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