Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Claudia McKay, a transgender activist from New Zealand, President of Agender New Zealand, a leading advocacy organisation for the trans community in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Hello Claudia!
It was Janet that came home one day with the idea that would eventually become Agender NZ. I began my transition at age 40 and have not had surgery, I have nothing against it, just never had enough money at one time and am always spending what I do have on clothes and shoes. My current work for Agender is unpaid so I work part time as a rental property inspector and also do some cleaning and gardening.
The result of this is that the Transgender community is usually near or at the bottom of list of importance. This is less obvious in the 5 main cities but the regional areas are poorly served either with ignorance or outright hostility in some cases. An attempt was made to do away with this system in the late 90’s but the reaction of locals who saw control of their local hospitals disappearing saw a backlash that made the government of the day backtrack very quickly.
|Rally in support of the Gender Identity Bill,|
Parliament grounds, 2004.
The friend took the money and disappeared. This trans person was a proud individual who was relating reasons for her lack of trust rather than expecting anything, she even said her ex- friend must have needed the money more than her. When I left the prison I went shopping for her and have just sent away to her a selection of items she needed.
This would have been fine if he was providing good work at a good price but he certainly was not. His technique was outdated, invasive and prone to complications. In addition his manner with patients was very male and patronizing and he expected those who had the surgery to only have relations with men and to have them regularly.
|Speaking at the Transgender Day of Remembrance, 2005.|
The other barrier which is no different than anywhere is cost. Somebody did the statistics a while ago on the time it may take to go on the government funded waiting list and it was something like 20 to 25 years. Hence people find money where they can to go overseas. Some people are in a financial position to afford it, others may borrow, mortgage the house, sell themselves, or go without. Going without is most common for FtM’s who, while Mastectomies can be accessed here, bottom surgery is prohibitively expensive and overseas.
I believe that continuing to take this approach will restore Agender’s credibility which has taken a beating in the last few years. It is interesting to note that in our first 12 years when we made many, many TV appearances, were interviewed for many publications and radio, we never had any negative publicity and were usually complimented by the public on our positions.
Later Other Transexuals came to prominence such as Georgina Beyer who was elected Mayor of the rural town of Carterton and then became our first Transexual Member of Parliament. However she and others came from a similar background to Carmen and their lives bore little resemblance to mine. When I finally transitioned my role models were the ordinary trans people we were meeting in the support group rather than any well known individual.
|Speaking at the Transgender Day of Remembrance, 2006.|
This was 1997 and we both believed that attitudes to our community would never change unless somebody fronted up and presented an alternative face for trans people to what the world had been hitherto exposed to.
The programme included filming at an exhibition of my paintings that included a number of self portraits of myself as Claudia and this was scary. I had a modest reputation as a painter and had no idea if this exhibition and publicity would destroy my career. I was fortunate, it was received well and I sold more paintings than I had ever sold before.
I had been married in my early 20’s and had a daughter from that union who is now 34. She was in her teens when I came out and I wrote to her in advance of the TV programme and unfortunately I think she had been fed a lot of stuff from her mother and she said in her reply a lot of hurtful things that teenagers are wont to do. She knows where I am and that my door is always open and I would welcome her with open arms.
The last thing I will say on this topic is that I was lucky to marry the most supportive person in 1995. Janet was my closest friend and equal who shared my transition and all the first years of Agender. I could not have done any of it without her and her story is forever entwined with mine despite now living apart for 6 years.
As an example, New Zealand should have been the first country to introduce Marriage Equality, not the thirteenth. Any trans person can make a difference in politics but it takes an incredibly thick skin, a need for a personality that can transcend the Trans identity and appeal to many people as possible and a commitment to do the things they believe in.
|With Joy Liddicott from the Human Rights Commission|
speaking at the Transgender Day of Remembrance, 2006.
Most men and women want one or the other gender as their partner and for those of us who take a position somewhere in between then the numbers that may be accepting of you diminish rapidly. I have not had a partner for more than 6 years and I am willing to admit that at times it can be very lonely and as a result I have filled my life with work that occupies me but does not provide that completeness I described earlier.
I am not a closed shop and am always open to the possibility of a relationship with a woman that was accepting, but I have been spoiled with knowing what a good relationship can be and I am not willing to settle for anything less.
|Speaking at Agender’s 10th birthday celebrations|
in the grand hall at Parliament Buildings, 2006.
Right now I am looking at having our Lotteries funding reinstated to allow us to do more than just put Band aids on issues. Just yesterday we heard that because accounts were not provided for the time my predecessor was in charge, the Lotteries Commission will not renew our funding. Someone else’s incompetence in the past is affecting what we can do in the next 12 months and that I find unacceptable and worthy of fighting against.
The main photo credits: Dominion Post