left and signed themselves out of school but usually walked into jobs. It was a relatively good time for employment and stuff like that, but when you turn up as a girl and they can see that you’re a boy (laughs), there’s some issues arise.
And I can remember going to.... And there I am, working, doing stuff at the Club Exotic and that, but that’s what I mean: you ended up sort of being put... funneled toward that kind of lifestyle.
Gareth: Can you just describe for me: So, you’re going through high school. You’re 15, 16.
Gareth: Just describe in a bit more detail how you get from that to you on the street.
Georgina: Oh. I was convinced even then that I wanted to be an actor, and because I’d belonged to the same little theatre, in Manurewa Theatre, I was going to Papatoetoe High School, which also spawned David Shearer and Phil Goff and me and (laughs) – just thought I’d say that as an aside. And I got to know some people in Theatre Corporate in Auckland, which you see had the Mercury Theatre in Auckland. You know, these are professional theatres, and Theatre Corporate run by Raymond Hawthorne, people would know that, and I was hanging around with those from then, and I had got it into my head that that’s really what I wanted to do and I didn’t really want to be at school anymore.
And I became old enough to be able to sign myself out of school, and much against my – obviously my mother was furious – I sneakily, I suppose you could call it cunning really, arranged a school-holiday job for the May school holidays to work at Hallensteins Menswear in Otahuhu, and that’s where I got a job in those school holidays. And while I was there I persuaded that I was going to leave school, the manager or the owner or whatever, to see if he could extend the time I could work there. And I ended up getting three months or something like that, which I felt was enough to be able to IR me in and sign myself out of school, and then told mother.
Ooh! (laughs) Oh, you can imagine. There was a huge upheaval about that, but I’d done it and was able to call her bluff when, you know, you got the old, “Well, if you’re going to live under my roof you’re going to have to stand paying board,” and blah, blah, blah. She was furious and was quite sure that I’d be going back to school. But I didn’t.
And one day in a domestic argument she sort of said, well, you can move out of here, or something like that, and I called her bluff and did. And I went around the road and boarded with a school friend and his family, and when the parents got to talking they just let me sulk, because my mother would have put it like that. Trouble is, I went and boarded with them for about a month or two until this job at Otahuhu, Hallensteins Menswear ran out, and by that time I’d been able to score another position at Millnan Choice down at the bottom of Queen Street in Auckland in the menswear as a junior, you know, and stuff like that. So I just got further and futher away from home.
I ended up flatting in Mount Albert with some people who worked there for a while. And still hanging around the Theatre Corporate scene. One of the friends I had from there was moving to Wellington to go to Victoria University, had a room at the Victoria House Hostel, and I decided to go to Wellington too so I could go to the drama school, and I’d just sleep on the floor in his Victoria House university hostel accommodations. I managed to hang out there for a couple of months without being detected as a person who wasn’t actually a student at the university. You know, Victoria House is university hostel.
Gareth: So at this stage you’re still George?
Georgina: Yes. Oh, yes! Yes, yes, yes. Oh, yes. No, the.... But, not for long. (laughs) But not for long.
So, lots of things happened then. I actually went and.... After.... I went and boarded with Stuart Devenie, who is an actor, and his wife at that time. And they had a house in Mount Street just down from Victoria University. In fact, it was there when I started working as a night... I got this part-time job as a night porter at the Royal Oak Hotel, and then met Rayon, and so the window to the gay world, as it was in those days, opened up to me at that time.
But, I was pursuing acting, and being with Stuart of course was helpful. I did hang around and got an audition and stuff to get into drama school, but of course I was too young. But that didn’t stop me from hanging around like a groupie, that drama school scene. So George Webb, he was teaching, people like Ralph McAllister were there, and various other actors. And I went out to Avalon when they were having an audition block, you know, to go because it was all very new out there so they were just getting a lot of talent on the books and stuff like that. And so I managed to sneak in the back door, so to speak, to get my, you know, the vitae thing done and all of that bit down on the record, and that’s how I got a bit of a part in “Close to Home”. And, so yes, that’s school until then, within 18 months.
Oh, and also when I left Auckland then to go down, and then as I began to see that I would be able to make a transition to being Georgina after I had been taken to The Balcony, Carmen’s show, cabaret show that was on there, and saw all these queens who were on stage and stuff like that. And it was a major revelation that it’s quite possible, because they weren’t just fun drags, they were serious-looking women. They looked fantastic. And this was the gimmick, I suppose, of the drag show and drag act, was that these people would be so beautiful and unspring, but men would be... you know, that was sort of the... one of the curiosity factors of it. So, you’d have this beautiful person who’s performed for you, and stuff like that, and at the end of their act they might take their wig off. You know, that whole old theatrical device.
But to see them with breasts, you know, real breasts and stuff like that, was sort of ahh! Okay! So, this can be done. This isn’t just some madness going on in my head here, this is possible. And, you know, seeing somebody other than a Danny La Rue or some drag artiste, these are transgender people, not that they were called back in those days.
Gareth: Was it kind of madness going on in your head? I mean, were you still conflicted in terms of what am I? Who am I?
Georgina: No. No, no. I’m afraid it’s quite a hard view, really. I’m sort of lucky to take it. It is what it is, and deal with it, just live with it. That I’m going to get grief from wider society is a bit of a bitch, but I’ll deal with it, and stuff them, you know. I’m not a bad person, you know, all of that. So, there was a fundamental sort of sense of entitlement, I suppose, that could come from me, that I’ve just as much right to be here as you have. How dare you talk to me like that?
But that odd thing of, you’d be dressed up in the day, you know, there you are, Georgina walking down the street, a little naïve perhaps but OTT as an appearance, and stuff like that, as we did wear inappropriate things at that time – inappropriate as in a common type, you know, very loud and yeah, and high, high heels, all of that sort of thing in the middle of the day wandering down the street. So you’d get mothers that, when you’re standing at the streetlights, who’d sort of pull their children that side of them as they looked at this creature standing next to them, and shooing, from that kind of reaction, and we’d just turn around as if to say, “Oh, hi!” You know, and be everything that they feared you were going to be, (laughs) if you know what I mean. You know, sort of, ah well, get over it, just deal with it, and munt off. And they’d be strangely horrified but wonderfully curious, you know. And that would be their dinner conversation, “Oh, guess what I saw down at the light!” So there was that sort of guard, you know, just of confronting, I guess, those situations. But we could be over the top and quite antisocial, really, sometimes in our reaction to people just to sort of freak them out for the hell of it.
Gareth: But at that age, like when you were 16 and 17, where does that kind of inner strength come from? Where, I mean, where does that...?
Georgina: Well, because of the contact with the street scene where, you know, you see other queens doing the street, doing the corner, and you know, you just get into the culture, and so that whole thing of if someone’s going to look at you the wrong way, or whatever like that, you don’t tolerate it. You know, you just come back at them. And some... and I have to confess that quite often that came across as aggro and a reason to be considered undesirable. And because you’re wearing provocative clothing in the middle of the street, you know, down there, and they know you’re touting for business if you’re selling... you know, if you’re looking for a client on the corner.
Or, luckily in my case I got to work in strip clubs and in clubs down in Vivian Street, and so I was in a venue as opposed to having only the street and out there to go and earn money from cracking it, as we called it. And I guess when you learn and get introduced into that street life, and it can be a quite brutal arena to be in and you either shape up or ship out, you know? But, on the other hand there was a social camaraderie and common bond, I suppose you’d call it, between the street scene people because we all felt that we were out on these margins, which sort of gave us a false, really, excuse to be everything they said we were, you know, in that sense.
But society can take its own blame for that, for if you consider it as sort of if we were only committing a crime because....
Oh, and then you ran into legal issues. Men couldn’t be charged with being prostitutes. Prostitution wasn’t sort of illegal, but soliciting, et cetera, was. And it was Carmen and sometimes during her era the old court case that occurred that provided this gender conundrum for the judicial system to have to deal with. And then of course – I’m racing ahead now, but in subsequent years as things have become legalized and they have a whole raft of sort of statutory amendments have needed to be made on how to legally treat that corrections at the moments is one of the worst offenders of an outrage whereby preoperative transsexuals, for example, are put into the biological birth thing in prison, in men’s or women’s prisons.
Anyhow, ask another question. (laughs) I don’t know if I’ve answered your other one properly.
Gareth: You have. I remember reading a quote from you saying that you never wanted to make prostitution a career choice, but it was because society didn’t allow you to have any other option in terms of it.
Georgina: Yeah, in my experience that’s what happened. That’s what happened, and I guess for many of my contemporaries at the time, and my predecessors, of course, who had inadvertently by whatever way, but by means of survival, you know, provided a guideline toward being able to affirm who you were, and be who you are; Carmen and people like her, Chrissy Witoko and others, who provided venues and who provided jobs, no matter how lurid they might be, or whatever, but a certain form of protection for us, a camaraderie, a collective where we belonged in our sort of venues. That it happened to attract others, you know, who came for curiosity factors – yeah, right, and a bit of sort of dodgy sex – and piqued the interest of the sort of glitterati of the day, you know, the sort of social set who’d gone to be a bit naughty, which is why venues like Carmen’s and that sort of did provide that.
Now, say, the moral Christian fundamentalists and conservatives would have found that abhorrent, but honey, if there was a register of all of them that (laughs) inadvertently.... And of course Carmen got hauled in front of the Privileges Committee for suggesting just such a thing, you know, of Parliament. So it had some serious nature in the social and political view on how people like us fitted in, and so it wasn’t easy. And so for the social and political pioneers they were probably pioneers without knowing it at the time, they just pushed boundaries that were just considered socially antisocial and you just pushed back and gradually peeled the layers until we find ourselves where we are today.
And for the likes of me and many others – Christ I’m by no means the... you know, I’m an example of a piece of particular history, but there are many others who have done things – and our inspirations, I guess at the time, are women who’d been feisty through the ‘60s. The women’s movement, that was quite a good model, and the lesbian element of that that was vital and important for that movement, feminism for want of a better term, in New Zealand social history, but helped to inspire other minorities to begin to strive for their rights, human rights and equality in this country and start to get the balance better than what it was.
Gareth: Can you recall as a teenager when you first came to Wellington and saw that there were people with breasts, you know, where transsexualism was an option. What did you think?
Georgina: I felt these people had an incredible pride, in many respects, that despite disapproval they were tall and proud and they walked it, honey, and they were going to be who they are and they sort of seemed happy in their own way. Yes, it was brutal, street life is, and there’d be fights over clients, and drugs and alcohol and all of that kind of thing was just part and parcel of it. And it was fun times, the ‘70s, you know, and there was a good nightlife, a vibrancy in Wellington at that time and in that particular geographic location of Vivian and Cuba Street and all of that. And Cuba Street still has that bohemian sort of alternative, eclectic feel about it, and of its era, you know, the clubs up and down that street, and all of that was part and parcel. A bit of the color, really. It was quite colorful.
Relatively passive, I think, from the.... We had, oh, occasionally we’d get plucked by the cops just and carted off down to the Police Station and probably front up and get caught. And queens used to get charged with, and I did, get charged with frequenting with felonious intent, deemed as a rogue and a vagabond. (laughs) I can assure you that law does not exist anymore. That is no longer an offense. And I quoted it once in Parliament during the Prostitution Reform Debate. But that’s what I got arrested for.
But it was a revenue gathering exercise just every now and again, because you’d have to go up in front of the District Court on a Monday morning, or whatever like that, and you’d get fined 50 bucks, you know, with Head’s cheap tax. (laughs) You know, really. But they might have plucked you on a Friday night, and so they’d leave you in the cells over the weekend with nothing but, you know, the basics that you were given and forced some queens sometimes to turn up in front of the District Court in the attire you had on from the previous Friday night. So you’ve got no makeup on, your beard sprouted through, you look like crap, and now you’ve got to suffer the ignominy of standing in front of a court and being addressed, and so on and so forth, and all of that sort of thing, and called by your butch name. Even if you’d changed your name by Deed Poll the bastards always felt that they had to, “Otherwise known as,” da-da-da-da-da-da, and that kind of humiliation as well, and get the fine and then you’d be discharged and that was that. So that was over a weekend.
I know of other queens, who had, you know... there were some cops at the time that would target them every now and again, but on a semi-regular basis and give them a real hard time just short of a physical going over. You know, nasty, cruel stuff, and then let you go. You just had to deal with it.
You know, I’m not saying it was right, but at that time who are you going to go and complain to? There were no Human Rights Commission, and they sure as hell.... It was like when I went to live in Sydney for a year in 1979 and I got pack raped while I was over there not long after I’d been there. And it was a terrible experience, but I didn’t even think – it didn’t even cross my mind that I should go and lay a complaint about it or anything like that because I wouldn’t get protection from the law or by the law, and who the hell was going to believe me? A slap-a-Mary drag queen from New Zealand squealing rape? Yeah, right. And that was sort of some of the reality you just faced at the time.
It took me quite a while to mentally get over that. Physically I got over it and that was that, and luckily, luckily I didn’t let it get me down. I mean, I wanted to... you know, I was suicidal; I thought, oh Christ, what is this life all about if this is what’s going to happen to me? And it’s not worth it. It was like just pushed over the edge at that time, but luckily I fell on the side of getting angry about it: Who the hell are they? Nobody should have to deal with that kind of abuse just in general.
