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Georgina Beyer
(1957 - living) New Zealand

Georgina Beyer

Maori transsexual politician


Georgina Beyer was born George Bertrand in Wellington, and had a sometimes happy, but terribly confused, childhood. He spent his first few years on his grandparents farm in Taranaki, but not playing cowboys and indians or kicking a rugby ball. Young George preferred "mothers and fathers" or "doctors and nurses" and with his friend Joy started playing "dress-ups", wearing frocks and entertaining seasonal workers making hay on the farm.

"For me, dressing up in women's clothes was more than just a game. I had a preference for things feminine. Even at that time it felt comfortable... My choice of reading was also regarded as girlish. I enjoyed fairy stories."

From Taranaki, George was whisked off to the Hutt Valley to be reunited with his mother who had married lawyer and prominent businessman Colin Beyer, with whom young George was apparently to have a love-hate relationship. At Upper Hutt Primary School and later at Ngaio School, George lived out the charade of his misplaced sexuality. One day he made a monumental error of judgement.

Wearing one of his mother's dresses and a woman's wig he went a stage further than preening himself in the mirror. He decided to go to the dairy, in drag. Recognised by the shopkeeper George had to not only live with the embarrassment of being discovered, but also with fronting up to his mother and stepfather trying to explain why he had been on the street dressed up as a girl.

A lesson thus learnt, George resisted the temptation to dress as a woman while at Wellesley College - it was "inappropriate" in an all boy environment. The dressing up didn't go away, but was restricted to private moments at home during school holidays when he had the house to himself. Later, as a pupil at Onslow College, George Bertrand was introduced to one of the great loves of Georgina Beyer's life - acting.

With his mother's divorce George shifted with her and his brother Andrew to Auckland and was enrolled at Papatoetoe High School. Happy with developing "wonderful platonic friendships" with girls George nevertheless found himself "forced into a situation of having to have heterosexual sex". Twice he tried it, and managed it, but "absolutely hated it".

Out of school, back in Wellington and fending for himself, George's secret life took a more permanent turn. At the infamous Royal Oak Hotel he discovered Wellington's gay scene. It was to set the scene for the rest of his life and lead to his decision to give up life's charade and live as a woman. So at 17 George Bertrand became Georgina Beyer.

Wearing a G-string, with male genitalia "tucked away" and on a diet of female hormones for enlarging breasts, Georgina Beyer earnt a living stripping in clubs and simulating sex. She worked at clubs with names like Exotique and the Purple Onion but with not enough money coming in to maintain her lifestyle she resorted to other earners.

Before going on stage she would go out into the audience and say: "Would you like me to lap dance on you or would you like to feel my tits." Takers would pay $20 and Georgina could easily collect $100 a night in this way. Then there were the men who wanted sex.

"I was propositioned regularly. The patrons thought I was a woman. I got away with it because the men usually wanted a quick blow or a hand job for $30. If they wanted more she relied on "trick sex", the success of which depended on how drunk the customer was."

Georgina BeyerGeorgina Beyer was finally drawn to Australia and unsurprisingly gravitated to Kings Cross where more of the same followed. It was in Kings Cross where she took her life in her hands, foolishly getting into a car with four men who whisked her away from the city and brutally raped her.

Back in New Zealand she carried on her life as a drag queen and stripper but the goalposts had shifted. Georgina Beyer set about changing things. She pursued her talent for acting, and in 1984 she decided to have a sex change. Beyer describes it as being "the most significant and greatest achievement of my life". Now, as a "proper woman" and with a determination to succeed, she left her past behind and began to seriously carve out a new life.

Living in Carterton she joined a drama, media and life skills course, worked on a newly-launched radio station started by her now National opponent Paul Henry, narrowly missed election to the district council but got there in a rather bitterly-fought by-election and joined the hardly-functioning Kuranui College Board of Trustees. Only the casting vote of the board chairman secured her nomination and according to Beyer her selection obviously displeased college principal Joye Halford.

Wracked by squabbles and in-fighting and with its two factions unable to compromise, the school board was to come to a fiery end, and was to gain the dubious distinction of being the first in the country to be disbanded at the insistence of the minister of education.

Beyer must surely have satisfied herself that laying out her murky past for all to see would strengthen the perception that she is a straight shooter capable of building on her experience as mayor of Carterton (1995-2000), a town of 7,000 people.

She has taken a calculated risk but Georgina Beyer is not a person who shies away from challenges.

Beyer said no one made an issue of her transsexualism during the campaign except the media.

"Of course, I'm feeling quite humbled by this event," Beyer said in an interview. "I think it speaks volumes to minorities in the world that you can overcome adversity and achieve and be successful so that you can be a positive contributor to society.

"They always seize upon it as a novelty and it usually ends up working in my favor when they do that because the angle that they try to take, it doesn't discredit me but it certainly tries to push it out there as an issue as to why people would not vote for me.

"I have always maintained that the gender question is not the issue. It is the ability of the person to be able to do the job. With the experiences I've had in my life -- but also in my local government career -- I believed that I was the person that was going to be the best for the constituency."

For Georgina Beyer though it was all part of a learning curve and she went on to be elected Mayor of Carterton in a landslide victory over a brace of male opponents. The stripper and lap dancer from the seedy side of Wellington had earnt her respectability.

Georgina BeyerGeorgina Beyer was later elected the world's first openly transsexual member of New Zealand parliament (elected in 1999 and re-elected with double her previous majority in 2002). She represents the nation's conservative Wairarapa region in the southeastern corner of North Island for the Labour party. She beat her nearest opponent, a Conservative, by a vote of 12,693 to 10,189.

What's astounding, is that she was sent to the New Zealand Parliament by a mostly white, rural, conservative constituency that was perfectly aware of her background. It's a circumstance that says something about the disenchantment of New Zealand's voters with politics-as-usual, and a lot about the irrepressible politician whom everyone calls "Georgina."

Beyer says she'll work on gay and lesbian issues with New Zealand's two openly gay members of Parliament - Tim Barnett and Chris Carter. Barnett represents Christchurch Central, and Carter represents the Auckland suburban region of Te Atatu.


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