It was a very easy decision. There was no angst. The only thing that held me back with a sense of guilt or moral obligation was my family. I dealt with that by not dealing with it, by remaining isolated from them. In retrospect it was a cowardly choice. It was also a shrewd and wise choice, because I didn’t want to complicate my life with their disapproval.
Although I’d made up my mind that I wanted to live as — and become — a woman, I was also still very young and naive, and had not thought through the implications of transgender living and how society might react to my assuming this unusual lifestyle. Getting to know the transgender people at The Balcony was like being put into preschool for trans. It gave me an introduction to what life was going to be like.
What is interesting is that I never had any clinical advice or counselling about how you actually become a woman. I made the transition without any real knowledge of the process of physically being transformed. That was to come later. For me it was first things first. The first thing was to get rid of all my men’s clothes and start wearing make-up and women’s clothes. Outwardly, at least, George had gone and Georgina had taken his place.
My problems began when I finished working as a porter and tried to find a new job. I discovered that nobody wanted to employ a transgender person. I wasn’t able to go on the dole because they insisted I was perfectly capable of working — if I was prepared to work as a man. If I chose to dress up as a woman and be discriminated against, that wasn’t the Employment Service’s problem. This was my first experience of prejudice at the institutional level.
During the daytime, when I was out in the street in drag, I was an easy target for public ridicule. When that started to happen, it had a great impact upon me. But I took the lead from my contemporaries and other gay friends about how to react to that. Their advice was that reaction to ridicule should be swift and aggressive. While I quickly learned these coping skills, I was also aware that I was creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was being ridiculed for my “differentness.” I’d be standing at traffic lights, for example, and a small child would point and say, “Mummy, that man’s wearing a dress.” The mother would bundle up the child and pull him away as if I had some contagious disease, muttering “Disgusting!” I would turn around and bark something like, “Haven’t you seen a f—ing drag queen before?” or “Your sh– stinks too!” All this in the middle of Willis Street! By responding with verbal aggression, I confirmed the stereotypes held by those who believe that a “different” person is perverted and therefore deserving of public ridicule. My reactions gave every excuse for so-called ordinary people to think transgender people were the scum of the earth.
It was important for me to gain the approval and acceptance of queens already in the drag scene. I dressed glamorously. I wanted to be stunning. I wanted to turn heads and be the center of attention — the object of people’s desires. I have never been overly promiscuous. I was in it for the glamour, not the sex. In many ways my need to belong made me quite vulnerable. I was over the top in all things.
Reproduced with permission from “Change for the Better,” 1999, published by Random House New Zealand Ltd., www.randomhouse.co.nz.