But the terrifying factor for me is I was preoperative, and while I was very attractive, an unspring looking queen or whatever, there was a moment there where I was utterly terrified that when they discovered that I had a cock that they might kill me. And they were just a little short of doing that. They still brutalized me. But yeah, you know, so there was that whole sort of terror, and that was enough. I think it was defining. That was sort of.... And I got angry about it, thank God, saying nobody’s got a right, no matter what, to attack people like that, and all that sort of thing. I got very angry and wouldn’t allow it to happen again, and got over it.
But what am I saying? It put the fire in my belly to stand up against injustice like that, and because when I rationally thought about it nothing was there to protect me. I couldn’t go and complain anywhere and have some restorative something happen here. And that’s just the way I felt; that there was no lever for me in society, it felt for me in that experience. And so if that’s me, how many others are having to deal with that kind of conundrum at some point? Probably heaps. So it began to sort of anchor a: I’ve got every bloody right to be here, and I’ve got every right to be like everyone else as far as existing is concerning. Why the hell do I have to put up with this?
And I didn’t want to live in the gutter. I didn’t want to live down on the street all the time. You know, I had ambition, I suppose, to get out of that scene, as sort of secure as it provided me with an experience of life, way too young I suppose, for a good five or six years or whatever that I was there before I began. And getting out of it, getting out of being caught up and in that world, which imbued me with certain strengths and intuitions and streetwiseness and streetsmarts, a way of operating and that sort of thing.
But then to get out of that and into legitimacy was not easy, but I found it in a strange sort of way through entertainment, drag show or cabaret entertainment, you know, and more things. And I went to Auckland in ’84 and joined a drag show called Bloomers, which was working at Alfies Nightclub in Auckland. Well, we sort of started off the show at Alfies. And that had a long-running residency there. And that was Auckland in the mid 1980s, which was sort of boom times! There was champagne poppin’ until ’87 of course. Champagne kept popping for us still after that because, you know, we’d established ourselves very well in this much beloved Auckland gay nightclub, and the gay scene up there is one thing, and the Bloomers show.
And while I was in that show in 1985 I got approached... or no, I’d been arrogant enough or vain enough to think that I could get an agent while I was in Auckland, an acting agent, and I had put my name around a few agents of the day, and one of them being Robert Bruce who had a well-known agency called The Ugly Agency and so my CV or my portfolio or whatever that I had accumulated at the time I put forward. Anyhow, long story short, it just so happened that a chap called Peter Wells and his partner, Stewart Main, were casting for a short film that they were going to make, and it was about a transsexual and a transvestite and the piece was called Jewel’s Darl, which was a short story that had been adapted by a woman called Anne Kennedy, who’d written it and won a Listener Short Story Award. I think she and Peter were going to make it into a screenplay.
I did the audition for the part and got it. And I did, so I did Jewel’s Darl and that turned out to be a critically acclaimed short film, I’ll put it like that. It got about five nominations for the film and television awards, and the ill-fated GOFTAs in 1987, but other than that debacle the acknowledgement that it was a good film. (laughs)
And actually, it was part of a half-hour series of dramas that Hibiscus Films made for television that had been commissioned, and there were about six or seven half-hour dramas for new filmmakers, writers, a new vehicle, I guess, for the talent of the day, on the Sunday night theatre slot on television. And so I had some cutting edge stuff. I ended up getting nominated as a finalist for best actress in 1987 for the role of Jewel. My co-star was a guy called Richard Hanna. And so yeah, that was quite sort of, oh!
Right at that time of course, ’84, ’85, around the time Homosexual Law Reform was happening, and my bosses at Alfies nightclub, Brett Sheppard in particular, Tony Katavich, his partner John, they had OUT magazine, which was the major gay publication, national gay publication at the time, and it was very active in the Homosexual Law Reform debate at the time. But, you know, we were working down at the club, and of course doing Jewel’s Darl.
And just at that time the Salvation Army of course was vehemently opposed to Homosexual Law Reform. They were vicious and venal in their attack at the time, and were really our enemies in many respects, and they were the Destiny Church of their day (laughs), if I can put it like that. And every Sunday in Auckland they did a prayer march down Queen Street and would have a prayer meeting on the corner of Queen Street and Victoria Street, just around the corner on Victoria Street. And on this particular day we were shooting scenes for the Jewel’s Darl film, which required being at Mid-City Mall, which is in the middle of Queen Street, and we did that and we were getting into the evening and Peter either remembered or somebody reminded him that the Salvation Army were going to do this march down Queen Street and then hold the prayer meeting down there.
And this is the joy of working with a film maker sort who suddenly sees an opportunity, whether it’s scheduled or not. And I suddenly had a wee meet, and then got me and Richard, who were all in costume and stuff and had done our work – we were about to wrap, really – and sort of said, “Hey, look, this is going to be happening.” And we just thought, we’ll improvise. We can go and set up a camera down there and you and Richard just....
And there’s Richard and I hiding in the doorway of McDonalds on Queen Street. And (singing) da-da-la-da-da, and down come, you know, the tamborines and the uniforms and the hats and all of this stuff, and the brass band, and it’s all going down Queen Street and, you know, a bit of a parade going on. And then they get down just about to where we were and then me and Richard just ran out in front of them, right out and started marching down Queen Street, and then wheeled around into Victoria Street and hoped that Peter and them got something on film.
And so after the Salvation Army grouping had set themselves up on the corner to now hold their prayer meeting, and they all got lined up and stuff like that, we’d gone back over the road to see, and oh, God, that was fun. Did you get it all? Did you get what you needed and can you make something out of it? because they had no idea if it was going to be useful footage.
And then he said, “Well look, just before we go do you think and Richard could just go over and walk over and stand beside them, because now they’re stationery at the prayer meeting.” And we went, “Oh, okay, yep,” and off we went and stood there, you know, mocking it, really, in a sort of silent film kind of way. And the Sergeant or whatever it was with them, he got furious and him and Peter started to have words, and he was going to report to the police and the whole thing, and we’d have this piece of footage and then not allowed to put it on TV, and stuff like that. And anyhow, needless to say, it is a piece of fond footage that I look at on Jewel’s Darl if ever I see it, of just our little protest at the time. We were able to sort of do something that recorded that actual and historic time.
Not only here, I think for Jewel’s Darl and there was one other film that they did in that series called My First Suit, which was a story about a young 14-year-old boy discovering his homosexuality and stuff like that. And you would have thought that the moral content of that would have been repugnant to the censor of the day, but no, the censor of the day decided that Jewel’s Darl was contrary to the public’s good taste and could not be aired. And there was a hoo-hah about that at the time, which delayed the screening of the entire About Face series on TV for a wee while until Julian Mounter, who I think came to the helm of television at the time, sort of told them to get stuffed and what a waste of money just on this silly little peccadillo that they’d picked up, and put the series on and played it, and the film Jewel’s Darl amongst the others.
And I lost out in the actress award to Jenny Ward-Lealand. (laughs) Happily so. She was well deserving. Her and I were hot contenders that year for taking out the best actress award, and there were three others of course. And I can think of one other actress who was also a finalist and she spat at me, spat out at me, verbally I might add, that if I had won, sort of half tongue-in-cheek, that if I won the award she’d be complaining because I’d been nominated in the wrong sex. (laughs) But it didn’t come to pass, otherwise I would’ve pressed.... Anyhow....
Gareth: So there was some major social change happening in New Zealand in the 1980s, and I’m wondering did the... you know, you’ve got Homosexual Law Reform in ’85, ’86. Did that have any impact on you?
Georgina: No, not particularly except to say that it began to pull in the strains of collective strength as a significant minority in this country, that in order to advance our human rights requirements and begin to socially engineer, I guess, in the more positive for those of us that were marginalized communities. And I just don’t mean transgender but the gay political agenda was about to emerge, was emerging at the time.
And don’t forget that it also coincided, our law reform, it also coincided with the advent of HIV and AIDS, and luckily in New Zealand it provided a vehicle via Warren Lindberg and various other people who set out to establish the AIDS Foundation. And there’s a whole lot of other names; I should not start trying to get into the list of honor that those people did for us at the time, but managed to provide a vehicle whereby us... because there was this erroneous belief at the time that HIV and AIDS was primarily a gay disease, gay related, which was totally wrong, of course, but that was the sort of hysterical reaction of general society to it at the time. And the movers and shakers in the gay world, I think at that time, who were able to, and the professionals who were able to frame the debate over HIV and AIDS and how best this country would handle our approach to it, worked very simpatico and well with the mainstream society, and I think that scored some brownie points in some respects of sort of, oh, okay, dealing with that well, coinciding with Homosexual Law Reform.
And then in our arts and cultural sector, i.e., Jewel’s Darl as one thing now not just being on the fringes and funny little fringe film festivals or down at the sort of flea-pit theatre and Roxy or something, whatever, to go and see that kind of art, you know, film and creative arts, to suddenly see it beamed into our televisions into our living rooms. Not just the Jewel’s Darl subject matter but the My First Suit subject matter, and stuff like that which was far more real as far as drama than the caricatures you might have seen in Danny La Rue... I go back to Danny La Rue, but he was one of the most visible TV personas of the era, and that’s how a lot of Joe Blow, mom and dad New Zealanders might have seen it, and we’re more than that.
Yeah, so an interesting time, you know. I guess I’m sure there was other stuff that was coming out at the time too, but that’s from my own personal contact and experience. Yeah, they were quite.... For me I think after Jewel’s Darl I then went to do things like Shark in the Park and other television productions where I did guest appearances.
And all during this period my bread and butter money was on the show in Auckland at Alfies nightclub, which was weekend, and that was sort of.... I used to enter lip sync contests that were popular of the day, running around there in the various shopping malls out in the suburbs – pick up a thousand bucks just like that. They didn’t realize that late at night I was doing it as my job, anyhow, you know, lip syncing at a drag show. You silly fools. Yeah, I’ll chuck on a Dolly Parton wig and go out and pretend to be that, and they all love it out at Cleopatras, you know, in Mount Wellington. (laughs)
And I’ll tell you the other thing that we did at the time because... and this is our way of sort of getting back at the State and bureaucracy and the system. To get a benefit usually we were put on sickness benefits, and all you got was your doctor to fill out your certificate. So what’s wrong with me? You know, and everything like that. Well, they dreamed up that we had psychosexual disorders and this could get us onto the sickness benefit, and so yes, we’ll go on the sickness benefit, and that was reasonably generous in those days, about 250 bucks or something like that.
And by the time you added that to our under-the-table money we were getting on the weekend out at doing the drag show, another 350 there, and then the odd other bits you might have sort of picked up around, you know, I’m pulling about 800 bucks a week, not too bad, right through the 1987 crash. While everyone else was dying we were living still quite high off the hog, really, at that time. And I say that and I know it sounds disrespectful, but that’s survival stuff: Okay, you silly bastards. You reckon we’ve got a psychosexual disorder and you want to give us money for it? I’ll take it.
Now, you know, I’d think differently now but in those days that was about, man, you’ve got to get what you can. And that’s sort of a little bite-back you used to give to society: well if you want to treat me like that, then, you silly bastards. And, yeah, that’s how we sort of got on.
Gareth: Could you see a difference in the way that mainstream society reacted to you from, say, the ‘70s through to the ‘80s? Was there a.... I mean, you actually....
Georgina: No. No, no, no. I’ve always said law is relatively easy to change, attitude takes generations, and we’re nowhere near it yet as far as attitude is concerned. It’s improving and it’s getting there, but it won’t entirely have worked for us in my lifetime, I’m sure. But yeah, we’ve substantially gone a long way there, and I’m just a wee piece of the puzzle and of the continuum that we’ve had to sort of get there, so attitude is the next thing.
And the era of collective solidarity has diminished somewhat in the last few years, in my view, amongst the gay, the LGBTI community. And there being to saying LGBTI community – we were already quite sort of sectioned, siloed off on those things. There has been a purpose where we come together and put aside our particular differences with each other for the greater good, and we move forward. And I think we’re at a period now that I think probably after this marriage equality and adoption has been sorted that legally there’s very little else until we start to get down to the minutiae – so, transgender wants and greater access to services, et cetera, than are currently being provided, and all of that sort of thing. And there’ll be those kinds of things to do, but as far as major law, the framework by which... you know, it’s not that it’s separate or anything, we’re actually one in the same, you know? But no, I’m nothing special, but we’ve got to go through this palaver. The lawyers are cramming it. So yes, that’s where I sort of see that kind of change in the future.
But the ‘80s to the ‘90s I’ve noticed sort of.... Yeah, ‘80s and ‘90s and beyond; after that was when quite a bit, and especially after. So, we have Homosexual Law Reform in ’86; we have the amendments to the Human Right Act in the early 1990s under our national government; and then we come to the early 2000s and we get De facto Property Relationship Act; we get the Civil Union Act and the Statutory References Amendment Act, and various other things like that that are sort of current. Now we’re hitting the slightest attempt to get marriage. So it’s moved quite well.
But the best reflection is in the social services provided, you know, anyhow, and amongst other things. Anyhow, that’s probably going a bit too far ahead. We’ll get to that later in your questions.
Gareth: When was the transition between George and Georgina?
Georgina: Oh. Oh, 1976, and by that time I was living on Buller Street in Wellington with Rion McKenzie and Malcolm Vaughan and various others. That’s where it happened. And that just meant one day when I had the wardrobe and I had the wherewithal 24/7 just to be who I am, you know, and destroyed everything that I had on me at the time that was my overall reminder. And this was a symbolic sort of purging, (laughs) if I can put it like that.
