Georgina Beyer became the world's first transgender MP when she entered Parliament in 1999. She quit six years later and has been mostly unemployed since. She is suffering renal failure, is on dialysis and is on the long waiting list for a kidney transplant.
1. Is renal failure the most difficult battle you've faced in your life?
Well, it's like comparing oranges with apples. Yes, there have been things in my quite colourful life that have been difficult - being pack-raped back in the 1970s didn't help much. I've had my trials and tribulations through circumstances - being transgender in my young life in a fairly unkind society - but I'm not the only one. Many, many people have suffered those sorts of things. My renal failure is the most difficult health issue I've had to deal with as I have enjoyed good general health most of my life. It came out of the blue and was not due to the usual suspects. It'll be a year come Easter since the diagnosis. I'm on dialysis four times a day for about half an hour at a time and you work other things around that.
2. You sound very matter of fact about the situation: do you get depressed?
Like most people I sometimes get a bit glum but I get myself out of it. In my late teens and early 20s I had a couple of suicide attempts that could have been depression but were really about feeling vulnerable and unprotected as a tranny and being on the streets. I don't think I get depression now. Yes, I can feel a bit low and occasionally a little bit sorry for myself, but I snap out of it. So I've had this diagnosis - there are people with worse diseases. When I'm pissed off about it I think, "deal with it baby, deal with it".
3. You've had to sign up for the dole. What's the worst aspect of unemployment?
No work, no income, no life, no respect.
4. How did you envisage your life post-Parliament?
I had hoped that the experience I had gained could be put to use in the human rights arena and advocacy work. Or to dabble a little in the broadcasting/TV/film and entertainment scene, and further contribute to the local government sector. I was looking to stand for the Wellington City Council when I was diagnosed. It has been hard to get work. Everyone knows who I am. I apply for work and whatever and I haven't got it but that's like thousands of other New Zealanders. There's no point angsting about it. I'm probably a little selective in what I want to do as opposed to going back to minimum wage again.
5. Do you ever regret quitting Parliament?
No, I don't regret it. I do go and visit there often but I had a good innings. People were very good to me and I don't mean in a patronising way. I got on well with people from across the House.
6. Where does your strength come from?
My strength has grown from a few hard knocks, a mother who raised me well and a country that provided an opportunity for me to be a positive participant in our society. My mother taught me manners, respect, discipline, self-reliance and resilience. I watched her go through a torrid divorce when I was 12 or 13. She hardened up then as a person so she required an obedience from her children. Not in an abusive way but she was firm and didn't let you get away with much.
7. Did your mum see you succeed in life?
She died at the age of 43 from cervical cancer. I'd just turned 20 and had just got into drag. I'm sure she would have eventually come around and been comfortable with my life. She would have been proud of me, no doubt, because of the two siblings I don't think I was seen as the one who was going to be a brain surgeon. It turned out that, yeah, I did okay.
8. What would life be like if you hadn't felt able to live as a woman?
I would have been a very unhappy man. I can recall many years ago touring with a drag show to the West Coast, performing in a pub, and a very elderly man came up to talk to us afterwards. He expressed his joy at being able to see the show and he confessed that he always wanted to be like us. He explained that he never could because he was a respectable, upstanding citizen in the community and married with children and grandchildren. And I cried. I thought he'd lived a lie and a false life. He'd done what he could to fit into society and here he was in his 80s and still he had that desire, that need to be like us. I just hope there's less of that happening these days.
9. Have there been love and relationships in your life?
Relationships have been non-existent, really. It's not as if I'm an unattractive person, and yes, in the past I was a loose girl during the 1980s when all the clubs were going. So I've had liaisons, yes, but I've never had a full-on, going out, in love, I'm going to marry you relationship. I had two amazing decades from the 1980s to 2000, a busy, tumultuous time. Being mayor and an MP was all-consuming and I gorged myself on the opportunities when I perhaps could have or should have been thinking relationships. They were just a no on the needs scale then. I'm available to that now and I probably wouldn't mind that kind of support.
10. What kind of person would you look for?
Well, that's the $25 million question. And $25 million would be a start. I think someone who would genuinely care and love me. Looks have a bit to do with it but I can be persuaded by an ebullient personality. I'm not fussed about the age but not too much younger. I'm 56, but apart from the lack of energy from the kidney issue, in my brain I'm still in my 30s.
11. You're on Neighbours at War as a mediator next week: how did that happen?
I was rung up out of the blue. God only knows why they dreamed me up but I thought, yes, I'll do it. That's a day's outing in Palmerston North or wherever it was. It's odd seeing it now because we shot that nearly two years ago when I was fine. You'll have to ask others if I'm a good mediator. I chaired select committees at Parliament for four years and that was difficult. My God, I had the social services committee with Muriel Newman, Anne Tolley and Judith Collins. A grumpy Judith Tizard might turn up and then the claws would be out and I'd have to mediate that.
12. What will you do next?
Notwithstanding the kidneys, my goal now is to stand in the local body elections in 2016. That's giving me a goal. Because I still want to make that contribution. I can't just dismiss 20-odd years of experience professionally and in politics. I was a community worker, you know. I came up from the bottom. I think I could do that again.