What are the chances that a former prostitute of Maori descent could be elected a Member of the Parliament of New Zealand? Or of any parliament in the world? What if that person were also transgender? The odds may seem insurmountable, but such is the exhilarating story of Georgina Beyer as told in Georgie Girl.
Georgina Beyer in 1993, the newest councillor on the Carterton District Council.
Georgina Beyer, neé George Bertrand, is very likely the first transgender in the world elected to a national office. Even more 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.”
Georgie Girl is both a chronicle of Beyer’s daily life as a Member of Parliament, and an account of the journey that took her from farm boy to cabaret performer to community organizer to national leader. As Georgina attends to her political duties, making speeches, judging sheep races, meeting constituents, riding in parades, it quickly becomes clear why her rural neighbors elected her: first, as mayor of Carterton and then in 1999 sending her to Wellington as representative of the picturesque Wairarapa district, the country’s largest. Georgina is eloquent, spontaneous, funny, and honest to a fault — the antithesis of the modern parliamentary politician.
Perhaps because of her Maori heritage, or the trajectory of a life that has included equal parts glamour and sorrow — or more likely both — Georgina brings to her job a sympathy for others and a level-headedness that disarm her critics and inspire the trust of ordinary people. Georgina’s own story of struggle and transformation is well-known among New Zealanders, and was played out, in part, on stage and film. Photographs and film clips of Georgina’s earlier life as a strikingly beautiful singer and dancer in the trans nightclubs of Wellington and Auckland lend Georgie Girl a provocative and elegiac note. Especially as we learn that Georgina’s life, as for many transgendered people forced to the economic and social margins, contained realities darker than those of brightly lit clubs.
Georgina grew up a handsome boy on a farm, experiencing the prejudice directed at the country’s indigenous people, yet also the estrangement from Maori culture, the result of the privileged Pakeha (white settler) culture over the indigenous ways of life.
Her journey through gender transformation and the streets and clubs of urban New Zealand included spells of prostitution and drug use. A brutal rape brought another surprising transformation. Georgina retreated to the “remote” town of Carterton for drug rehabilitation, becoming a community organizer and embracing the town that, in turn, embraced her.
Georgina tells her own story with her trademark candor and sense of humor. She is seconded by the reflections of people who form a peculiar cross-section of New Zealand society, from legendary Maori drag queen Carmen, through Prime Minister Helen Clark, to Georgina’s friends and constituents in Carterton, including her colorful landlady.