by Nathan Crombie
THE WORLD’S first openly transsexual mayor and MP, Georgina Beyer, says a worsening heart condition has barred her from desperately-needed kidney transplant surgery but will not keep her from mentoring others contemplating a sex change.
The trailblazing politico, actress, and former prostitute, 59, was diagnosed with renal disease three years ago. A suitable donor had been tested thsi year and she cleared for a transplant operation.
But in January, Georgina was admitted to hospital, and a heart condition was discovered that forced her off the kidney transplant waiting list. The anesthetic was too great a risk to her life, she said, and tests last month found a worsening of her heart condition, cardiomyopathy, which severely limits the volume of blood she is able to pump.
She today endures a daily regime of medication, bouts of fatigue, deep uncertainty about her prospects, and frustration and regret her ill health had forced the shelving of her political ambitions and performance career.
“I don’t know when I’ll get the operation. I was in hospital for a while in January and developed this heart issue. I was only pumping at about 32 per cent, you know, so they took me off the waiting list.
“They put me on some meds and I need some more heart echoes. If I’ve improved, the Auckland surgical team will be happy. If not, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Georgina was speaking during a reunion in Masterton recently with transgender woman Nikki Lee Carlson, 37, who as a male singer named Nik was runner-up in the nationally televised talent show NZ Idol in 2005.
She again featured on a TVNZ channel last month in the reality television show Beauty and the Beach, during which a camera crew followed Nikki Lee to Thailand to capture her gender reassignment surgery and blossoming as a woman.
The first time Georgina and Nikki Lee had spoken was close to two decades ago, Nikki Lee said, after she travelled to Carterton – as Nik – to ask advice about changing gender.
Nikki Lee had made the appointment “to see the Mayor of Carterton about my confused feelings”, after gathering together the same courage that had won the accomplished singer a haul of awards and numerous doting fans in the region after years of successful childhood performances.
To Georgina, she said, “I sat down in your office and told you ‘look, this is what I’m feeling that transgender may be something I’ll look at in the future.
“You said to me whatever you do, think about it very seriously. It’s not something you take lightly. And if you want it you’ve got to really, really want it, and to really think about it.”
Numerous people had over the years sought out Georgina for similar reasons, she said, as her world-first election to local and central government crowned her the ad hoc global godmother of the transgender community.
“I don’t recall that actual meeting because I had a few people who approached me over the years to ask precisely those questions. And I was always extremely cautious about what kind if advice I would give,” she said.
“I’m not a trained expert in anything like that. I can only give you the experience from my own life and my own judgments.
“So I’m so glad I gave the right advice at that time to think about it seriously. I can recall myself having the urge to want to do this now and have this confirmed that I am transsexual and wanting to go through the whole process.”
Georgina said she was 16 when she decided her aim in life was to fulfil her “absolute need and desire to become a woman”.
“You know, when you’re compelled even when you can’t explain what it is you need to do, you just know you have to do it and every time you get knocked back, punished, criticised, ridiculed, or have your nose rubbed in it.
“And you come out the other side and say no, this is my conviction, this is what I must do in order to function in life and be happy in my own skin.”
For Nikki Lee, the brief conversation with Georgina that day was pivotal, she said, to her eventual decision to undergo hormone replacement therapy and gender reassignment surgery.
She underwent the surgery in Phuket, Thailand, earlier this year as an episode of the Beauty and the Beach reality television show.
Georgina said numerous people had, like Nikki, sought her advice. An elderly couple once brought their grandsons to her electoral office when she was an MP, and told her the teens “wanted to be transgender and work on K Road (red light district in Auckland)”.
“I spent about an hour with them and told them they didn’t want to work on K Road if they could avoid it. They sat there in awe of me, thinking it was a glamorous and wonderful life. I soon put that right that it was not.”
She told them they did not seem transsexual despite their probable homosexuality and they should abandon their ideas about gender reassignment and prostitution. They returned a few years later and thanked Georgina for her advice, she said, saying they had come out as gay and were content and happy.
Nikki Lee said her mother Leigh Warburton had first suggested she meet with Georgina and she was keen “because of that intrigue when you see someone you can relate to, and I felt very lucky to see you”.
Georgina’s high profile as a transsexual woman seemed to magnetise people seeking answers and advice, she said, like she had been earlier advised by her own “unsung heroes” like Carmen Rupe.
Georgina had never dreamed she would meet Queen Elizabeth several times and be “blessed by a Pope (John Paul II) who is now a saint”.
“This is where the wonderful opportunities I’ve had in life as far as the transgender community is concerned.”
She talked of an ambassadorial trip to Spain where she first met with several transgender women seeking political in-roads in their home nation. She sacrificed five minutes of her meeting time for the women to be heard, and they were deeply grateful for the opportunity.
“You’ve got to put your hand out and bring others through with you, rather than shut the door on them. I could have done that, you know, ‘I’ll get to it sometime, girlfriend’. But, no.
“It was nothing for me to do that, while for them it was everything.”
Nikki Lee said there was “no real gay or transgender community” in Wairarapa, and she had left the valley for Auckland soon after farewelling her teens.
She is today back in the provinces and since her surgery last year had returned to the studio to sing, she said. And she is more than willing to mentor and advise others contemplating coming out as gay, or especially transgender.
“I don’t have the credentials, I’m not qualified, but I do have experience, like Georgina.
“I’ve gone through many a thing to get to where I am today, so if I can help a young gay or transgender person, I’d love to do that.”
Georgina said she also felt a deep obligation to encourage and embrace others faced with similar life choices as herself and Nikki Lee.
“That is my responsibility now as an older person in the transgender community, to be available whenever somebody feels they want my advice.”
She said Italian former politician Vladimir Luxuria had become the second transgender MP ever, and Anna Grodzka in Poland is today the world’s only transgender parliamentarian.
“I may have been the first in the world to do what I have done in politics but there have been at least two others around the world since. So three of us in the whole world.”
Nikki Lee had followed another path to celebrity as a successful singer on regional and national stages, and said the “unconditional love” from her parents and family had kept her from alienation, depression, and thoughts of suicide that often plague people in similar circumstances.
Family support was vital for homosexual and transgender people, Georgina said. Besides her mother, who alone acquiesced soon before her death and accepted Georgina, her whanau have remained absent from her life to this day. Her stepfather died earlier this year and no family contact was attempted. This is a familiar and often repeated scenario, she said.
Misunderstanding, fear, and disappointment often erupt with barely-remembered shouting and tears, she said, and all that heartbreak is left to wither in the past like the love she once shared with her brother.
“It is a lonely place sometimes and suicide has been part and parcel of our lives. I tried three times in my late teens, early 20s.”
Georgina, amid tears, said she had been pack raped by four men in Sydney when she was barely out of her teens. The brutal assault had triggered a suicide attempt that almost claimed her life.
“Fortunately, my fear and terror turned into anger because I believed nobody should have to endure anything like that, man, woman, or otherwise, and that it’s wrong and people needed to be brought to account for it.
“Luckily, I turned it into a positive force to fight against all of that stuff. That even people like us deserve to live with dignity and integrity.
“It became my life’s work after that to make sure that I can set an example of being able to overcome that, and win people over, and be positive contributors to society.”