Gareth: What was your relationship with your family?
Georgina: Estranged. It still is. That’s the shortest way to describe it: estranged. My mother died in 1978. It was quite tragic really. She was 43 and she died of cervical cancer, and she’d been involved in the unfortunate experiment up in Auckland in that at the time. Sandra Coney and Co. wrote about it later. And so she was the only senior family member that I had any kind of respect for and would listen to, and whose disapproval or approval or affirmation was important to me.
And so once that was out of the picture I had no sort of moral compass as far as that was concerned, about some kind of responsibility to the family or whatever like that, because the only ultra-important person to me at that time was now no longer, and that was that. So in a way I was sad, yes, but in another way it was freedom for me. I didn’t care about what my stepfather thought, and I never knew my birth father – I never met him until my mid-twenties, so I had no emotional connection to him or that side of the family necessarily.
And my mother, some of my mother’s siblings, my aunts and uncles, yes, I’ve kept in touch with, and the odd cousin and that. But I never felt a huge umbilical cord toward them, because I think I had left school early, got out and then started living that life so young and became fiercely independent, and because I was avoiding wanting to have that pressure on me had severed myself off. Unfortunately it became happily convenient to just cut them out like that. It saved me a lot of grief until I was in....
And actually the time when I sort of put that to bed was at my mother’s funeral in front of them all. Yep, this is who I am and what I am, deal with it or not, and so on and so forth, and walked out and went to a nightclub in town and I had a good night out after that. And they oohed, and ahhed and were horrified and all of that sort of thing. I said, “Ah, deal with it. It’s your problem, not mine.” And I think when I started to treat life and people like that – It’s your problem, it’s not mine; I’m just going to get on with it and I’m not going to wear your guilt that you’re going to impose on me, you know, oh shame! That’s your shame, not mine – I just divested myself of making that a problem.
Some might say you’re avoiding it or not wanting to confront it or whatever. Well, if I deal with it I’ll do it in my own time, thank you very much, I don’t need it right now. I’ve got other things to deal with much more fun. And I guess that’s just an indication of a kind of attitude that I’ve sort of developed that I’m not going to let you stop me, pull me down or change me like that. You know, you can meet me half way.
Gareth: It’s interesting because I had heard that at your mother’s funeral that it was your mother’s request that you go in male clothing.
Georgina: That’s right, it was. Well, just a background of that sort of scenario; one night.... Now don’t forget I’d been out of touch completely. She thought I was dead or something like that, I could have been in jail or whatever for 18 months, and in that time I’d made my transition. And one night on the way to work I was full of Seconal and a few valium and a few drinks before I left home on my way to work, I just suddenly stopped at the telephone booths in Vivian Street and rang her. And in that conversation I came out to her and stuff like that, but she also informed me that she was not well and that she had cancer and that she didn’t think she had much longer, so I was horrified and wanted to rush back and go and see her. She preferred I didn’t come right then, but eventually I did go up and see her and she died three weeks later, to cut a long story short. So, there was a reconciliation and we made our peace, for want of a better term, if there was any peace to be made.
One of her requests was that I did come as her son. I looked ridiculous with tits and long hair, but I did dress down for her and wore a man’s suit, which was probably quite trendy, when you think about it, in those days, to look like a girl wearing a man’s suit. And everyone knew, of course. That was the ridiculousness of it, but out of respect for her – I wouldn’t do it for anyone else – I did that.
And as soon as we dealt with her at the funeral we went back to the house at the wake. I got changed. I got back before anyone else started arriving and I got changed into Georgina, you know, who I was. They all come back. I am out fully. They see it all. I can still remember one of my aunties just was horrified, “Ooh. Oh, how can you do that at your mother’s funeral?” You know, and all of that kind of thing, and that’s when I more or less said well, it’s not my problem, it’s your problem. Deal with it. You all know about it. Tough. And off I went. And yeah, let’s put it there.
That is the ten foot tall and bulletproof, that’s, you know, young people at that time – you don’t mean anything to me, and so in a strange sort of way it sort of worked for me. Others might have sort of crumbled at the thought of it from that point of view, but no, not me. I thought I’ll just thumb my nose at you.
Gareth: You mentioned a bit earlier, you touched briefly about suicide and I’m wondering, I mean, was suicide a big thing in your life or was it...?
Georgina: Yes. Yes, it was I think at that time, two or three times. I probably... yeah, it’s easy to say on reflection now, yes. After the Sydney situation, the rape over there, that sent me into a spin. You know, that was real tough really at that time and you begin: oh, why am I living this life and is this the way we just expect to be treated? That’s no kind... you know, all of that kind of stuff.
And the other time might have been more out of sulkiness or something like that. You know, it’s easy when you’re dropping pills anyhow. I’d just drop more and thought, oh [unintelligible]. Oh, but that was because we were on a lot of barbiturates we took in those days: mandrake, Seconals, Tuinals, Rohypnol – the menu, the cocktail of things that we used to get because it was easy. I’d go to... I can call him by name now because he’s dead now, Dr. Onley [sp?]. Everyone will know who Dr. Onley was in those days in Willow Street.
And I’m glad it didn’t happen though. Now I’m very glad, of course, that I wasn’t successful, but those were the triggers that I guess at that time – young, somewhat impressionable, and luckily in recovery from them it added strength rather than a weakness – that it was a point that if you were heading toward that point something’s seriously wrong and, you know, make it right if you can for yourself. And that you can get them back, if you think the world’s done you a bad deed, by being resilient, but it doesn’t happen like that for everybody, of course. It gets on top of them and I can understand why. There’s some very cruel people out there and cruel situations that occur and you can see how it just forces people. It must have been worse way before my day when no one could be out.
Gareth: So was it things like the pack rape in Australia that prompted you into saying actually I’m not going to let other people have to go through this thing where I can’t report it to the police?
Georgina: No. Well, that kind of activism manifested later, yes. At the time it was more self-interested: I’m not going to ever let that happen to me again, and I want to be able to rectify it. A lot of those sort of things and so called achievements and stuff afterwards have been done not as a... have been more... yeah, there’s been more of a, well, if I don’t let it happen to me again, well whoever else benefits is fine, you know, but I wasn’t doing it purposefully for that kind of a cause. No, there was no cause celeb for me as far as that was concerned, it was about: it’s not fair; I’m going to deal with it if I can, or at least confront it. Mouthy you see, wasn’t afraid to sort of bite back.
And strangely enough, for some of the authority that I might have crossed swords with at times, I was eloquent and intelligent and argumentative from a professional perspective as opposed to just some dumb queen, you know? I understood what I was wanting, and the acceptance I was wanting. I just didn’t accept things. I didn’t accept it when Social Welfare told me that I couldn’t get an unemployment benefit because I could go on and put, you know, go on and be the man I’m supposed to be and get a job.
Gareth: They actually wrote that to you?
Georgina: Oh, I was told that. You were just told that in those days when you fronted up at what were then court, once it was Social Welfare and all of that, as to whether or not you were eligible for getting a benefit. And I said no. I’ll be going to work like this, so no, I’m not going to change. This is who I am and what I am, and who the hell are you to tell me that I should go and be the man you reckon I’m supposed to be. (laughs) And they didn’t know how to deal with that except to say, well, you’ve got a psychosexual disorder so go get a sickness benefit. Oh, okay then. If that’s what you think I’ve got that’s fine. Never for a moment believed it but none of us did. You know, but that’s the way society and the bureaucracy was going to deal with you, put you there. Crazy. So yeah, I guess inadvertently without knowing it I was just sort of pushing back and playing them at their own game.
Gareth: So when did it change and why did it change that you became more kind of outward looking and saying, well actually I can change this for other people too?
Georgina: Yeah, no. No, I’m sorry to say, but that revelation quite like that just never... it didn’t come, even when it came into politics. That kind of stuff happened once I was in Parliament and then the realization of the level of influence I was now working in, or moving in. My whole local government experience – I’m jumping a bit ahead now way from beyond the ‘80s – but my whole government experience was nothing about, at all, none of my political achievements of being elected, et cetera, have relied on the fact that I had some kind of alternative agenda regarding being a tranny or being part of the gay community or anything like that.
I fell, through some happy circumstances, I suppose, into those roles and that fact that I was already an out, mildly well-known transgender entertainer/actress and so on and so forth at one level, and then moved into a political or local government, to start off with, arena which obviously attracted some attention because I’d always been an out transgender person. There was no escaping it, and I didn’t want to. You know, it was irrelevant, frankly, and the reason I got into politics was because others in the community of Carterton, that I lived in at the time, pushed me toward it for completely unrelated reasons to being part of the gay community – utterly unrelated.
Gareth: So for you, when you are campaigning to become mayor of Carterton in ’95, and there are things like... I know there was like smear campaigns saying, did you really have an operation? and all that kind of stuff. When that’s not what you’re standing for how did that kind of make you feel?
Georgina: Oh, well it won me the election, (laughs) to put it short. I first got... My first election I ever ran in was in 1992 at the 1992 level government elections as an Urban Ward Councilor for the Carterton District Council. I had been working part time as a tutor at a Life School’s course at the Carterton Community Center, a course that I had been a training opportunities program participant in prior to getting a bit of a position there.
The 1991 budget happened, ruthanasia occurred, and it had slashed benefits by about 25%. And down the track from that it had a ripple effect throughout rural New Zealand in particular where a lot of low-income jobs – you know, it was the ‘90s. We’d come out of the ‘80s, at the ‘80s the economic financial horrors of that time perpetuated by the Ruth Richardson Finance Minister and that national government.
And so we had some issues in Carterton that we as a community organization were getting involved with, and one of them was the odd case of homelessness and people sleeping down at the local children’s play park in the sort of fort thing that were down there, and people were worried about it. And we as a community sort of wanted to organize some temporary accommodation for these people while we got them sorted with benefits, et cetera – benefits and access to them and advocacy for them and stuff like that.
We went to the local District Council and asked them if we could use one of their powered caravan sites at the Council owned Caravan Park because someone had donated a caravan to us and we thought we could pop someone in there for a night or two while we got them sorted, et cetera. The council refused to give us a powered caravan site unless we paid for it, and we were wanting it for free. We were just a very poor community organization. And we made a submission to the council, and those of us in the community sent a committee and stuff like that. They made me the spokesperson to go and present the oral submission to Council. And that’s probably the first thing I ever did. You know, and so it started from there.
And then the ‘92 elections came, they suggested that we put up a candidate, and I ran on a ticket with a retired Vicar, the Reverend William Woodley Hartley, and he was about 80 something, and me, so there was plenty of scope for actress/bishop jokes. And we had fun and made a few points of social interest and community involvement and the Council should have a social conscience, et cetera, et cetera. And I was not successful in that election but I was the highest polling unsuccessful candidate in the ’92 elections, and they knew that I was this exotic creature that had come from nowhere and suddenly was in town and I stuck out like a sore thumb in a small, rural town like Carterton, but I had endeared myself to them in some sort of respects, and people got to know me and I got involved and felt pretty good.
And then there was the resignation off the newly elected council. Ironically it happened to be the Baptist Minister and he got redeployed in his ministry to another city and so there was a newly created vacancy on the Carterton District Council, the new one. And so they held a by-election rather than....
And it was during that period that a lot of those suggestions by the media that it was because I was a transsexual, and questioning my character and all of that sort of thing began to emerge because it was sort of lovely, salacious stuff for the otherwise boring local government – you know, election stuff – to happen. So yes, I had to put up with all of that scrutiny, which was sort of the beginning of learning a long, long lesson of how to deal with all of that sort of scrutiny. But I would have to say that it was the media and the associated attention with this fascination with this transgender person running for public office in a rural conservative area in New Zealand, nobody would have thought that it would happen, that it was a bit of a joke. Carmen had run for the mayoralty in Wellington in 1977 and that had been full of spectacular sort of, you know, wonderful color, but nobody was taking it seriously. It was more an entertainment than anything else, and now a few years later there’s this thing happening, except it’s in rural New Zealand and this will be fun, and all of that sort of thing. And how wrong they were.
And I won the by-election because the Council could have just appointed me, as I was the highest polling unsuccessful candidate -- we’re talking about 14 votes here, 14 votes that I’d missed out by – saved the expense of a by-election. There was no choice. They could have left the situation vacant, but it was too soon after the major election and that would mean there would be a Ward in the District that would be unrepresented for that time, so that wasn’t an option, and they chose the by-election.
And in a strange sort of way I was able to use that toward my advantage because I would sort of do the fire and brimstone, “Oh, the expense is unnecessary!” and so on and so forth.
And the media are saying, oh but no, isn’t it because you’re a transsexual and they don’t want to have it like that?
“Oh, it couldn’t possibly be anything like that!” And I for all of that that they would say, I would say, “Oh, no, that’s not an issue. It’s certainly not an issue for me; it shouldn’t be an issue for anyone.” And I just went on this sort of rose-above-it kind of attitude while the poor old incumbent mayor was being asked about: is the council doing this because you don’t want to have someone like her on the Council? And of course he would come back with a very diplomatic and political, “Why of course not. This is a democracy and that’s why we’re going to have the by-election, so that the people can make the decision.” Well of course you can’t argue with that. Of course that’s sort of right, but we all know, (laughs) we all know, don’t we, what the real attitude was.
