Wednesday 22 October 2014

Georgina Beyer and Transgender Politicians

Georgina Beyer is a transwoman whose achievements have been extraordinary. Beyer is a New Zealand institution and the world's first transsexual Member of Parliament. But for those of you not from these shores, it's worth adding a little background.

Beyer was in office when I first came to New Zealand. What struck me about New Zealand (as I mentioned here on this blog) is what a masculine country it is. Men here are real men: they drive trucks, they shoot animals, they drink beer. And you can keep your other namby-pamby ball games: the national sport here is rugby. In fact, I stated here without irony that I have found what I consider to be the pinnacle of masculine behaviour here.

And yet, behind that façade there are some curious observations. New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote, implementing true universal suffrage in 1893 (it took the US until 1920, and the UK languished until 1928). Wikipedia describes New Zealand as considered "one of the world's most stable and well-governed nations".
Wikipedia: Between March 2005 and August 2006 New Zealand became the only country in the world in which all the highest offices in the land (Head of State, Governor-General, Prime Minister, Speaker of the House and Chief Justice) were occupied simultaneously by women.
And one of my other heroes, Richard O'Brien, author of the Rocky Horror Show, grew up here and is now a citizen. For more of my reflections on New Zealand, read my article about him.

Georgina Beyer
So it's in this unusual environment that we find Georgina Beyer. Born in 1957, she had a turbulent and unhappy childhood. Her natural parents divorced when she was five years old. Her mother soon remarried. Beyer's stepfather was a lawyer (whose surname she took), but the marriage was not a happy one. Beyer was sent to boarding school where, feeling rejected, she attempted to take her own life. She left school at sixteen to pursue a career in acting.

Beyer always looked feminine, and was sometimes taken for a girl, which made her feel "far more comfortable". She moved to Wellington, where she met members of the gay and drag scene for the first time, including Carmen Rupe. "It was as if I had arrived home". She began to work as a cabaret artist and occasionally a prostitute, and took drugs. During this time, she was attacked and raped by a group of men.

She underwent full sex reassignment surgery in 1984, at the age of about 27. She began to have success as an actress, but was usually typecast as transsexual or transvestite characters, and she had difficulty finding work. Eventually she enrolled in a government-sponsored training scheme in the small country town of Carterton.

Her Honour the Mayor of Carterton
Carterton, a small "redneck" country town, predominantly white, was slightly taken aback by the presence of a Maori transsexual woman. But it's clear that Beyer is a person of extraordinary abilities, and her openness, ability, integrity, and determination, soon won over the locals. Friends suggested that she stand for election to Carterton District Council, to some outrage from the standing members, and she was eventually elected Mayor, in 1995, at the age of 38.

A natural leader, outspoken and fearless, and with great experience to draw on, the new Mayor of Carterton was a great success, and did considerable good for the town, winning the hearts of its inhabitants, who are still very proud of her. She was approached by the NZ Labour Party to stand for election to Parliament for the entire region, the Wairarapa. She won by a landslide, taking the seat from the expected favourite NZ National candidate.

She served as a member of Parliament until 2007. For much of that time, Helen Clark was the Prime Minister. Since resigning from Parliament, Beyer's political career has been impaired because of health issues, and she is currently awaiting a kidney transplant.

A tribute evening was arranged for Beyer by friends and family in November 2013.

Beyer agreed to be interviewed by me, but unfortunately, after I sent her my questions, she suffered a bout of illness. Since that time, she hasn't been responding to my emails. I waited several months for her to get well, and sent some reminders during that time, but there has been no response. She did, however, approve the text above, and the images I selected, for publication in this blog.
Vladimir Luxuria

Naturally if I am able to make contact with her again, I will keep you posted about the result. The NZ media reported that Beyer had stood as a candidate for the Mana Movement in the most recent General Election in this country, earlier this year.

Beyer published her autobiography, Change for the better: the story of Georgina Beyer with Random House in Auckland in 1999. A TV documentary about her life, Georgie Girl, was made in 2001, and you may be able to see some of it here or even here (though it may be unavailable outside NZ).

