Book Review - Change for the Better
Change for the Better: The Story of Georgina Beyer
As Told To Cathy Casey
Reviewed by Veronica Mills
I must admit that reading this book made me feel like a bit of a pervert; Georgina’s journey from effeminate boy to transsexual cabaret star being somewhat more colourful than local level provincial politics. However, as the former takes up the greater part of the book the result is a fascinating and un-flinchingly honest insight into a world few of us visit.
Beginning life as George Bertrand, Georgina had a number of homes – relatives in rural Taranaki, back to mum in Wellington, off to boarding school, out to the grandparents – but was mainly raised by women. She remembers enjoying playing ‘dress ups’ from age four (much to the displeasure of her stepfather), something it was assumed she would grow out of but which eventually became the norm.
A young transsexual, confused and isolated, Georgina found solace in the company of actors many of whom in the gay community. However finding ‘straight’ work was not easy, and she was denied a benefit because of her unwillingness to dress ‘appropriately’. Thus began her time as a stripper, sex-worker, and cabaret dancer, a stage ended by a holiday at a friend’s place in the Wairarapa, and a chance offer to become involved in a local community group.
The fact that this is the journey Georgina has made is the whole point of the book – Carterton would be the last place on earth one would imagine embracing an ex-sex worker Maori transsexual as mayor (apart from say, Palmerston North). That Beyer was not only elected to the mayoralty, but then went on to attract 90% of the vote for a second term is testimony not only to this amazing woman’s strength of character and determination, but also to her obvious skills in management and leadership.
The photographs in the book are useful to get a visual grip on Georgina’s life at the various stages. My personal favourite depicts a very nervous Jim Bolger held in a firm hongi. Another point of interest is Beyer’s claim to be the only actor to appear in Close to Home as both a male character and female. But of course the quote of the book has to be Beyer meeting the Queen, and blurting out “she’s the first real queen I’ve ever met!”
Written in a simple style that suggests much self-reflection and analysis, this is a short and easy read, but also an interesting account of achieving despite institutional stigma, public ridicule and abuse, familial rejection, and a rape. And doing it in sequin studded style.