And certainly the voters understood that and thought to thumb their noses at the council, and they kicked my fanny into that council and elected me with a very clear majority. Five other people stood against me – in a by-election for God’s sake! – you know, stood against me, and I got half of the votes and the rest of them shared the rest of the votes, and there I became a Councillor.
And then when I got in there of course it was very new and I knew nothing. I by no means had been educated towards the ways of politics so I just learnt it from the ground up, so to speak. And it was very easy in my first few months to be marginalized by the rest of the Council, who were just sort of bemused more than anything else at this – oh, okay; it’ll be a one-term wonder, you know, and that kind of thing.
I seized an opportunity that they sort of threw at me. Councils under the new Resource Management Act needed to establish consultative procedures with local iwi, and since I was the first Maori to ever serve on that council they threw it to the brownie in the corner, and I took it with both hands and went off and went to workshops and things and came back with a draft of a sort of proposal for a policy for the Council to adopt to start to establish my cred amongst them, I suppose.
But at the end of the day it doesn’t matter about them that sit around the table so much, it’s the people who put you in there and who you’re representing that you’ve got to keep on side and that you’ve got to keep open and honest with, and I just sort of always found favor, luckily, with the constituents, and I delivered for them. Yes, under-promised; over-delivered. (laughs) I started to learn the tactics early on.
And then the ’95 election came around and it had been suggested that I have a go for the Mayoralty then, which I thought was sort of ridiculous, but let’s have fun anyway, and gave it a go.
Gareth: The Mayoralty being successful, in that you became the world’s first transsexual Mayor, and that created a whole lot of international media attention. How did you deal with that?
Georgina: It did. Well, first of all I didn’t think for a moment that I would win the Mayoralty – and I stood also, because you could stand for the Councillor and Mayor, so I was already an incumbent Councillor – and so I stood for both, you know, because I was pretty sure, but I’ll stand for the Mayoralty and have it a go. But I did it upon the suggestion of one of our managers. I thought he shouldn’t have been advising me this way, but I’ll go on. You know, let’s have a go. And I felt emboldened enough to do it.
And because I’d been pretty straight-up about what I thought of the sort of so called fuddy duddies, as I call them most unkindly when I think about it now, but you know, that’s politics. And I would just sort of say things like, oh God, half these Councillors inherited their seats, and wasn’t it about time for some new, fresh leadership, da-da-da-da-da-da? Anyhow, it resonated with people and yes I won the Mayoralty at the end of the day in ’95.
Yes, then this attention descended upon me. The media treated the Mayoral campaign again as some kind of entertainment. I don’t think anyone was quite sure that I would actually pull it off and that I’d given myself the backstop of being able to be reelected as a Councillor, so people were sort of wondering about that. But as it turned out it was a very definite win. I didn’t just scrape in or anything like that, I had a great majority. And bang, I was there and I was the Mayor. And I was terrified, really, because suddenly I’m like, God, it happened!
It was the media that informed me that I was certainly the first transsexual in New Zealand to be elected as a Mayor. And then later on people started to say: you might be the first in the world. And I said, well, I wouldn’t have a clue; you’d have to verify that, or whatever, but I don’t know, I’m just the Mayor, and get on with the job.
But of course the media attention was on the trend of: this is the first transsexual in the world. And after nobody else around the world stuck their hand up to say, no, I am – and none of them did, or nobody did – that it’s just a given that that is sort of a fact.
And of course it had nothing to do whatsoever with my getting elected. It was a byproduct, you know, on a PR scale, was what it was. But when it dawned on me that if this is the case, even if it’s just about New Zealand it’s got some significance from the gay communities or significant minorities that an underdog made it through legitimately; no swifties pulled here to get her into office or anything. These were rural, redneck, conservative New Zealanders elected her. What did they put in the water? You know, what’s caused this? This is quite remarkable, in this little micro example, in the scheme of things, and it’s sort of fun. And gee, don’t we feel good that anyone can make it in our country, and get there. You know, there was all of this kind of thing that went on. So, it was immense.
I decided to accept that I’d become a bit of a figure of political importance; a sense of, oh, there’s a little advance has just happened here. So I accepted that it was going to represent parts of the gay community or that movement is one thing, but actually I’m the Mayor of Carterton and that’s my primary focus and has got to be. What I may do and what I may achieve, or whatever like that, may well be a good reflection for everybody else that’s going to claim a piece of ownership of my reflected glory, or whatever you want to call it, and success and achievement, and to be used as an example of how it could happen elsewhere if people were more open minded and overlook, and da-da-da-da, and all of that kind of significance. But largely it would depend on how effective my example might be, by my exemplary behavior, (laughs) and at the same time not looking like I was totally conforming to societal ways, that I’m not afraid to be who I am and what I am and for everyone to know it. I don’t go out there and preach it, I just am, and you know I am. And who’s making it the issue? The media do because it’s an interesting aspect and people are curious about it.
And also it had a reflection, some possibly in a negative way, for the people of Carterton because now they’ve got this civic leader who’s becoming very virtually a household name because of my notoriety, my interesting backstory, and the fact that I am this transsexual, and now this is going to reflect on the town, too, and on the District. So, there was that to take into account. So again my conduct, I guess, at the time was to try and make a happy balance between... to be everything to everybody that they wanted me to be, you know, in some ways, but not lose it either.
Gareth: Did you feel that you had to kind of be more respectable?
Georgina: I already was respectable.
Gareth: But more respectable than the colleagues?
Georgina: Well, okay, if I was going to... because now you’ve got a public platform so the media are asking about all sorts of other things like government related, my District related and all of that kind of thing, my response to things. I mean, just looking at me as a civic leader to begin with was, you know, how is she going to do this? Some kind of attitude that people like me just haven’t got the kahoonas to be able to do a job like that. Huh? So, what, are you telling me I’m so sub-intelligent because I happen to be what I am that I can’t do this? Well, of course I can. And of course we.... Those kinds of invisible barriers that we sometimes face because people just make some kind of erroneous assumption about us and how I’m educated or uneducated or intelligent or able or sensible or whatever, to be able to deal with a position of, yes, ceremonial responsibility but hey, she did some hard graft work and there’s a whole lot of diplomacy, there’s a whole lot of politic, there’s a whole lot of stuff that, certainly, you’ve got to creation learn as well as being the public face and the media go-to person.
So a whole lot of skills had to come together, which is why I said before that having had some experience in theatre and a little bit of dabbling in television and a little bit of entertainment, my street smarts from my street-time years, suddenly elements of all of that came into play in being able to use, of navigating my way through, in the early days anyhow, of my Mayoralty. And just learning how to deal with that let alone run of the mill stuff that the Council does and how to manage people and deal with the high brows and the low brows and still not lose your sense of self and who I am and what I am with the demands that others had on me and my time and my image and everything that I represented, if that’s the way people wanted it. A huge demand came on because suddenly, you know, you’re on a bit of a platform and a pedestal – you’re a voicebox, and mm, so...
Gareth: So then how did you feel about – I mean,I’ve seen a number of newspaper articles from the time where the first sentence kind of was always: Prostitute, drug user, da-da-da-da-la, so your past is always following you before they actually get to the story of what the story is. How did you feel about that, the past was always....
Georgina: Well, you know, at the time you just sort of dealt with it and you just took it that that’s how it was always going to be. Now, you know, there’s enough of that record around for people to reflect back on it now and sort of go, hey, useless Oz journalists. How shallow is that media at the time that they always had to start like that? It was just essentially a sensational headline grabbing thing to get the reader’s attention, I suppose.
And on occasions you would get feedback from the reader that would sort of say, why do you have to keep on referring to Georgina Beyer as a transsexual? We don’t refer to the Prime Minister as a heterosexual, which could have a double entendre to it, of course, (laughs) and which was bold during the time. And so people could see, New Zealanders could look through that kind of stuff. But I think that’s more of a reflection of the journalistic devices that they used of the day than it was about me. And that they had to keep throwing that up there, I mean, at the end of the day everyone knows this, so why do you have to keep repeating it. So, it’s for very spurious reasons, really, that they want to raise that again.
I can remember when I was in Parliament at one time when people wrote me off at the 2002 election. We might come to that later. But they wrote me off, and then I changed my mind and I was going to leave after my first term, and then I changed my mind and I went back. And of course, I remember the people in the press gallery telling me, you just committed political suicide; you don’t do that – say you’re going to leave and announce it and everything like that, and then change your mind that you’re going to stay. And they said, oh, you just committed political suicide.
The 2002 election happens; my majority doubled. (laughs) Now, do you think they would want to scrutinize how that happened or why that happened? Do you think they’d want to give me credit for actually having some ability, and not only that, for actually being straight-up? You know, and because they were trying to look for some what the hell happened here, you know, some incredible thing that occurred. But it was very simple, really, at the end of the day. I’d changed my mind and I’d told them so, that I would change my mind, and okay, if they thought that I was too silly to put back there then I wouldn’t be put back there. But they definitely put me back there. I’m talking about the electors, you know.
So, media, explain to me your whole attitude that I just committed political suicide and that I’m naïve and stupid and that I always was going to be a one-term wonder. You know, ask me since how I first elected to a public office in 1993 how come I lasted until 2007. (laughs) You know, did that happen because people were just, oh, yeah. I was more than a one-term wonder. I never lost an election except for the first one I ever ran in, and that was in 1992 and I missed out by 14 votes, which turned out to be an advantage in strange sort of way in the end. I mean, but that never got looked at. You’re right – prostitute, transsexual, drag queen, blah, blah, blah, all of that thing sort of has to get up there.
Gareth: What prompted you to then stand as a member of Parliament?
Georgina: Oh. (laughs) Well, I was very happy in my role in local government. I succeeded in getting a second term as Mayor in 1998 with a 90% majority. I represented Zone 4 on Local Government New Zealand, which is the Wellington metropolitan region of Local Government New Zealand. I was very happy and content in my role as a Mayor.
I was approached by the New Zealand Labor Party in the form of Sonja Davies, who lived in Masterton, and she came to see me under the pretense of talking about the Masterton Hospital at the time, which was under threat of closure and services being diminished and so on and so forth. But at the end of the day after that meeting she had me signed up as a member of the Labor Party – (laughs) you know, I’ve got to get her out of my office – at the time. And then she came back and suggested would I consider running as a candidate for Labor in Wairarapa. I said no. I turned Labor down three times in quite quick succession.
I even went to a meeting in 1998... no, in 1999 with Helen Clark a day before the Hero Parade in Auckland. And she was leader of the opposition at the time and I had the meeting with her and she was quite keen, but she made one statement to me which made me go, no, again, because she’d said during the course of the dinner that we’d had, she said, “Oh, now we’re looking for star performers.” And I thought, oh, yeah, you just want someone who has a bit of a name in some far-flung rural seat and all of that sort of thing. It’s not really me and my fabulous abilities that you want, it’s just my notoriety; pull a few votes, you hope, in the MP election, et cetera, and this great emphasis put on you just go for the Party vote, the Party vote – don’t worry about your personal vote, just throw the Party vote, Party vote. And I think that was the.... Anyhow, I said no.
But Sonja kept being dispatched to persuade me to confirm running as a candidate, so I did accept to be put up for selection as a candidate for the Wairarapa seat for the Labor Party.
I didn’t realize that there were two others, and on the night of the selection meeting... oh, I knew that there were two others, but on the night of the selection meeting I turned up at the Frank Cody Lounge in Masterton and expected to have a bit of a, you know, do a debate because this is a selection meeting and there’s two other people there. And I got there and the two other people made a public announcement and withdrew their candidacy for selection.
And so it was me, and I just had it fait accompli because I’m the last one standing. And yes, then I’m announced as the Labor candidate for the Wairarapa seat at the 1999 general election. Well, that hit the headlines, of course, and so now it was on. I was... you know, that was it. I had never belonged to a political party before. I had no idea of the culture of the New Zealand Labor Party or anything like that. They put scant resources into our election over there because I think they had a view that it was probably unlikely that I would win, but they were wanting to get Party vote and there’d be a little bit of media buzz around anyhow.
The National Party decided to put up a candidate against me, obviously, because it’s a National Party stronghold, the Wairarapa, and that candidate that they selected, at the end of the day was a well-known broadcaster called Paul Henry, and he was the National Candidate for them. And of course all of the other Parties had their candidates up, but it was really a two-horse race between myself and Paul Henry, who blew it, forth and frankly. Thank you, Paul. It was well done. A fantastic performance. (laughs) And he’ll never want to enter politics ever again, certainly not for the National Party.
And I won the election, and that was remarkable. I certainly didn’t expect to win the constituency, but let’s be fair here, there was a swing away from the then National incumbent... from the incumbent National government, and they were going to lose that election anyhow, and a huge swing towards Labor.
I had the largest swing in any electorate in the country at that year, a 32% swing to Labor, and I took out the seat with a 3,000 majority, a seat that had been held by the right honorable Wyatt Creech, who was then the Deputy Prime Minister, but who had chosen to stand down from the seat and do his final term in Parliament as a list MP, and that left the field open as he moved on into that position.
And yeah, I think I’m only the third Labor Party person to have ever held the seat at Wairarapa, but in fact I am the first Labor MP to win the Wairarapa in the current electoral configuration of the seat now. In previous days the Wairarapa electorate had been essentially from Masterton down to the south coast of the North Island, and then the electorate above that was Pahiatua, the shrine to Keith Holyoake, which of course took in Pahiatua, Woodville, Dannevirke, that sort of lower, central Hawkes Bay area. But that got subsumed. John Falloon was the last MP to hold that Pahiatua seat, and that was subsumed by the newly redrawn boundaries of the Wairarapa, which Wyatt had in his time from 1996 after the MMP changes had come about, and then I won it in ‘99 for Labor.
