For­mer sex worker-turned-politi­cian Ge­orgina Beyer is about to add an­other first to her CV — ad­dress­ing the Ox­ford and Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity unions. On the eve of the trip, David Herkt talks to her about her life.


For­mer sex worker-turned-politi­cian Ge­orgina Beyer is about to add an­other first to her CV — ad­dress­ing the Ox­ford and Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity unions. On the eve of the trip, David Herkt talks to her about her life.

“Wel­come to all of you to this amaz­ing evening … an evening with Chelsea Man­ning,” an­nounced Ge­orgina Beyer, for­mer MP for Wairarapa and the world’s first trans­sex­ual to be elected to govern­ment of­fice.

It was an event that would once have been in­con­ceiv­able. A trans­gen­dered New Zealand po­lit­i­cal and me­dia per­son­al­ity, once a sex worker, chair­ing an event at the three-lev­elled Q The­atre in Auck­land, which show­cased an­other trans woman, an ex-United States Army of­fi­cer and con­victed whis­tle-blower.

Then the petite blonde Amer­i­can ac­tivist, Chelsea Man­ning — the for­mer in­tel­li­gence an­a­lyst, Bradley Man­ning — strode out from the wings. She wore a black miniskirt and short Doc Marten boots.

“It isn’t a role I have ever played be­fore and I’m no jour­nal­ist,” Beyer said later. “It was a great op­por­tu­nity to meet some­one as highly con­tro­ver­sial as she has been in re­cent times. I thought in gen­eral the evening went quite well, though some peo­ple were dis­grun­tled.”

It was clear that Man­ning’s New Zealand au­di­ence were ex­pect­ing a story of es­pi­onage and drama, ex­pos­ing Amer­i­can se­crets like the Five Eyes net­work.

Af­ter all, Man­ning had passed on more than 750,000 clas­si­fied mil­i­tary and diplo­matic doc­u­ments to Wik­ileaks.

In­stead, Man­ning gave her Auck­land au­di­ence the story of a trans­gen­dered woman’s child­hood, ado­les­cence, her army en­list­ment, even­tual po­lit­i­cal rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion, and her gen­der change.

“What she did cover about the Iraq mat­ter was some of her what I thought quite naive ac­tions,” com­mented Beyer. “She didn’t con­sider that there would be any par­tic­u­lar con­se­quence and cer­tainly not as dra­matic as it turned out to be. “It was like she had been work­ing a part as an In­tel­li­gence an­a­lyst for the US mil­i­tary. I can only liken it to the fact that she seemed to be play­ing a video game and there was some sort of de­tach­ment, a bit like peo­ple who fly those drones that cause such de­struc­tion — but they, them­selves, work in an­other coun­try.

“Then she ar­rived in Iraq and saw the hu­man face be­hind some of the in­for­ma­tion that had come be­fore her. It seemed to have some sort of ef­fect on her, in the sense: ‘Some­one has got to know about this.”’

Fol­low­ing her Wik­ileaks doc­u­ment re­lease, Man­ning was charged with a num­ber of of­fences, in­clud­ing “aid­ing the en­emy”, which could have re­sulted in the death penalty. She was sen­tenced to 35 years that, eight years later, was com­muted by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama as one of the fi­nal acts of his Pres­i­dency.

“I found her to be a highly in­tel­li­gent per­son — with an un­der­lay of anger,” Beyer con­tin­ued. “There is no deny­ing that what she went through with im­pris­on­ment and soli­tary con­fine­ment was pretty hor­ren­dous.

“The in­ter­est­ing thing was that af­ter the trial and court mar­tial, it came to the point where she thought, ‘This is go­ing to be my home for the next 35 years at least, so I’ll make it as much of a home as I can and ful­fil my de­sire to tran­si­tion gen­der.’

“I would say that she is a new gen­er­a­tion of trans ac­tivist and has be­come a huge global role­model in that sense,” Beyer adds. “My con­cerns about some of that is that I have no prob­lem with you fight­ing in your cor­ner but you find that [she] and other mod­ern-day trans ac­tivists can be quite ad­ver­sar­ial in their de­mands.

“I don’t mind the pas­sion, but I think the mes­sage — par­tic­u­larly if you are go­ing to make ma­jor changes law-wise — is to bring the pub­lic along with you, rather than be­rat­ing peo­ple who might oth­er­wise be open-minded enough to sup­port what you are want­ing to achieve.”

BEYER IS now 60 and no stranger to pas­sion and strug­gle, in­clud­ing a re­cent bat­tle with ill­ness. Hers is the story of a boy who be­came a woman who be­came a war­rior.

“I didn’t have a de­prived up­bring­ing,” she re­flects. “I took more pos­i­tive out of it than neg­a­tive, I sup­pose. There were is­sues about dis­ci­plin­ing the girl out of me — or the ef­fem­i­nate

Among ‘peo­ple of the streets’, if you like, there was an odd bond be­cause we were all en­dur­ing the same sort of so­cial ex­clu­sion. Ge­orgina Beyer

out of me — at a cer­tain point in child­hood, but I don’t think that is at all un­usual for peo­ple from our ‘Rain­bow Com­mu­nity’.”

Be­cause of her mother’s mar­riages and di­vorces, Beyer was ed­u­cated for a pe­riod at the pri­vate Welles­ley Col­lege be­fore go­ing to a state school in Pa­p­a­toe­toe in Auck­land.

