STYLE QUEEN Meet trans­gen­der trail­blazer Penny Clif­ford

Suni Go­lightly meets a lo­cal woman who has been in­stru­men­tal in chang­ing per­cep­tions about trans­gen­der men and women

Northern Rivers Style - - CONTENTS -

PENNY Clif­ford broke new ground in Syd­ney in the 1980s and ’90s as a trans­gen­der show­girl. As one of the coun­try’s most cel­e­brated and glam­orous show­girls, Penny has been in­stru­men­tal in de­mys­ti­fy­ing trans­gen­der men and women.

Th­ese days, Penny calls the North­ern Rivers home, and while she still graces the stage on oc­ca­sion, can mostly be found be­hind the scenes, bring­ing big names to Ban­ga­low un­der the ban­ner of Beach Bum Pro­duc­tions, the en­ter­tain­ment com­pany she co-founded since moving here.

Penny said moving to the North­ern Rivers was a lit­tle daunt­ing. “I had spent enough time here over 20 years to know that in gen­eral I al­ready loved the area, and that for the most part I don’t get any hate for be­ing trans, although oc­ca­sion­ally some stares,” Penny said.

“But I was very ner­vous for the move, as it’s harder to find work in the area, and any change has scared me in gen­eral. Es­pe­cially as I’ve got­ten older.”

Hard to be­lieve that change would scare a women who, decades be­fore trans­gen­der peo­ple were ac­cepted by the broader com­mu­nity, was boldly liv­ing her truth in the face of ex­treme ad­ver­sity. Penny said liv­ing her life hon­estly and au­then­ti­cally was never re­ally a choice.

“I have never thought I lived boldly, I just did me,” she said. “Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s it was like I had no choice but to tran­si­tion, as that was who I needed to be. I did what needed to be done to sur­vive my life. I have been very for­tu­nate to be in many won­der­ful shows with leg­endary per­form­ers and trav­elled the world do­ing this – all of this was done be­fore it was ac­cepted, be­fore a movie called Priscilla Queen of the Desert was made and be­fore the cur­rent move­ment of trans ac­cept­abil­ity that we find our­selves in, which I truly find amaz­ing to wit­ness.”

Penny said in her ex­pe­ri­ence the ac­cep­tance of trans­gen­der peo­ple is not just for the big city, and has found the North­ern Rivers com­mu­nity has em­braced her with open arms.

“On the whole I have felt very loved,” she said of her move. “I was lucky in the fact that I al­ready had a large cir­cle of friends here, some I have known for over 30 years, some I’ve worked with in Syd­ney and some who are new friends who I cherish. I also have found that I have more cis­gen­dered women (born fe­male) friends here than I ever did in Syd­ney and that’s amaz­ing.

“I have a po­si­tion as a school ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cer part-time at a lo­cal school. It’s a joy, I love the chil­dren and the par­ents are so nice and wel­com­ing as are the teach­ers and prin­ci­pal. To be ac­cepted for the job was huge, as 20 years ago or even 10 years ago I’m not sure if a transwoman would have been al­lowed.

“I also re­cently per­formed at Trop­i­cal Fruits 30th birth­day as spe­cial guest and met so many won­der­ful peo­ple that night so I feel very for­tu­nate. I love be­ing part of such a di­verse com­mu­nity that is so wel­com­ing.”

Now that she is liv­ing here, Penny makes the most of life on the North­ern Rivers.

“I love the beach so in sum­mer when time per­mits you will find

me un­der a tree at Tal­low’s Beach. I love a good long walk in the coun­try, a good cof­fee with friends (so you can of­ten find me at the Ital­ian Diner in Ban­ga­low, or the Cor­ner Kitchen for lunch. A reg­u­lar is Fri­day nights for din­ner with the gang at the Ban­ga­low Ho­tel. I love my lo­cal the Eltham Ho­tel, but in gen­eral within my friends there al­ways seems to be a fab­u­lous din­ner or party at beau­ti­ful prop­er­ties through­out the North­ern Rivers.”

She is pas­sion­ate about her com­pany, Beach Bum Pro­duc­tions. “As my back­ground is in events and club man­age­ment, such as the Diva Awards, the Mardi Gras com­mit­tee and more, I have a pas­sion for it.” Penny said.

“After I moved here, one on my best friends and I would hang out the beach chat­ting about of­fer­ing dif­fer­ent en­ter­tain­ment in the area. We came up with a con­cept and ideas at the beach, hence the com­pany name Beach Bum Pro­duc­tions.

“We had out first event at the A&I Hall Ban­ga­low in May with the leg­endary Carlotta to over 250 lo­cals. It was a won­der­ful first night, and we are look­ing at more events later on in the year. We are hop­ing to have Beccy Cole, a dance troupe and even a laid-back dance party with some Syd­ney DJS and drag queens fly­ing in to en­ter­tain. We love work­ing in the area and hope our pun­ters keep sup­port­ing our events.”

Penny says that no mat­ter what, liv­ing a life that is true to who you are is a vi­tal key to hap­pi­ness.

“I think in this day and age, if you’re feel­ing dif­fer­ent, then find friends to talk to, find a place that lets you live au­then­ti­cally.”

COUN­TRY GAL: Penny Clif­ford has em­braced her new life on the North­ern Rivers, co-found­ing an events pro­duc­tion com­pany. Photo: An­drew Mitchell

PHOTO: ANN-MARIE CALILHANNA

CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE: Penny with Chris­tian Wilkins; on her beloved Tal­low’s Beach; with a friend’s pre­cious poo­dle; and on stage.

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