Gareth: Knowing what you knew about how the media reacted to you in the mid ‘90s did you ever turn it around and actually use differences as a way of promoting yourself?
Georgina: Promoting myself? I never thought I had to... you know, contrary to what a lot of people might think I have never been in the business of necessarily particularly wanting to promote myself except for at election time and stuff like that.
Gareth: Yeah, that’s what I meant. Yes.
Georgina: You know, those sort of PR things. To use my....
No. I think people would like to think that: oh yes, she’s exploited her uniqueness, or whatever, like that. I just am what I am. If you want to make me unique in that regard that’s you doing that. At the end of the day that’s so superficial. You don’t exist in the political arena, you know, for that time, without some actual ability and being able to do the job and actually on the ground.
Let me put it to you this way: Conservative rural New Zealand, perhaps others, but in this instance conservative rural New Zealanders will spot a fake at 50 paces, so you can’t bullshit them. What more can I say? At the end of the day, that’s what it’s got to be.
Oh, that I came with the added attraction of big press coverage, not just newspapers but television, all the bloody interviewers of the day on TV, you sort of have your time with me or I with them. They would press the issues of: but you’re a transsexual, you’ve had a sex change. Have you done this? I mean I did 60 Minutes of being asked the most ridiculous, personal, intimate questions that if I asked you, you might be offended at. You know: so after you had your sex change what was the first time you had sex like? This was Genevieve Westcott’s 60 Minutes asking me a question like that, all sorts of enquiry and inquisitiveness that no other person in public office really has to tolerate, but I do. Why? What is this strange curiosity you have with what might happen in my bedroom or in my character. You’re testing my character when I’ve proved again and again by just my work and what I do, and my conduct, that I’m just like any other person who’s a Mayor or who’s an MP or whatever, I carry out my duties. Mm! You know, I don’t know, what else can I say? What else can I do? Some people like to characterize it as a way of character assassination, that I’m just exploiting my difference. Wrong!
And if it has appeared that I’ve been able to use that sometimes as a platform to get out a particular message or.... You don’t get invited to UN Conferences on Human Rights because I was an in-the-closet transsexual. No, because I have been able to be out, who I am, be able to have the happy balance of being out and proud about that and talking about it, that I’m lucky enough to live at a time in a country and a democracy where tolerance, at the end of the day, more often than not has prevailed eventually.
And yes, there’s still some rough edges around it, but occasionally there are more of us from those significant minorities who have become figureheads, symbols, examples, role models, people to look up to, and that sort of thing, and by God we need them. They’re in every other aspect of life, why the hell shouldn’t we have people like that, to go, well I just happen to be in the happy happenstance that for a period of time, at a moment of time someone like me happened, and that’s provided a platform, especially in the transgender community, to become emboldened and confident that they can participate more fully in society than otherwise we had been able to.
And that has spilled out around the world. It’s not as if I would have been the first out transsexual to have attempted public office, I was just lucky enough to be the first one to achieve it. Many others who’ve done it before me failed, but those are the ones who are the pioneers. Those are the ones who’ve pushed the boundary to the point where I happened to be lucky enough, you know, at that moment in time for it to happen. And to be able to be a positive force as an event that happened, a click forward in our political progress and our social progress, I’m just one of many, and a few of us are celebrated for it. You know, it’s like Christine Jorgensen, the first, you know....
If anybody thinks we want to live these public lives like that, they’re quite mistaken. It’s a bit different for someone who’s relying on their queenliness or whatever to be their bread and butter as an entertainer, you know, where they might... that’s the gimmick kind of thing. This is no gimmick for me. It never has been.
Gareth: So was there ever a time where you just actually wanted to say, just get over it?
Georgina: Oh, all the time, but you know, but get over it Georgina, it just is, so live with it, and don’t be arrogant enough to think you’re the only one that has to sort of....
I got called up by the Polish media last year because the third out transsexual in the world has been elected to a Parliament in Poland. And she had cited in her media engagements during her campaign and stuff like that, that I had been – me and New Zealand – had been an inspiration for her to be able to find the courage and that to press forward with her political ambitions in something like Poland. Well that’s pretty good, you know? And there she is now, and she is the only one in the world at the moment who happens to be in Parliament. Okay, you know, it’s a distinction. I hope she’s doing a good job.
I met the second out transsexual in the world who got elected, a lady by the name of Vladimir Luxuria, who was elected into the Prodi government in Italy a couple of years ago. That it only lasted about nine months is neither here nor there. And she was on the Communist Party to Italy. But her and I met at a gay human rights conference in the Mexican Parliament that I went to a few years later. I said that was quite an historic meeting for me and her, meeting for the first time, you know, the both of us, that kind of thing.
But there are many other transgender people all around the world who have managed to get into public office, maybe not up at that level, but on education boards I think Hawaii elected a transsexual. It’s happening all over. I could sort of be held responsible for helping a bit of that to burst through and just by the sheer fact that New Zealand – you know, let’s give New Zealand credit here rather than me – and the vehicle of me, who, let’s not forget I’m not the only one in this country that’s served in local government. Jacquie Grant, who served down on the Grey District Council for a couple of years, a couple of terms, you know, she’s been successful too in that arena. I just happened to be... I just got in before her (laughs), and so sort of took that one.
So, my political achievements and elections and stuff have been one thing. The fact that we’ve been able to... that I and the wider queer community here and around the world have on occasion been able to use it is a good example of why we should be a more accepting and open and inclusive country.
And that’s the aspiration of many overseas, too. I’ve done a lot of speaking overseas at gay international forums, whether it be United Nations doing HIV AIDS work, I’ve been to conferences in Kobe and Copenhagen and all over the place, particularly in Montreal, and yeah, all over the place where I’ve been asked to go and give a keynote address. And I’ve never failed to talk a bit about our, you know, the New Zealand example so far, and where I fitted in to that – not the only one. So in that sense, yes, I do use the platform that’s... well, if you’re going to build this up around me then I might as well now that I’m out of politics proper and all of that sort of thing, if anyone wants to use that excuse.
Gareth: How do you feel about people claiming parts of you? So like say a community, a specific community saying, oh, you’re our....
Georgina: Look, strangely enough I think there is, even in our LGBTI community there’s elements of cynicism and contempt towards me, and many who would despise me, and even among the queen scene there’s sort of the bitchy: well who the hell does she thing she is? kind of attitude. And people always want to.... Tall poppy syndrome, I suppose is what emerges from time to time
Sorry, what was the question again?
Gareth: Oh, just when people kind of claim ownership of [crosstalk].
Georgina: Oh yes. Yeah, yeah. Well I’ve got to choose whether or not I’m going to buy into it or to allow that to happen. I don’t mind really if it.... You know, what’s happened has happened. It’s a good news story, I think by and large. Some of my life experience will reflect with others who have had similar, and it provides a... yeah, and if it’s to be used for good or to broaden minds, or whatever like that, then I will.
I mean, I’ve had my battles with conventional society in the past, certainly in politics, certainly over civil unions and prostitution reform and legislation like that where I was sort of just about: oh well yeah, of course you would support something like that! You know, that sort of natural assumption that I would, but it came with caveats, I must admit, when I did it.
And also if that isn’t an example to the gay community who do have cynicism about my time and my era and my abilities and all of that sort of thing, well excuse me – who was it who made the conscious decision that on serious votes like prostitution reform, like civil unions, like de facto property relationship stuff, that I went against what my electorate wanted me to do and what those who voted me and whose duty I owed in that sense to, to stand up for the moral principle of what I thought was right. Truly used my conscience without thinking of the... well, yes, I did think, but knowing, understanding that there was a political risk to it, but regardless of that I had to do what I felt was right in my heart even though it might have been against my Party when it came to Foreshore and Seabed or whether it be those other two pieces of legislation.
Gareth: Did you find being in the spotlight that suddenly a whole lot of people would just contact you and say: this is my story. Did you find that suddenly you were...[interrupted]
Georgina: Oh, a lot of people did and I used to find that my electorate sometimes, somebody in my electorate office and my electorate staff would occasionally get people in and they had children or relatives or people that they wanted to talk to me about because they thought that they might be gay or they might be transgender or whatever. And they didn’t know anybody else who they felt that they could go and talk to about it, so they’d access their way to me because my life and my story and who I am was out there, they sort of... it was almost like they knew me. There’d been the documentaries on television, there’s been this, so there’s not a lot that people don’t know about me and they either, you know, went with the highs and lows of all of that sort of stuff and they sort of felt a connection to me and felt confident enough to come and talk to me about what they found to be a shameful issue for them or something to deal with they didn’t know. So that was sort of interesting that people would see me in that sort of counseling kind of way. I would always refer people to more appropriate professionals who might deal with it.
But sometimes just on a face to face, one on one, I remember grandparents bringing a couple of their grandsons to me who were very gay and very campy, and they were convinced they wanted to be trannies and were threatening to leave home. And the grandparents were looking after them and all of that sort of thing at the time. And they wanted to go to Auckland and get into the K Road scene and all of that. And the grandparents had the foresight, really, to actually bring them to me, just asked me to talk with them for an hour and then to sort of feed back to the grandparents what I thought, and I did.
In a couple of years after that I heard from the grandparents again, but also from one of the boys, and they thanked me for my advice at the time that saved them from potentially an unnecessary deviation in their life. They were convinced they were going to go and be, you know, queens on K Road, but in fact they realized really they were just gay guys, (laughs) and they were really glad they came before they went. And they were 16, 17 years old, and so that was just the prime – same time as I was – to just sort of, you know, gravitate there.
And in fact perhaps that isn’t quite what they really were, they were just having a moment, so to speak, and a kind of gay puberty (laughs) and adolescence until they settled on what they were. And very much happier for them, I might have saved them a few years of chucking themselves in a frock and selling their wares on K Road and all of that kind of thing, and the drug culture. So, that was sort of won.
I had a mother with a 10, 11-year-old son who had naturally gravitated towards being transgender, was now starting to go to school dressed up as a girl while all the schoolmates had seen him as a boy, and all of that sort of stuff. And the mother was quite happy to help and support this transition that was happening in her young 10-year-old son, but that came with not only an ostracism for him at school but an ostracism for her as a mother, and the neighborhood and the neighbors and stuff like that. And they came to... actually I was still Mayor of Carterton. I was there at Carterton when they came to see me about that.
So yeah, I provided.... You know, a lot of people would write emails and letters and things.
Gareth: Can you describe for me what it was like giving your maiden speech in Parliament.
Georgina: (laughs) Well, I angsted over what one writes in a maiden speech, I guess as all MPs do when they’re making their maiden speech. There were certain conventions about what you include in your maiden speech – acknowledgement of the Queen and so on and so forth, and Parliament and few sorts of obligatories that are meant to go in there, and then you go onto it. I tried... I would get halfway down the page of writing something and think, well what is this rubbish I’m writing? And I normally speak off the cuff and from the heart and if I need information or a few bullet points that’s something I might do.
Jonathan Hunt, who became the speaker of that Parliament wanted us all to submit our maiden speeches to him to review before we made them in Parliament to make sure that they ticked all the boxes and stuff like that, and I never submitted one. And the day of my maiden speech comes up, and not only that, the media wanted an advance copy too of my maiden speech so they’re all prepared for as soon as I’d said it in the House they could publish it.
And when they rang me up and asked me for it in advance I turned around and sort of said, well you’ll have to wait until Hansard’s written it.
And of course they said, but Hansard can’t write it until you’ve delivered it.
And I went, that’s right. So I said you can wait with everybody else, because I don’t know what I’m going to say yet.
So Jonathan was very nervous about when it came time for me to do my maiden speech because he didn’t know what I was going to say in advance. And it wasn’t actually an outrageous speech or anything like that. And I mentioned all the things that were meant to mention and added a few quips along the way, and it turned out to be a delightful maiden speech and brought the house down. It was like a mini Georgina show for the eight and a half minutes or however long I spoke for. And I came out with one or two clippy lines, which were... oh, one in particular that was picked up by the media will probably end up being my epitaph, but it brought the house down.
And it was a way of breaking the ice, I think, because you know, I was the first tranny anyhow to be standing in our Parliament and there were a lot of homophobes sitting around in there and a lot of uncertain people about me being there, and I came out with my famous, “This is the stallion that became a gelding and then a mare, and now I seem to have found myself to be a member, Mr Speaker.” And everyone could see the humor in that, but that briefly, succinctly sort of covered my entire life story in that nice, pithy little saying.
And it got widely reported and televised and all of that and sort of endeared people, at the end of the day, which was good. So, it was off the cuff. Like I said, I mentioned all the appropriate things and even managed to make a quip at Wyatt Creech while I was talking through. So, nothing incredibly remarkable except that I did feel at one point that I needed to acknowledge the fact that I was the first transsexual in New Zealand to be elected to a Parliament, and the world, and that it made it sort of quite a historic moment at that time.
Gareth: But I think as a viewer I remember seeing it on TV and it was just amazing. It was just so symbolic and I think for a lot of people.
Georgina: People often ask me if they see that footage of it why the hell I was wearing feathers in my hair. Well, so it’s on the public record: those are raukura feathers. I’m of Te Ä€ti Awa descent at Tangata whenua to Taranaki, but Wellington in particular where I was born, and so I was wearing the raukura feathers. That’s why I’m wearing feathers in my hair at that time, not because I thought I had some really tragic drag headdress on.