Even­tu­ally she re­turned to Welling­ton, which was then in its hey­day as the trans­gen­der cap­i­tal of New Zealand. The iconic trans­sex­ual, Car­men Rupe, with her bouf­fant hair­style, owned Car­men’s Cof­fee Lounge, Car­men’s Bal­cony night­club, and op­er­ated sev­eral broth­els, all staffed by trans­gen­dered women.

“Be­cause of my tran­si­tion­ing at that time and the lack of so­cial com­pas­sion, it forced you to live in this ‘twi­light world’. Among ‘peo­ple of the streets’, if you like, there was an odd bond be­cause we were all en­dur­ing the same sort of so­cial ex­clu­sion.

“I guess I got a bit more force­ful and as­sured about who and what I am — and noth­ing was go­ing to al­ter my path to achieve what I needed to achieve in be­com­ing a woman.”

Af­ter a stint in Auck­land, where she per­formed in the Al­fie’s night­club’s Bloomer’s Re­vue, she re­turned again to Welling­ton. A move to Carter­ton would see her elected to the coun­cil and she be­came the world’s first trans­gen­dered mayor in 1995.

“I was quoted once as say­ing this was the stal­lion that be­came a geld­ing and now she’s a mare,” she would say in her par­lia­men­tary maiden speech af­ter her elec­tion as MP in 1999. “I sup­pose I do have to say that I have now found my­self to be a mem­ber. So I have come full cir­cle, so to speak.”

Beyer con­tem­plated leav­ing af­ter her first term. She al­ready pre­ferred prac­ti­cal elec­torate work.

“There was a lit­tle blow-back from some sec­tors of Wairarapa,” she said. “‘Look, girly, we didn’t put you in there to give it up af­ter one term. You are just a bit nervy at the start.”’

But she was not el­e­vated out of the back-benches and she re­signed in 2007 af­ter two terms.

“Then I had my kid­ney fail­ure di­ag­no­sis in 2013 and it was pretty much my life for the next five years.

“It was the rebel in me, I sup­pose but I re­ally ob­jected to hand­ing over con­trol of my life in prac­ti­cally ev­ery as­pect to med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als. I’m

I re­ally ob­jected to hand­ing over con­trol of my life in prac­ti­cally ev­ery as­pect to med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als. I’m not very good at sur­ren­der­ing con­trol. Ge­orgina Beyer

not very good at sur­ren­der­ing con­trol.”

Af­ter two years of dial­y­sis, a trans­plant be­came im­per­a­tive.

“It was in­cred­i­bly hum­bling,” Beyer ex­plains. “It was 2015, the day be­fore my birth­day. Grant Pit­tams — he and his part­ner, Tony, live in Carter­ton. I have known them for a long time — and Grant who I had never been to lunch with just said to me one day, ‘Come out to lunch!’ We went to the cafe near the Na­tional Ar­chives, and I thought ‘This is nice.’

“And be­fore we went much fur­ther, he said, ‘I’ve got some­thing that I want to put to you and I have given it some thought. You and I have both had some mu­tual friends who have re­cently passed away.’ And he said, ‘If I can do some­thing for some­body I’d like to. And I’m of­fer­ing you my kid­ney.”’

“And I sat there gob­s­macked and looked at him and the first thing I said was, ‘Have you talked to Tony about this?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ I just dis­solved into tears.”

It wasn’t all smooth sail­ing. There were sev­eral de­lays and a last-minute reschedul­ing, but in early April 2017, Beyer had her kid­ney trans­plant.

“It went very, very well. The sur­geon said to me later that we knew it was suc­cess­ful be­cause be­fore they even closed I was pro­duc­ing urine. One thing about hav­ing kid­ney fail­ure is that you don’t pee any­more, so to say that be­fore they shut me up they could see urine was a very good sign.

“Re­cov­ery has taken longer than I thought,” Beyer con­cedes. “I had thought a cou­ple of months and bing! I’d be just like I was be­fore this drama oc­curred. But I have post-op­er­a­tive med­i­ca­tions that I have to take for the rest of my life and I’d lost a lot of weight — I was al­most skele­tal by the time I had my trans­plant.”

Her first large pub­lic event af­ter the op­er­a­tion was host­ing the glit­ter­ing Auck­land Pride Gala, the sig­na­ture in­tro­duc­tion to Auck­land’s an­nual Pride pa­rade and fes­ti­val.

“What was go­ing through my head was this might be the last time I have to do a pub­lic per­for­mance. And I thought, well if it was the last time, I would do a tune and I did … A big chunk of my life was spent in Auck­land per­form­ing at places like Al­fie’s.” Beyer lip-synced to Whit­ney Hous­ton’s Great­est

Love of All be­fore a stand­ing and cheer­ing ca­pac­ity crowd. “The ova­tion was fab­u­lous.” Now Beyer is about to travel to the UK, cour­tesy of Air New Zealand and Auck­land Pride. She will be the first per­son of Maori de­scent and only the fourth New Zealan­der to ad­dress the Ox­ford Union. This will be fol­lowed by an ad­dress to the Cam­bridge Union in a dou­ble-first.

“I go out there with an open heart … I never write a speech. If it doesn’t come from the head and the heart, how gen­uine is it?

“While I have been asked to talk about my life from sex-work to Par­lia­ment, I also want to take the op­por­tu­nity to plug the good things this coun­try has done in­so­far as help­ing mi­nori­ties be­come more equal, in­te­grated, and ac­cepted in our so­ci­ety.

“We’re not there en­tirely of course,” Beyer adds re­al­is­ti­cally, “but we have come a long way con­sid­er­ing other coun­tries — and I am an ex­am­ple of that.”

Chelsea Man­ning.

Car­men Rupe.

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