Chantel in California asks: As a result of your election and media focus, do you think transsexuals have become more “mainstream” or do we still face an uphill battle with stereotypes?
Georgina Beyer: No, we still face an uphill battle with stereotypes when you look at it on a global status. I have to say that New Zealand is a little different in this regard. However, I think that opportunity is there for all, including transsexuals. And we have to realize how to seize those opportunities. But it does differ between jurisdictions, obviously. A transsexual in New Zealand may have a more accepted lifestyle in our country as compared to yours, for example.
Christiane in Canada asks: Politics can be so conservative, what was the reaction of other politicians when you were first elected?
Beyer: Well, quite bland, actually. I think people felt sort of some strange sense of pride, perhaps, that we have a Parliament and an electoral system that could make it possible for people like me to come to the highest court in the land and represent other New Zealanders. And so we’re all privileged to be here. I have to say that I never — and I have never up to this day — experienced any overt prejudice against me from any of my Parliamentary colleagues from across the Parliament. If anything, there’s been more a sense of respect that against all the odds I’ve managed to make these sorts of achievements. So I was very pleased, I suppose, because I was half expecting that there would be some nasties around the place that would give me a hard time, or perhaps make life a little uncomfortable. I can honestly say that hasn’t happened.
Dana in Utah asks: I work with middle-school aged children as a teacher’s aide in a relatively conservative area of the country. As a mother, my heart breaks for those who have no support. I am undeterred yet do not know what I can do to help besides offer compassion and understanding. Any words of wisdom?
Beyer: Well, yes. That’s always a very difficult one. First of all, congratulations for at least trying. And I do understand the unintended ignorance that people have about how to deal with these situations. So all strength to that person’s arm for at least trying. My words of wisdom would be, you already expressed compassion and understanding. I think to build up a sense of trust, also, because so often transsexuals have been let down by the cynicism of others who have captured their confidence and then thrown it down the drain. So that’s very important, reliability and trust. And also, I think the parents, the family, the caregivers and significant others of people who become transgendered also need assistance, help, and a shoulder to cry on, for want of a better term, because they feel that they are often in a futile situation themselves, and often, you know, say, “What did I do wrong?” when 99.9 percent of the time, you did nothing wrong. These things happen. They are facts of life. And no one can take the blame for why a person might become a transsexual. But I think what this person is doing now is a huge leap forward for many in her area, and her contact sphere. To know that there is someone like that person, who offers compassion and understanding. And that’s a very good start.
Ana in Virginia asks: Do you feel that the depiction of Maori life in popular films today is accurate? And, once being a film actress yourself, could you recommend any movies on the topic of Maori life?
Beyer: Well, to answer the last part of that question first, I could mention two, which would give two quite different insights into Maori life. One is called “Whalerider,” which is enjoying some success in the United States presently, I understand. And it’s [based on a book] written by a chap called Witi Ihimaera, who I know. And so that’s one which gives you a very good insight into cultural beliefs, and what we call the “mumma,” the pride of Maori. And done from a legendary story. The other film I would suggest is one that came out of New Zealand some years ago, called “Once Were Warriors.” It’s a contemporary story of the dark side of low-income, disadvantaged, and on-the-criminal-fringes, in urban city areas in New Zealand, a very good and tough and violent story, as well. But incredibly touching. So those are two that I would recommend.
Any film produced by Maori themselves, that go out into the international arena, and “Whalerider” would be a very good example of that, would be true reflection of Maori life, or as true as you’re going to get. Because they’re very upfront, for want of a better term. But I think, you know, that the Maori culture is now becoming something that people around the world are taking notice of. One, because we have an interesting grievance settlement process in New Zealand to deal with colonization issues that are still with us today. Albeit we’ve been colonized for over 160 years now. So there’s a lot of grievance stories to be told, but there’s also a lot of wisdom to be told. And they are depicted in our literature and our art and certainly in our films.
Sebastian in New York asks: You must receive many offers to join the speaking circuit abroad. Do you have any future plans to travel abroad and share your stories to audiences in the U.S. and Europe?
Beyer: Oh, yes. I’ve had some wonderful opportunities already to go and speak abroad, but unfortunately in my position as a parliamentarian, I’m severely curtailed in my availability to just head off overseas whenever an invitation might come. I try to do what I can at present. But post-parliament, when I do perhaps finish this particular part of my career, I would definitely like to travel. I’ve gleaned from the overseas speeches that I’ve given already that there probably could be some consumers out there of my story. And not only my story, but I think it’s more of a motivational thing, of an actual example that seems to provide inspiration and motivation to people. And if I can share, beyond my own country’s shores, my experience that might help others, then I’m very happy and willing to do that. And besides, darling, I would love to travel to the United States. I would love to travel to countries I have never been to. Can I say, just on that, when I did go to the United States last year, particularly San Francisco to the Frameline Film Festival, which happened to coincide with the gay pride parade that was happening there, I was overwhelmed by the warmth and generosity of the many thousands of people that came in contact with us at that time. And for a person like me, from a little country like New Zealand, I find it difficult to comprehend that way, way over there, halfway around the world, that people know about me, and care about me, and it is just an incredibly comforting and supportive thing that people have done for me without even knowing it.
Sarah in Massachusetts asks: Who are your personal heroes, and why?
Beyer: Oh, gosh. That’s a very difficult one. My personal heroes are those who have suffered at the hands of an unjust society, unnecessarily, for very dubious reasons. And they are my inspirations for saying this is worth carrying on. At my moments when I might want to say, well, why should I put myself through this? And it’s because of people who have gone before me, who trod the path. And each inch that they gained for us helped to provide a person like me with the status and position I enjoy now. And so my debt goes to those who have either passed on already, or whose own struggles in their lives were inspirational to me. Other individuals, I have to say, would be New Zealanders, and that includes Sonya Davies, a very highly regarded elder statesman, I suppose you would call her now, who inspired me to pursue politics, in the Parliamentary sense. I would never have considered doing it, if I hadn’t had the kind of advice, support, and encouragement that a person like her, who’s quite revered in this country, encouraged me to pursue. My Prime Minister, the leader of my party and the leader of our country at the moment, Helen Clark, is an inspirational figure for me. She has done numerous things in our country, even before she became Prime Minister, and as leader of our party, and in her own political career, that are inspirational not just for me, but obviously for women. So those are at least two. And I guess anyone in the gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, intersex world who have had the courage and the spirit to stand up to the mark, to expose themselves and become vulnerable in order that they can put a stake in the sand and say, “Hey, I have a right to exist here. I want to co-habitate with you and participate positively in the society. But I am the person who I am.” And I think that very simple statement of being out like that is an inspiration and has been to people like me, and now I suppose I join those ranks.