Gareth: Did you ever think to yourself at any time when you started in Parliament, you know, I’m actually finally here? I mean, was there ever a moment where you thought: I can’t believe that I’m actually in this?
Georgina: Every day! First thing was on election night. I was in absolute disbelief that I had won, because the results, the way they had come through, and it was a long results process that night on television. And I thought I was... Paul Henry looked like he was going to win, but I had a surge at the very end and suddenly I won. Well, I was in disbelief about that, then actually turning up in Parliament. So, you have election day on a Saturday, you’ve got Sunday to get over it, and then Monday all new MPs head to Parliament straightaway. And I’m farting around going, oh, have I got train fare? Can I get there? Because I didn’t drive. At that point I didn’t drive a vehicle. I didn’t get my driving license until the year 2000.
And yes, of course I get to Parliament in just disbelief that I was allowed to be here. You know, this is my place of work. The first week we had to share offices with the other Labor colleagues. Parliament hadn’t quite changed all the offices and everything over and put the National Party in the Opposition offices and vice versa, asked them into the government offices, but that came about.
Oh, incredible. Yeah, unbelievable. And of course a lot of media and preliminary stuff before Parliament actually sat and opened and all of that sort of thing, and preparation. And just getting, you know, getting adjusted to this new work environment has to happen relatively quickly, but there’s an awful lot to absorb about how it’s all going to work and how it happens. But yeah, unbelievable. I couldn’t believe it. I’m here, and I’m allowed to be! They’re calling me Ma’am, you know, all the security and people on reception they’re: oh, hello Ma’am.
And a lot of people very pleased. You could see it, even some of the staffers around Parliament – yay! You know, fantastic, this whole sort of about me being there. And of course other politicians and that, there were some sort of, they all knew who I was and there was no denying that I was ever going to be sort of a forgotten back-bencher.
And so from the moment I think I first went to Parliament I see publicity and profile and that are everything to a new back-bencher. You’ve got to give as much attention to yourself, and of course it just arrived with me, and that was sort of, you know, I was going to be in the spotlight from the get go. It wasn’t like I could just skulk away into the corner of the chamber and be forgotten about or not noticed or whatever. So every time the first time I was going to ever make a speech, the first time I was ever going to do this and that, and whatever: What’s she going to be like on Select Committees? You know, that will be interesting. What kind of dumb, useless questions is that thing going to be asking?
You know, just the human dynamics around the table of having someone... it was quite weird. Luckily, of course, of course, and I should not forget, to neglect to mention them, but Chris Carter and Tim Barnett were the only other out gay MPs in Parliament at the time. And of course Chris particularly, but Tim as well, had had to deal with the attitudinal culture inside Parliament by themselves from the time that they’d been in and there’d been some pretty nasty... you know, Chris had famous run ins with John Banks and people like that in the day.
So now I’ve come into Parliament, and what? Marilyn Waring all those years beforehand, of course, but that’s only come to pass... you know, she didn’t have to sort of.... Yeah, it’s amazing for those of us that... well, it’s a very few really. Oh, there’s a lot now. (laughs) I mean, Christ just about every second person in Parliament at the minute now. We just made it so common. The pinking of the Parliament as they call it.
Gareth: Did you find that there was much discrimination still when you went in?
Georgina: No. I found very little of that, and I don’t think.... And because I had a high profile if I say so myself – I’ll leave it up to others to judge as to whether I had a high profile, but I had a pretty high profile for a new back-bench MP – and it was going to be with me, and that the profile was positive, not negative. And yes of course there was a little bit of negativity out there from the naysayers and the fundamentalists and so on and so forth out there, but by and large I was affectionately regarded by many New Zealanders. So to start climbing onto me on that level, for other politicians it would have been very churlish and not something that would necessarily work in their favor. They had to argue me on policy or points or that kind of thing, on the work not the person or my past.
And of course when things like prostitution reform came up for debate I was one of the few that could stand in Parliament quite happily regaling my previous experience, and then challenging the House, to say is there anyone else in here who knows it like I do? Of course there wasn’t. You could have heard a pin drop. Of course there wasn’t. A few shameful glances down at the floor, but no. So, that sort of sent a message that this is a matter before us, I’ve got some experience in this, I’m going to put my perspective and my experience and it’s my contribution to the debate and to the House, and all of that sort of thing, and I think people just came to respect that.
I think I was lucky enough to enjoy respect from across the House. You know, I’d go and talk to people of my era all the time that I was in there, and for the most part more well thought of than not, and that’s lucky to get in and out of Parliament like that.
Gareth: What do you think your proudest moments are in Parliament?
Georgina: (pauses) Oh. Oh, I can’t pin them down to one. I guess, obviously, getting there, legitimately being there – that’s always a privilege. I know it’s an oft said cliché, but it’s a privilege to serve in your Parliament. And I got there on merit and I’m proud of that.
I’m proud of most of the legislation that I supported, not all of it. I’ve been around for one or two pieces that... oh, it’s like a broken record, but Civil Union and Prostitution Reform were fairly major social pieces of legislation in that decade and I was a vocal supporter of both of them. I wasn’t the promulgator of them, not at all. Actually Tim Barnett was the promulgator of both of those, and I think, and I stand to be corrected, but Civil Union started out as a Members’ Bill and became a Government Bill at the end of the day but yeah, I supported it.
And Prostitution Reform, well again that was definitely a Members’ Bill. That was Tim’s Members’ Bill, and I supported him, amongst others. God, I wasn’t the only one, I just happened to be one of the more reported ones.
So I’m proud of those debates. I’m proud of the day.... Oh God, there’s lots of things you could say you’d be proud of, I suppose: representing my electorate; getting their hospital; doing all of the things for my electorate that I wanted to do and that they wanted me to advocate for and delivered on. All of that’s to be proud of. Being able to counteract the event known as the Destiny Church and Brian Tamaki and the Enough is Enough march that was anti civil-union bill and pro family-values. And I had some celebrated clashes, public clashes with Brian Tamaki, and won in the end, didn’t I? His Party got kicked to nowhere, didn’t it?
Gareth: There was that.... [interrupted]
Georgina: My advocacy for significant minorities, I’m proud of those, some of those things that I’ve been able to contribute to when asked and required. Yeah, I’m proud of those, and that’s about being able to use the position to assist, which is what it’s... we are representatives at the end of the day.
Gareth: There was that moment with Civil Unions where Brian Tamaki and the church marched to Parliament and that day I remember hearing you speak then, and strong, strong stuff it was to be able to stand up like that in front of such a hateful audience.
Georgina: Well, to.... Thank you for that. Yes.
I stood on the steps of Parliament that day holding a rainbow flag for about two hours. They were marching down from Civic Square in Wellington, through Buller Street and Lambton Quay down to Parliament. So I had no idea what the march looked like. But in the morning, early in the morning, about 6 AM or sometime like that... now, I had an apartment at Parliament on the 20th floor of Bowen House and I was looking out the window and I could see the stage setup being put up on the forecourt of Parliament and I thought, gee, that’s a bit more than we usually have for protests.
We knew that this protest was going to be happening that day, but we didn’t realize, and I certainly didn’t realize, the imagery they were going to present to the nation when they did that march. Six hundred men and boys dressed in black punching the air with their fists, walking down the street saying enough is enough. And it looked something like out of a Nuremberg rally.
And I had stood on the steps of Parliament holding this rainbow flag, waiting for them to arrive on the forecourt. Eight thousand turned up in the end, and they all.... And a small group, about 150 of pro civil-union supporters dressed in their orange and white sort of uniform, for want of a better term, that was the colors of the campaign for civil unions at that time. And they were gathered around the Seddon Statue at Parliament. And as the Destiny Church Enough is Enough march arrived at Parliament grounds, from my vantage point on the landing on the steps of Parliament they looked like a black cancer spreading across the front lawn of Parliament and engulfing the orange and white clothed civil union protestors. And it looked like they were isolated and they were being.....
And the stage setup had been set up for Brian Tamaki to do his evangelizing from at the protest. And he arrived accompanied by about 40 other pastors from around the country, and a bevy of henchmen, and they marched him up to the stage like in Roman formation, and that sort of thing, and started off this rally.
And I’m standing on the steps. Sue Kedgley joined me, Sue Bradford joined me, a few others, you know, MPs who happened to be there came out and joined me, and Ramon Maniapoto came and stood with me and to sort of chaperone me and look after me up there while they’re protesting. It’s fine.
And there’s famous television footage of Brian addressing that rally, and I happened to remark while I’m standing on the steps at one point where he would have a blurb and then he got 8,000 people responding with, “Enough is enough!” punching the air. And I just said aloud, realizing the press gallery, and most of them had come out onto the steps of Parliament, and I said, “Oh my God, I feel like I’m standing in a Nuremberg rally!” You know, and I’m looking shocked and horrified because it did... you could sort of feel this hatred coming forth from these people, in that sense. And other journos, they said sort of: yeah, God, you know, that’s pretty amazing.
And after they had finished having their rally I said to Ramon, “I’ve got to go down,” because I could see the pro civil-union people standing around the statue, and they were distressed. They were being pushed and jostled and verbally abused and all of that, and I just headed down to them, got through the barriers that the security had put up and stuff like that to go down and to talk to them and to just sort of be with them in a solidarity kind of thing. I got pushed and jostled and ridiculed and abused and everything as I got there, and Ramon got very scared for me and dragged me back up onto the forecourt behind the protection of the barriers and stuff like that.
Now, Destiny had set up a sound system the Rolling Stones would have been proud of – big loud megaphone, you know, full-on amplified system – and they were still talking on the microphones. I think the Christian Heritage Party person was yabbering away. And I just got this angry... this sort of anger welled up in me and I marched along the front of the forecourt talking back at them, and of course I was yelling at them because they had this big loud loud-system, you know, and it’s not as if they were listening to me, and they were all taunting me and pointing at me and stuff like that. And I just stopped, and I can’t remember exactly what I said, but the press pack went in after me and followed me because they were behind the safety barriers too and just sort of came in around me and captured this interaction I had with the people.
It played on the television news that night and I looked like some screaming banshee, because I was. Remember, I’m trying to battle and be heard over a loud hailer system and I haven’t got anything like that to amplify, and so it looks like I’m a screaming banshee. And I’m saying: why do you hate us so much? and so on and so forth and that kind of thing. And that ended up on television and it didn’t look that good, actually. Some... obviously there were.... For the gay community and for those of our friends who supported our things like that, they were going, yeah! yeah! You know, saying how people felt – you know, why this and and all of that.
But luckily, the following day Paul Holmes, on The Holmes Show on television, got me and Brian Tamaki doing a head to head in the studio – so a much more controlled and serious environment in which to debate the issue and stuff like that. And yes, one of my proud moments: I demolished him with my arguments – Brian Tamaki – and with the assistance of Paul, I have to say, because he was being fair minded and balanced in his question and quizzatorial approach.
But then toward the end of it he suddenly started to chuck a few other things at Brian, because you could tell Paul was sort of really on the side of us, you know, and my argument, and Tamaki was not acquitting himself well. And so when he started asking about the tithing and the fabulous Rolex watches and your mansion house and your Queen Mary II’s and all of this sort of thing, Brian gets very defensive during that.
And so, but on the serious side, I was able to brush off some of the critics that were coming out and saying: Ah, she’s just a drama queen using overly emotive language. And what do you mean? Why do they have to raise Hitler and the Second World War? You know, all of this kind of thing being thrown out, but because they happen to be in denial about these things is not my problem. (laughs)
And luckily on the few television battles and radio battles that I had at that time just over that particular march and the whole Destiny, and the Civil Union thing, like that, you know, right won out at the end of the day and I was just a part of it. There must have been others, too, at the time, but I just sort of tended to get a bit more attention.
Really, the grunt behind it all was Tim Barnett, at the end of the day, as far as shepherding through these pieces of legislation and keeping the movement that’s helping that to happen cohesive and happening and serious and professional and all of that. And I was a mouthpiece, I guess, at the appropriate times to get in there and fight it.
Gareth: What do you think the hardest parts of being an MP were?
Georgina: Mmm. Oh, the long hours. The dealing with the myriad, the wide – I mean, that’s not a boring day. (laughs) There’s always something happening. I think keeping up with the pace required was quite difficult.
I didn’t enjoy always the discipline of collective responsibility in a government caucus, having to support things I didn’t really want to but I’d been Party whipped into doing things. Foreshore and Seabed is an example of that where I was disobedient but in the end of the day I had to capitulate and vote in favor, and I really didn’t want to. And then frustrated them and Helen, I suppose, by still speaking out about how I felt and that I felt terrible about having to vote in favor of it, when really once the caucus has decided you’ll do it, you’ll put on a happy face like, yeah, we’re happy about doing this – not. You know, and I would just sort of have to deal with it, but I then, I guess, showed some disobedience.
And I think... I think... I might be wrong, but I think that was the beginning of the end of my ever progressing any further in Parliamentary politics. At the 2005 election I definitely wanted to leave then but was persuaded to stay on for my final term, and I went back as a list MP. I wanted, because of the way that I’d quoted myself during the Civil Unions Debate and all of that, and I had a Members’ Bill on the ballot at the time, and after the ’05 election I was touting for a promotion of some sort, I wouldn’t have minded a minor Ministerial role, to start sort of moving into that level. I figured that I’d sort of paid my dues, I’d done my time, I’d won an election a couple of times and all of that sort of thing, and I think I had the ability to take on a more responsible role.
