Gina G: A Lifetime Achievement
Gina G has been a lobbyist for the transgender community since 1992. The winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award at the recent Queens Birthday Ball, she talks to Andrew Shaw about how she became the poster girl for the Queensland trans movement.
Gina, did you have any inkling you were going to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award?
I had no idea, truly! It’s the first time [housemate] Krissy’s ever kept a secret from me. As I said in my speech, if I’d have known that I would have drunk more and put a skirt on.
That’s the first award I’ve got from the LGBT community in 20 years, I was overwhelmed to know you’re getting it from the people who support you and from your peers. I must admit, I didn’t think I’d ever, ever get it.
Could you tell us why you believe you won the award?
I suppose it goes back to when I took over ATSA, the Australian Transgender Support Association, in 1992. It was still going then, but it was failing. It didn’t have an incorporation so we took it over and changed the name. From there we worked to get a gender clinic, because there was nothing here for the girls. In those days they had to get an assessment for gender reassignment and they had to go to Melbourne every three months, at their own cost.
I went to Melbourne and saw the two psychologists, Val, and Trudy Kennedy, and said if I bring you up to Brisbane and do a conference for health professionals would you come up? And they said yes, so I brought them up here in 1993 and we had a two-day conference, which was fantastic.
Could you tell us about your journey to becoming transgender?
I’d retired early and was going to go down to Foster in NSW, I was in Rockhampton at the time. When I came to Brisbane I pulled up to see a psychiatrist – I’ve forgotten his name now – I had to see him. At that time he said, “Are you aware there’s a meeting? They’re going to close down the transgender centre in Brisbane.” I said I didn’t even know there was one.
When I got there I realised they’d set me up to take it over. I told them, “I’m going to transition in Foster, but I’ll do this for six months, I’ll get you back on your feet.” In my previous life I was a union secretary.
Were you living as a woman at that time?
No, but I told all my friends in Rockhampton and they were all very supportive. One of them was the chief editor on a newspaper, the Morning Bulletin.
Are you from Rockhampton originally?
No, I was originally from England. I came out to Australia in 1960 on my own.
Why did you leave England?
Every transgender will tell you that you leave town because of the demons in your head knowing who you are. You think if you move you’ll get rid of it, but you don’t. I came over here and it was still with me. Don’t forget, in the Sixties if you said you were transgender they put you in a lock up.
Was there a time when you decided to accept your identity?
I kept fighting it for years. But in 1985 I decided, no I can’t handle this, I just have to come out. I told a few friends – and I’m talking about macho guys – and they said you’ve got to do it otherwise you’ll kill yourself. They just kept drinking with me and fully supported me. Then in 91 I resigned my job and I came down here at Easter 1992.
How would you describe the relationship between the gay and lesbian part of the LGBTI community and its transgender members?
I can tell you that back then it was horrendous. I hate to say it, but in those days the attitude was, ‘Oh, we’ll look after you, my dear, we’ll look after you!’ I thought, you don’t have to look after us, we’ll look after ourselves and stand on our own two feet. This was when I took over the association. It was very important, I would not be told what to do by other groups. I thought how can it be a true transgender association when you’ve got a secretary who was gay, back then.
I cleaned them all out and called for nominations and said all nominations had to be transgender. I had no trouble filling [the positions].
Is there enough recognition given to transgender people?
No. Unfortunately a lot of people don’t know the difference between a transgender person, a drag queen and a transvestite.
What are you lobbying for at the moment?
We’re lobbying – and when I say lobbying I have to include Kristine Johnston, who’s the secretary. What we’re lobbying for is a half-way house-cum-resource centre. We get numerous phone calls from girls wanting accommodation. We’ve got a spare bedroom, and we sometimes put them up until they can save up on their own.
You have a close relationship with Krissy?
Yes, but we’re just housemates, that’s all we are. She’s upstairs, I’m downstairs. We’ve heard the rumours, but the most I’ve ever got out of Krissy is a hug [laughs].
Find out more about the Australian Transgender Support Association of QLD (ATSAQ): atsaq.com
IMAGE: Gina G accepting her lifetime achievement award at the Queens Birthday Ball, The Tivoli, Sunday, June 10, 2012. Photo: Anthony Smith