Saturday, April 13

An Open Book – a tribute to Georgina Beyer

I got to know Georgina Beyer over a series of long phone calls and even longer lunches sometime in 2020. I soon learned a quick chat or a quick bite to eat would never be an option as Georgina liked to talk. The arrangement worked for me however. I liked to listen. 

I had originally reached out to her as a council member of the Free Speech Union, and while she was initially apprehensive, once we started discussing the topic, she loosened up considerably. 

Beyer was no different to anyone committed to Left-wing politics of her generation. Free speech was simply part of the progressive package. As she and other gay activists of similar vintage would remind me, free speech was central in the fight for Homosexual Law Reform back in 1985. A number of activists from the era shared with me how they had wanted the most hateful and revolting speech of their conservative opponents televised because they were certain that, rather than convince anyone, it would send Kiwis racing to the pro-gay side. 

How views on speech have changed, huh? 

Georgina Beyer battled Brian Tamaki in a series of memorable television debates in which she unquestionably had the wood on him. They were loud and nasty and left blood on the floor. They were also electric, and her courage resonated.

When I asked her how she won the mayoralty of Carterton (1995), followed by the conservative electorate of Wairarapa twice as a Labour MP (in 1999 and 2002; she would be a list MP from 2005) she put it down to her being an open book. She didn’t hide a thing, including a history of sex work. Her honesty clearly did the trick. Show people your heart, and eventually, that is all they will see. 

Often, as we were wrapping up a phone call, she would send me away with a filthy story, like the one in which she was servicing a gent at a club, with only a minute to go before she had to be on stage. Racing the clock, she completed her task and made it on stage just in time, though with some additional hair gel.

I had a long chat with her once about sexuality and the androgynous look I had in the band I was in during my youth. I was never more popular with women than when I looked like one and asked her why she thought this was. 

“You were an experiment. Everyone likes a dabble, Dane…”

On the topic of children transitioning, her stance was emphatic. Under no circumstances should any medical procedures take place. This was a decision that only an adult could make. Georgina was approached constantly by concerned parents and she would send them away with the same advice:

“Do absolutely nothing medical. 90% of these kids will grow out of it and will likely go on to be gay. At this stage, just love them.”

Trans issues for Georgina were housing and health related. The pro-nouns thing was a luxury cause, according to Georgina, and was taking oxygen away from the real existential day-to-day struggles of transpeople, many of who were working class. Again, she was a good Lefty. 

Gay activist Michael Stevens, only hours after her passing, tweeted “I wonder if any terfs are going to try and say Georgina wasn’t a woman”.

And yet Georgina told me she had no problem saying she was a biological male. This may sound controversial now but is not unusual at all for a transwoman of her age. She also told me she sympathized with gender-critical group “Speak Up for Women”, and, while she didn’t wholly agree with them, she thought they had some valid points and needed to be heard. 

But I did get the feeling Georgina could be a different person for different audiences, despite the open book bit. I don’t want this to sound like a dig at her character. When I was courting her for our cause, she told me that despite her support of free speech she held a reluctance to visibly align due to the harassment she was likely to get at the hands of contemporary LGBTQI+ activists. After serious health issues, she was frailer and simply didn’t have the energy for it. The attacks really wore her down. And they infuriated her, especially considering she had come up in a far more dangerous time and didn’t take well to a new pampered class trying to tell her what she should think or how it was done. 

Am I saying that I, Dane Giraud, was getting the authentic Georgina, while the activist set of the contemporary LGBTQI+ movement wasn’t? I could never claim that. We were not besties. All up I would’ve only had 6 or 7 encounters with her. 

But I was fascinated by the personalities whose Tweets the Herald chose to run in tribute to Georgina: a collection of middle-class, pro-censorship types who could never charm a farmer, nor would they ever have the guts to sit across from a Brian Tamaki and give him what for. Oddly, these young adulators honour their hero by acting in as stark a contrast to a young Georgina as one could possibly imagine.