But it wasn’t forthcoming so I sort of lost my mojo, really, about wanting to stay there. You know, what for? What am I here for then if I can’t professionally develop in this regard? I’ve achieved everything I said I was going to achieve for my electorate. I had stood down from the seat and gone back as a list Member. I couldn’t get my Members’ Bill through, the Gender Identity Bill through, because we had a much more conservative Parliament. And I can still remember the caucus where... of the new caucus, and after the ’05 elections screaming at me to get rid of the Bill because many of them had lost their seats over all of this, all of this controversial legislation and stuff like that, and they were a bit tired of it all and so I didn’t have their support. That was disappointing. I had to go for plan B on that matter, and now I see that it’s been somewhat addressed in the current Marriage Equality Bill before the House, the Gender Identity matter.
So I decided to leave, and way before I needed to. I left in 2007. I could have stayed until the 2008 election but I thought, well, what would I be sitting around for? You know, I’d tied off the ends of things that I’d wanted to achieve, and that was that, and instead of sitting on my backside in there just raking in the money doing damn all I decided to leave then. And that was fine.
Gareth: Was it what you expected it to be?
Georgina: Parliament? I don’t know what I expected it to be. (laughs) It was a place that made laws. It was a place that could wield an influence over your community and things like that.
No. No, Parliament hasn’t disappointed me at all. The institution of Parliament I hugely respect and admire and think for all its flaws we have a pretty damn good democracy in the world scheme of things. And it truly can provide anyone with the opportunity to participate in our democracy if they want to, and that’s becoming more and more apparent, I think particularly under this MMP environment – the proportional representation environment – that’s offered that louder and more diverse voice to be heard in Parliament. That doesn’t always bode well for those that prefer the old way, but I like the idea that we’ve got a lot of color in that Parliament. We don’t want it to be monochrome.
Gareth: So you left in 2007, and between 2007 and now in 2012, there have been a number of articles with headlines like “Broke and Living Off the Unemployment Benefit”, not being able to get work. How has it been after leaving Parliament?
Georgina: More difficult than actually getting there. Yes. No, no, it has been not good, and I can’t quite analyze why that is other than the odd bits of work that come along now. That’s not been good. That’s exactly how it’s been like. I can’t answer as to why. It’s not as if I haven’t got ability, although I don’t have any formal qualifications. No, it’s very difficult.
Gareth: And I’m guessing it must be quite difficult actually having those kind of stories written in newsprint as well.
Georgina: Oh, well only from the perspective that it’s not good when the potential employer Googles your name and there it is. It’s hardly an endorsement, is it, for people? But on the other hand, if I’ve had media enquiries about what am I doing, I mean, I could bullshit but to what end? So, it just is what it is, and you tell it like it is and they report the truth. That’s the truth. (laughs) That’s how it is, otherwise they’d be writing about how I was hiding the fact that I’m... (laughs), you know, and all of that sort of thing.
I don’t know. It’s hard to explain why. I mean, there are certain jobs I don’t want to do regardless of being, you know... and Paul Bennett takes a swipe at me from time to time over that, even in the House now, because I once said in some newspaper article that yes, of course I’m out there job hunting but I don’t necessarily want to be a crew member at McDonald’s, thank you very much. (mimics) Oh, but there’s dignity in flipping burgers at McDonald’s. Well yeah, I’m sure there is, but not for me.
I mean, that’s the other.... You know, I’ve become used to it now, but can you imagine the first day, post-Parliament career, that I had to walk into the Masterton Work and Income office, where the last time I had attended there had been with the Minister of Social Development of the day, or the Prime Minister even, to visit the place to register unemployed and ask for the dole? Humiliation to the max. And that I had sold all my property, my house and stuff that I had bought and all the things that I’d had in order that I didn’t have to go on the dole, and lived off all of that sort of stuff thinking a job will come, a job will come. It didn’t.
People who you had known collegially, worked with in the past, might have helped, whatever, in the course of your job, now sort of almost cross the street if they see you coming. The doors close. People don’t want to know you now because you’re not a person of influence anymore, of any particular standing, other than that you’re a has-been now.
And certainly some of the old prejudices, I think, and some of the old spitefulness and whatever can come back because now I’m not in quite as strong a position as I might have been when I was in Parliament or I was the Mayor or I was this person. That’s interesting to watch that dynamic happen.
There’ll be those within the scene who are quite happy to have seen one toppled off one’s pedestal and cut down to size – it’s that tall poppy thing again – and who’ll be quite glad about it.
And then me, who’s sort of bamboozled about: I’ve got a lot to offer, and it’s not as if I haven’t been out there touting for getting some sort of work. But then when you get confronted with, oh, well you’ve got to have a qualification in this, and I’m not very good on computers and stuff like that. You know, I managed to get through an entire 14, 15-year history of politics without having had a God dang computer, and now suddenly it’s important? You know, yes, it helps if you can use it to a certain degree. You know, and all of those sorts of things, it’s crazy.
Oh, bits and pieces of entertainment stuff comes along but, you know, I’m getting on a bit now, getting a bit past all of that.
And no one has come rushing out of the woodwork whether it be NGOs, gay advocacy groups, human rights organizations, boards that I could serve on, and all of that sort of thing – none of that’s come up and sort of offered itself or made itself available or anything like that, and yet I’ve got a world of experience. You know, I’ve done stuff. I know how to deal with all of that sort of.... But no. No, no.
When you get journos and people like that who tell you to go and reinvent yourself and all of those sorts of things, well, you know: Who the hell are you? What do you mean? I was happy with the old invention, thank you very much. (laughs) What do I have to go and get a new one for?
Gareth: There have been a number of instances where there have been either documentary films made about you, there’s been a biopic, but there’s also been your autobiography. Why was it important for you to have your story out there and to kind of keep telling your story?
Georgina: The book came about, and the book’s called “A Change for the Better”, written by Cathy Casey and myself, and it came about... I was approached by Random House to consider writing a book about my life as I was coming up to the 1998 Mayoral Local Body elections and so I agreed to do one. I was sort of reluctant because I’d never written a book before, but this colleague of mine, Cathy Casey, who is now an Auckland City Councillor but at that time she was a South Wairarapa District Councillor, so we were Council colleagues, and she did part-time journalism as well as being a teacher. And when Random House asked me if I would consider having a book written about my life, I said, “But I’m no author. I can’t write. I don’t want to do it.” And they said that they would provide me with a writer unless I knew of someone myself. And I said Cathy, and yes, that’s how it came about.
And essentially all that happened was Cathy turned up with a tape recorder and I just sat down and we just talked and she transcribed what I said. And virtually verbatim the book is that conversation. It didn’t have any editing done to it when we submitted the draft to Random House, except for punctuation, spelling and stuff like that. It was fine and so it got printed the way it was done. And that’s how that got done.
And it got published of course when it was realized that I was going to run. Oh, and the book ends as I’m about to head into the 1998 Mayoral election, so I had no idea what the result would be by the time the book was, you know, finishes, comes to an end. But of course what happened was I did get reelected and my majority was huge, and then Parliament subsequently happened in ‘99. And the book was published and went out on the shelves in ’99, heading into it. So, obviously the publishing company sort of timed that to go along with the consequential publicity around my election campaign.
When it got published I can remember, I won’t name her, but one reasonably senior Labor MP, who was to become a Minister, later I can remember her saying to me one day, “What the hell are you doing publishing a book now? It’ll be terrible. Oh, God, the hassles you’ll get from it,” because it was a tell-all story, and all of this kind of thing, and it’s going to be a terrible blot on my copy pad. At the time, of course, it was absolutely contrary; the absolute opposite happened. And so that was how the book came about, and like I say it ends just prior to the 1998 election, and there’s now another book to be told because of what happened after that, there’s a book in itself. That’s how the book came about.
The documentary that I think aired in about 2002 was made.... It’s called “Georgie Girl” and it’s a 70 minute documentary made by Annie Goldson of Occasional Film Productions, and she approached me just out of the blue. I had never met her in my life. I didn’t know who she was. And now I was in Parliament and I think she came to me in about 2001 or something and said.... No, she came to me in 2000, actually not long after I got elected, and asked and I said no. I said I was too busy adjusting to my new work life and I didn’t need to have a fly on the wall documentary crew running around with me, and so delayed it until I was ready.
And then because I didn’t know her, not that I didn’t like her or anything but I just didn’t know her and I felt a lot more comfortable when we were able to bring Peter Wells on board. And so he sort of co-directed with her on it, and that’s how “Georgie Girl” got made. And it did very well for her. She’s won four or five or so International Best Documentary Awards for “Georgie Girl”. And that was virtually a tell all. Well it was a fairly open tell-all story about me.
And the advantages of those kinds of... of doing that kind of thing is that when I stopped, stuff is documented and then it provides some concrete hard-copy, I suppose, for other people to utilize how they will.
So the “Change for the Better” book ended up in most libraries. I think it’s been translated into Chinese. It’s got three reprints that did quite well. It didn’t make me any money or anything. I know that’s what you don’t want it all about, but that was that. And just a little snapshot of a period of time, a piece of our social history.
And the “Georgie Girl” doco really it just now visually documents a lot of stuff.
You know, I didn’t go out pursuing those things, they just sort of came to me and I participated in them.
Gareth: Do you ever get tired of telling your story?
Georgina: Yes. (laughs) Yes, I guess. Yes and no. Of course you just become like a broken record. Sometimes you just feel like you’re just repeating stuff you’ve said a thousand times before, and why doesn’t somebody ask something different because there’s a thousand things I could tell you that is exactly what I’ve just told you now. But I think as long as people are interested then it’s sort of recumbent upon me to regurgitate it, and to bring it up again if that’s what people are interested in. I’m pretty sure now that most of the document... you know, that stuff is documented because it moves beyond just being a curious human interest story into now historical fact, some of it that’s happened, from a very narrow historical perspective, I suppose, but it’s there and primarily politics but also social politics and also, yeah, just the color of our world. I’m just a little wee part of... I’m a pixel in it.
Gareth: Earlier on you were saying that you were speaking at international conferences but I’ve been to a number of things in Wellington where you have been mentioned, and with much love, but you haven’t attended; things like the Human Rights Conference at the Outgames a couple of years ago and a recent Marriage Equality Conference. Are you speaking in New Zealand at kind of queer events?
Georgina: No. No, I don’t get asked. I didn’t get asked to either of those things that you have mentioned, not the Outgames Conference nor at the conference on marriage equality. And I don’t know why, but perhaps it’s Georgina overkill. And in a.... I’m not offended by it. I mean, I sort of think: well gosh, I thought I might have been asked to come along and just say a few words, or whatever, because that’s usually been the auspices under which I’ve gone overseas to speak at other big, huge conferences and things is because of this New Zealand experience. But I think probably in New Zealand they’re a bit over me now.
And not only that, there’s a new generation of political activism going on for the younger generation, many of whom unfortunately do not have comprehensive memory of our very recent history. And they know of events that have happened but they don’t necessarily know of people who did it, and I guess I might be falling into that category. And now that there are other, you know, it’s those of us who have gone before have laid the groundwork now for those who are the spokespeople and who are being pushed forward to be the advocates and to stand up, and the organizations to do it.
And I think people like me sometimes have got to know when to stand back and let that happen, and if they need you and if they want you and if they know you’re available and you’re there, well, you’re there for them. But otherwise you’ve got to let the baby go. You’ve got to let them do it for themselves because, yeah, and I think that’s sort of what’s happening.
So, you know, usually at those things you’ve got a whole lot of people and keynote speakers who are getting up and parroting the same thing, just using different lingo. You know, essentially on the same message, so it’s a bit repetitive in that sense to do it. But yeah, you’ve got to let them sort of.... You’d like to think that they would want to seek the advice of the likes of me or others that have been there and done that, purely from an advice point of view: How do we go about doing this? How do we mobilize? How do we strategize? How do we get together a collective, a diverse but a group to act collectively to move forward on a particular matter? At this instance, at the minute it’s marriage equality, you know, and those things.
And I think there’s a growing dispersement in the LGBTI community where they became more focused on their particular issues again, you know? The marriage equality thing is, I think, is a dawdle compared to what’s gone beforehand to lay the groundwork to provide the leverage that marriage equality becomes really not a huge... it’s not as hugely... you know, we didn’t see a Destiny Church marching to Parliament yet that I know of. Yes, there’s been a bit of comment and a bit of negativity, but it’s nowhere near the volume that it has been in the past, and it’s nowhere near as devastating because I think, by and large, a large proportion of the general population are over it, you know?
Gareth: So what are some of the things that you think are still currently affecting rainbow communities in New Zealand?
Georgina: Well, the legislative agenda is practically sewn up. Marriage equality gets through, then that’s that taken care of. It will come with the adoption issue, obviously, is another one of the majors. Then I think it’s got to come down to access to health, social and education as all the other issues that every single other New Zealander has an interest in. We always have had an interest in those things, you know, because we are citizens as well and are entitled to access to all of those sorts of things.
Some of them are going to push the boundaries a bit again, like, people will be horrified to know that there is a little bit of miniscule funding available for sexual reassignment surgery in this country – certainly not enough. There’s this dreadful situation of transgender people and the corrections system, you know, and other things like that that need to be more forcefully enforced now, to be concentrated on. But, you know, I think up on to matters like that. But I think the heavy legal framework issues have just about all been tidied up.
