New Zealand parliamentarian Georgina Beyer is no stranger to Sydney, especially since she was a special guest at the 2000 Mardi Gras. She is the first transsexual elected to any parliament in the world. Beyer is also a Maori and a member of the NZ Labor Party, voted in by a largely white, rural, right-wing electorate. Kiwi filmmakers Annie Goldson and Peter Wells have made a feature-length documentary about her which sketches in the details of how George became Georgina, an exotic dancer, actress, mayor and, finally, politician. I caught up with her by phone and we chatted about the documentary and her life in the public eye.
In 1999 Annie Goldson, who had just completed Punitive Damage, a documentary on East Timor, approached her to make a film about her life. I had just been elected to parliament and didn’t want to do it, Beyer says. I was sick of the attention and media focus on my life so I put her off. She wasn’t deterred and brought Peter Wells on board. Peter, well-known New Zealand gay writer and filmmaker, is a long-time friend of Beyer and I asked if this was important to gaining her participation. Yes, I trust him implicitly and knew that he would respect me in the process and once he was on board the project went ahead.
I know I am a pioneer for transgender people in public life and a trailblazer to establish credibility for those who will follow me, but there is more to my story than just the sensational, she says. That’s why I’m very happy with Georgie Girl. The film encompasses all of my life and fills in the details, especially for New Zealanders who wonder how I ended up in rural Carterton after having been a city girl in Wellington. I was really clear about what I wanted and I’m especially pleased with the social commentary that runs through the film.
Georgie Girl uses both interviews and archival footage and Beyer wanted the documentary to revolve around her parliamentary schedule so audiences would see she does a variety of things, from judging sheep shows to marching in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade.
She is a charismatic figure and the documentary is done with utmost candour. It is immediately obvious from watching the film that Georgina as George had an awkward childhood and a difficult time growing up in a rural area. I asked her to comment on the most important influences in her life and especially her mother who died in her early 40s when Georgina was 20. My mother was the only figure who mattered to me. Her thoughts, opinions mattered so much to me. When she died, no holds were barred and I pursued my true identity in earnest.
Watching the film you realise that Carmen, a well known identity in the Sydney scene, was a very important influence. I asked Beyer about the connection. She is an important mother figure to me and to all young queens of a certain age and time. Carmen provided a central place in Wellington, she tried to provide a social service through her business establishment as -˜a lady of the night’ and she also attracted the support of people in society as well.
Although Georgie Girl glosses over some incidents in Beyer’s life, it nevertheless reveals much about her political and public life, an extraordinary life lived by a brave woman. I asked her about the palpable loneliness you feel watching the film and the sacrifices she has made. My lover is my career. I have put parts of me away for the moment -“ love, partners. I just wouldn’t want to put that on someone, the burden of being on the front cover of Woman’s Day. Sometimes though I take gay friends to functions to stir the media up. Post-parliament I want to have a life and explore the Maori side of myself.
I asked her what the future holds. I didn’t want to be re-elected, she says. I often feel pressured and apprehensive but the people of my electorate won’t hear of it so I’m staying for the time being. It’s true, her constituents love her and speak frankly during the film. She listens to you, is a go-getter who can mix with people top to bottom and is no snob, say all the old, white men in the local RSA (New Zealand’s RSL). And it’s true too. Beyer has achieved an acceptance amongst a conservative population rare for a woman, let alone a transsexual.
Georgina Beyer, Annie Goldson and Peter Wells will introduce Georgie Girl, which screens at the State Theatre at noon on Saturday 8 June.