By Kathleen Archambeau
â€śIntelligent people would save their protest for the ballot."
Georgina Beyer became the first openly transgender national politician in the world. Georgina went from sex worker to government worker. From drag queen to greeting the Queen of England. Elected a Member of Parliament (MP) in New Zealand in 1999, following a strong career in local politics in Carterton, a small town in the North Island, Beyer stunned detractors by winning the Labour Party nomination and serving a three-year term. Beyer was then re-elected twice. These wins were even more surprising considering the conservative nature of the farming communities she represented. One supporter raved, â€śsheâ€™s got grace and sheâ€™s just got something exquisite about herâ€¦wow! I wish I could do it as good as she.â€ť
It wasnâ€™t easy. Beyer first got inklings of her gender identity as early as age four when she dressed up in her motherâ€™s clothing. By age seven, she was severely chastised for continuing this behavior and hid her identity from her family. Like half the transgender individuals who contemplate suicide, Beyer attempted suicide while at Wellesley College and dropped out at age 16. Like many Kiwis, Beyer traveled to Australia to find work, but found herself working the streets as a prostitute. In one terrible episode, Beyer was gang raped by four men, changing forever her perspective of herself. In 1984, at the age of 27, she underwent sex reassignment surgery to integrate her gender identity. Before her mother died, she made Georgina promise to come to the funeral dressed as George. Georgina honored her motherâ€™s wishes, but chose that moment to come out as a transgender woman to her family to their shock, dismay and rejection.
Following her surgery, Beyer won a Best Actress nomination from the Guild of Film and Television Arts (GOFTA) for her role in Jewelâ€™s Darl in 1987.
Georgina was featured in the Frameline award-winning documentary, Georgie Girl, in 2002. When I met the statuesque, beautifully coiffed Georgina at the film festival, I was struck by her dignity, directness and distinctive tropical flower-adorned hair. She attributed her famous sense of style to her bicultural Maori mother, at one time, a seamstress and a part-time model. However, a cloud came over her face when she talked of the loveless life of a public transgender figure.
She pre-dated Chaz Bono with her appearance on New Zealandâ€™s Dancing With The Stars in the premiere showing in 2005. Nearly a million viewers, in a country of four million, watched the final episodes.
In her MP inaugural address, Georgina Beyer said, â€śI canâ€™t help but mention the number of firsts that are in this Parliament. Our first Rastafarianâ€¦ our first Polynesian womanâ€¦ and yes, I have to say it, I guess, I am the first transsexual in New Zealand to be standing in this House of Parliament. This is a first not only in New Zealand, ladies and gentlemen, but also in the world. This is an historic moment. We need to acknowledge that this country of ours leads the way in so many aspects. We have led the way for women getting the vote (New Zealand was first to grant women the right to vote in 1893). We have led the way in the past, and I hope we will do so again in the future in social policy and certainly in human rights.â€ť Georgina Beyer went on to fulfill every campaign promise, including ensuring the survival of Mastertonâ€™s hospital, bringing government services to heartland Wairarapa, passing the Prostitution Reform Act decriminalizing prostitution and protecting sex workers and their clients, and playing a pivotal role in passing the Civil Union Act of 2004, giving same-sex couples the right to legally join together.
Of her career, Beyer says that thereâ€™s a â€śthin line between theater and Parliament.â€ť Some call it â€śthe longest running show in town.â€ť
Resigning early, Georgina was burned-out and disappointed, â€śI understand that as the first transsexual MP there will be a lot of media interest and I am happy to talk about my journey, but I felt belittled.â€ť
Unfortunately, like many transgender individuals, Georgina Beyer has wound up jobless after 14 years of public service. Many respected studies in the U.S. have cited a 35 per cent unemployment rate and a 60 per cent underemployment rate among transgender people. Georgina had to sell her home to make ends meet. Most MPs are appointed to paid positions on Boards and Commissions following their service. Beyer has not received one offer and was turned down for the Human Rights Commission, prompting her to say, â€śThat Iâ€™m of no further use to my country is why Iâ€™m considering Australia, that my former parliamentary colleagues seem not to want to appoint me to anything, but are quite happy to accommodate others who have left or are about to. â€¦One could be forgiven for being a little vexed.â€ť