Gareth: What about in terms of societal change?
Georgina: Oh, it’s like I said before: Society’s attitudes take generations to change. Law is easy to change, relatively speaking. But the attitudinal change is improving vastly from what it has, even in my lifetime and certainly within the last 20 years, certainly since Homosexual Law Reform 25-years-plus ago, and social attitude has softened.
You cannot accept just to be tolerated. We must be accepted, not just tolerated. You know, you tolerate a whinging dog; you tolerate a squealing cat. You know, you just don’t... we don’t want to be tolerated anymore, the levels of tolerance. The society can take it. Excuse me, I’m a human being and I’m a citizen of this country and we’re taxpayers and generally law abiding. I expect exactly the same treatment as any other New Zealand citizen receives. I don’t want to have to grizzle over how my passport looks because I happen to be a transgender person. I don’t want to have to put up with the ignominy of in court having my butch name called out because that’s how I was once known, as when I have for legal reasons and legally forever been this way.
I was outraged privately when the family of a transgender person who’d died in a plane crash on the South Island was paid the indignity of being buried as a man. I mean, you know, and no one to defend her for that happening because of the family’s decision over how they were going to deal with it. We see those kinds of things. That’s about an attitudinal change that is deep seated and very hard to just change overnight. It takes time and it takes....
You know, I think we’ve got to cull out a generation or two (laughs) as they die off for that to become less of an issue. So you look to the younger generation, to the children of today who by and large are holding more softer views on these issues than my contemporaries or your contemporaries and those of our generation, of the baby boomer generation. I think once we get over the baby boomer generation then those are the sort of attitudes we’re starting to see, and not just about LGBTI issues but over a whole lot of other social issues will change over time.
But it does, attitude takes time to change and it will only change if the contribution that we as a significant minority in this country continue to prove that we can work and participate in our society alongside everybody else making exactly the same contributions – we work, we pay tax, we raise children, we have families, we maintain law and order, and all of those kinds of things, and there should be no discrimination, no difference between what we are entitled to as citizens as anyone else.
That it might challenge your moral issues is, again, their problem that we live with, and that is what we’re trying to change. You know, we’re trying to alter that. I (pauses)... oh, no, I won’t use the word. We’re not looking for forgiveness here, there is nothing to forgive. (laughs) Let’s get that straight to begin with.
And so if we’ve got to put that religiousy thing on it, you know, Christianity’s got a hell of a lot to answer for in the misery it’s wrought upon some people’s lives because of belief and faith, and I think it does a disservice to the true sense, in my view, of what Christian goodness is meant to be when some have skewed religious to mean certain things that exclude others or dominate others or, you know, makes us out to be the bad guys.
And you know most of the rapists in this world are not gay, and it’s erroneous and completely wrong. I mean, this whole idea that has been proffered by the sensible... oh, by Garth McVicar, that to have same-sex marriage might promulgate in the future more criminal children.
I can remember having an argument with Graham Capill, who was then the leader of the Christian Heritage Party in the mid-1990s. In 1996 actually I was Mayor of Carterton, and Parliament had passed the Births, Deaths, and Marriages Registration Act and in it included that postoperative transsexuals could seek a certificate that would have them deemed as female or in their reassigned gender. And oh, he got on the TV and was all outraged about that. (mimics voice) And the next thing you know they’ll be wanting to adopt children and have families!
And my argument to him was: What? You’re denying that I should be able... that people like me and others shouldn’t be able to raise families? It wasn’t over. That man was to be done a few years later for paedophilia, and there we are, this upstanding solid member of our community preaching at me and others like me, to the nation, trying to suck us all into that he’s the good, pious person, and it turns out.... And haven’t we found out how many of those solid, cornerstone, upstanding figures in our society have turned out to be some of the most heinous sexual abusers around, as we’ve seen in recent history. So, the hypocrisy is immense.
And again, attitudes have got to change. We’re not all like that and I’m as outraged by those kinds of crimes as anyone else. But to deny me or any of my communities, you know, the gay community or whatever, the right to have a family? Family is so different these days, a general definition, you know, blended – there are all sorts of families. And you tell me if anyone is more or less disadvantaged by having two loving parents who may be of the same sex raising children as opposed to a struggling solo parent trying to raise children. I mean, what, are you going to tell me that they’re all criminals too, or that they’re all some moral degenerates? Some may be ferals, as Michael Laws likes to call them, but not all of them are like that.
Good God, John Key managed to be raised in a low income poverty, lived in a State house and so on and so forth, and he turned out all right.
Paula Bennett – you know, there we are, shining star, solo mum, managed to cram it off the old taxpayer with the advantages she got on her benefit, and as soon as she becomes a Minister wipes it. You know, hypocrisy it’s called, double standards. Yeah, it’s incredible.
It’ll get there. It’ll change. You know, I’m glad that there is a young generation now – we may be getting into second generation now – of LGBTI people who are living in a much nicer world and kinder world, a more, yes, forgiving world in many respects than what I experienced or what those who have gone before me experienced, and that’s as it should be. I mean, what’s the whole point when you find yourself thrust into the limelight or the spotlight or whatever, when you’re in a unique position to have somehow helped that change to occur, that if they forget, the young ones these days, forget their history a bit or don’t pay quite the respect and acknowledgment of their predecessors, that’s fine, you know? Far be it for me to get bitchy about stuff like that as long as they are well adjusted and becoming the positive role models that we need to perpetuate into the future, that we can all work pretty much in whatever sphere we wish to go into, and be who we are.
You know, it was 30 years ago, and a little bit more, where men particularly just could never come out, for it might risk their livelihood, risk their freedom – they could have been arrested and chucked in jail. Yeah, that’s all changed pretty quick, really, in the scheme of things.
Gareth: Who do you look up to? Who do you admire?
Georgina: Hmm. (laughs)
Gareth: Or get inspired by?
Georgina: Oh, God. Well obviously the upholders of human rights and civil rights. I mean there are the Marin Luther Kings of this world, the JFKs, you know, all of those kinds of global figures.
And from a Maori cultural perspective I think Te Whiti o Rongomai, people like that.
And people who just sort of push the boundaries a little bit, who did it perhaps even without knowing it. Certainly in my own sphere the likes of Chrissy Witoko and Carmen and all the other trannies who were doing the drag shows and had to run between the clubs in men’s clothes, and all of that kind of thing, you know. They didn’t know. They were just doing what they had to do, but each little step provided a platform eventually so that a decade or two later someone like me happens along and things happen because attitudes and visibility has been there.
Visibility’s quite important, and I guess if my experience has been of any value for our scene it’s the visibility that it’s provided, and that it wasn’t a caricature, it was a real situation, it wasn’t just an entertainment value, it was something more serious than that.
And there’s a public record of achievement too, and I don’t just mean elections and things, but of stuff done that despite the hullabaloo that happens around the media and the sort of.... But you can reflect. As I’ve said before, you can reflect back on how I’ve been written up and talked about, and my willingness. I have to bear some culpability here because I have participated in all of that exposure. I didn’t need to. I could have shut the door at certain points and kept it contained, for want of a better term, but that would only probably inspire the scrutineers even more wanting to get into it, because anything that’s... so I’ve thrown it all out there. And in many respects it’s diffused and diluted any potential for a great, sensational explosion of something that could be quite devastating in a career. If I had kept secret that I was a transsexual, and if I had been successful in my political pursuits, as it turned out to be, but that was a secret nobody knew, well given my backstory on the street scene and the scene anyhow, how on earth could that...? I couldn’t have got on national television and said: Oh, no, I’m a straight lady; I hope to marry and have children one day, and played this whole façade. I would have been outed at the drop of a hat, just like that.
And there’s no point in living a lie. Why would you want to live a lie? You shouldn’t have to live a lie. I didn’t have to live a lie and for me that was hugely liberating. And it’s been hugely liberating for all of those that have been able to be out and be who they are in whatever walk of life they have chosen, whatever path they have chosen, to be who they are. Much, much happier people to be who you are when it’s no secret; you don’t have to hide this thing. That’s like in my mother’s era, or whatever, to have been a solo mother and pregnant was a shame. You were shoved away for nine months in the boondocks somewhere to have the baby secretly and, you know, all that horrible, horrible stuff that used to happen with alienation.
So yeah, visibility has been a relatively important factor in some of the hullabaloo that surrounded me. I’m a has-been now. (laughs) It’s all over. You know, that’s all sort of put to bed I suppose in that respect, and that’s fine because the next generation have come along to assume the mantles, as it should be. And it’s our responsibility as the older generation to hold a hand out to help them through and to bring them through. You know, we can’t get all selfish and go back into our own and just leave it up to them and let them... if they require it, you know? If they need it. If they want it. Back to that thing about the conferences and stuff like that now here in New Zealand, well you know I was pretty over exposed during my time in public office and so it doesn’t surprise me that they’d move on to the new ones that are coming through.
I’ll be very interested to know who the next transsexual to be elected into our Parliament is going to be. And just on that I think that would....
You know, I might not have been able to do what I’ve done if it hadn’t been for a major political party, even though I was reluctant to begin with, if a major political party wasn’t happy for me to be under their banner, so to speak. So that was sort of helpful because it wasn’t like I just came in on some fringe Party into Parliament, or the Greens. They might have expected me to be in the Green Party or something, which I possibly would, but it was a Party that was going to hold government. And I served in a government, not just in a Parliament, and that was sort of a different experience from someone. I mean, I can proudly say that all I ever knew in my Parliamentary life was being in government. I was never in the Opposition. Not many MPs can say that. Not only that I got into Parliament and out of Parliament with my nose relatively clean. At least I got to make a valedictory speech. Not everybody else did – certainly not Taito Phillip Field.
Gareth: Maybe just finally I saw a piece from the New Zealand Herald in 2005 and it was “Five Things I’ve Learned so Far”. And I’m thinking, can I read these back to you and get... [interrupted]
Georgina: Oh, God. Yes, okay. I know these things can come back to bite you in the backside sometimes.
Gareth: (laughing) But they’re really... [interrupted]
Georgina: That’s the trouble with speeches off the top of your head.
Gareth: But they’re really cool things, and the five things that you noted down were: 1) Be who you are.
Georgina: Yes. I stand by that. I have been.
Gareth: And you continue to be...
Georgina: Yes, yes.
Gareth: ... which is incredible. I have so much admiration for you.
See challenges as opportunities.
Georgina: Yes. Yeah, because otherwise it gets you down. That goes back to my... some of the reflections I had on suicide and bad things that have happened to you. You can walk around with chip on your shoulder all you like, or else you can meet the challenge and sort of know there’s something better than that, you know, and I should have a go at it.
Gareth: Don’t dispose of past experiences.
Georgina: No, don’t dispose of past experiences at all. You know, that history, for better or for worse, is your makeup. So it’s what makes you who you are. It’s what sustains you until now. I’m not saying live in the past or wallow in it or anything, but just as a marker, you know, it provides points of reference, I think.
Gareth: Be upfront.
Georgina: Oh, for sure. Well in my life that’s definitely been an advantage. Some might think it’s been a disadvantage, and even though some could seriously say well look at the results of it, like right now, or while I’m having anger, but no, it’s you.
Gareth: And the final one is: Believe in what you say, but think before you say it.
Georgina: Oh, they were all pretty sensible, I thought, those.
Yeah, think before you say something sometimes because you know you don’t want to unnecessarily stomp on other people’s manna, or at least agree to disagree on some things. I mean, I don’t like a lot of the indoctrinal attitudes of the Brian Tamakis of this world, or the Garth McVicars of this world, or the McCoskries of this world, those who have a different view, but I’ll defend their right to say it.
And I prefer to see eyeball to eyeball, you know, to look in the eyes of my enemy rather than those that work subversively, out of sight, like the Exclusive Brethren did in the 2005 election. You know, I like to look into the face of it and carry it on there.
Gareth: Well thank you so much. I mean we’ve been talking for I think about two-and-a-half hours.
Georgina: Oh, okay.
Gareth: It goes very fast. But look, I think... [interrupted]
Georgina: Have you asked everything you wanted to know?
Gareth: No (laughs). No, no, we’ve...
Georgina: Well what were some of the other questions? They might have been better.
Gareth: No, we’ve covered a lot of ground. It’s been great.
Thank you so much because I think there are a whole lot of people out there that really admire what you’ve done and who you are. And just seeing you in Parliament, I mean, the symbolic nature of that gives so many people hope.
Georgina: But do they feel the same way with Chris and with Tim and with Marion and with Charles and with Grant and with Marilyn Waring, of course. I think she’s revered in that regard because of her experience, which is incredible. And many others.
For the transgender world, yes, but I think apart from that I’m not so special. I think people just enjoyed at the time the whole spectacle of this unconventional politician arriving on the national stage and then the international stage legitimately, cleanly, she’s not the stereotypical tranny, and yet she has been, and all of that. And there were just a whole lot of elements I think that gave people, more people rather than not, a sense of: I feel good about this. I don’t feel badly about it. Good on her! You know, I was some sort of underdog. Battler from struggle street did well! just to pinch a phrase off John Banks. That I was Mayor of his hometown makes me happy
Gareth: Yeah. I mean, I kind of think it was actually, for me personally that, you know, we had a strong person that knows who they are that is doing the right thing. And actually I really admire that.
Georgina: Well, thank you.
Gareth: Thank you.