In research for this article, I came across the story of Vladimir Luxuria, the second transsexual member of parliament in the world. Luxuria held office in Italy from 2006-2008 for the constituency of Lazio. Luxuria lives as a woman but has not had sex-reassignment surgery, and (according to Wikipedia) is legally a male.

I wonder who will be the third?

Addendum 23rd October 2014

Nikki Sinclaire
Well, that took less than 24 hours! My thanks to Sam for bringing to my attention Nikki Sinclaire, a British parliamentarian, who held a seat in the European Parliament from 2009 until June 2014, for the West Midlands constituency.

According to Wikipedia, Sinclaire underwent sex reassignment surgery at the age of 23. She came out as a lesbian in 2004 at the age of 36. However, she only publicly revealed that she was born a boy in 2013, which means she was elected without anyone knowing of her trans status.

In 2013, she released her autobiography, entitled Never Give Up, published by Junius Press. Sinclaire's personal website can be found here.

Okay, so my question is now: who will be the fourth?

Addendum 28th October 2014

Anna Grodzka
Now I am beginning to feel foolish. My thanks to Carole Fraser for pointing out that there is already a fourth, Anna Grodzka, who was elected to the Sejm, Poland's lower house of parliament, in 2011, representing the anti-clerical Palikot party. She is still in office, although has switched to the Green Party earlier this year.

Details about Grodzka are somewhat sketchy. Wikipedia reports that she transitioned in 2009, having sex-reassignment surgery in Thailand. Grodzka's own website seems to be blank apart from a background.

The Polish Wikipedia article (using online translation software) says she was formerly married and has an adult son. She has a degree in clinical psychology from the University of Warsaw, and has been in the military, and worked in publishing and in radio.

It's interesting to compare these four. They seem to have very little in common. Beyer transitioned at a young age, but was very open about her transition and was elected very publicly (mentioning her transition in her maiden speech in parliament). Sinclaire, who transitioned at a similarly young age, told no-one and only came out recently, after leaving office. Grodzka (aged 60) transitioned much later in life, and was elected as a transwoman. And Luxuria hasn't transitioned at all!

Stu Rasmussen
Apart from their interests in politics, there seems little to unite these women, other than them all being male-to-female. I wonder if the fifth transgender politician will be a female-to-male?

Addendum 29th October 2014

My thanks to Ralph for drawing my attention to Stu Rasmussen, mayor of the town of Silverton, Oregon. Rasmussen (aged about 66) prefers male pronouns, but has breast implants and lives full-time as a woman.

If I were going to be strict, I would say that Rasmussen doesn't "count", since he hasn't been elected to a nationwide governing body such as a parliament or a senate. Nonetheless, he is clearly a transgender politician, and I think he (along with the others on this page) deserves a considerable amount of congratulation for standing in public office while being transgendered (and seemingly being successful enough in post that he was re-elected after coming out). It's worth looking at Rasmussen's website here.

Keep them coming, folks!

Addendum 10th May 2016

Geraldine Roman
Over in the Philippines, known for their traditional Roman Catholicism, Geraldine Roman has just been elected as congresswoman for the 1st district of Bataan. Roman (49) has been living as a woman for 22 years. She has a degree in journalism from a university in Spain and is married to a Spanish citizen.

Roman comes from a politically-influential family. She holds the same office that her mother vacated, representing the Liberal Party. Both her parents are politicians, and are supportive of Roman's openly transgender status. In the Philippines, divorce, abortion, and same-sex marriage are illegal, and transsexual people are forbidden to change their name and legal sex.

As of yesterday, Roman didn't have a Wikipedia page. But she does now! Meanwhile, a good article about her can be found here on the BBC.

Addendum 28th August 2016

I have just come across Enza Anderson, a Canadian transwoman who has run for mayor of Toronto (unsuccessfully) as well as other public offices.

Addendum 7th December 2016

This BBC article mentions Tamara Adrian of Venezuela. Adrian was sworn into the National Assembly of Venezuela in 2015 using her male birth name, since in Venezuela it is illegal to change sex.