Monday, 25 February 2013

Interview with Suzie St James


Monika: Today we are going to Australia to meet Suzie St James, an Australian business consultant and web designer, transgender icon, and showgirl. Suzie has been a drag cabaret entertainer for over 30 years, impersonating Marilyn Monroe and Jessica Rabbit. She toured all over Australia, and she is known for such shows as “The Midday Show” with Kerri Anne and “Simone and Moniques” Playgirl Review. Hello Suzie!
Suzie: Hi Monika!
Monika: What are you doing these days?
Suzie: Working in hospitality and care.
Monika: How did you start your career as a showgirl?
Suzie: At a young age I saw a showgirl and was captivated and knew it was what I wanted to be.
Monika: What was your career like in the 80s? What was the Australian drag show business at that time in general?
Suzie: I was very young in the ’80s and new to the scene, I was slowly establishing my sexuality and identity. The eighties was a buzz of activity for showgirls in Sydney, Australia. Every venue had so many showgirls and shows you could work seven nights a week and most of us did.

Balmain Hotel late 1980's.

Monika: And in the 90s?
Suzie: I started to become recognized in the ’90s as an established showgirl and I was working extensively in the Sydney gay scene and the RSL circuit.
Monika: In retrospect, which shows do you regard as the most successful ones in your whole career as a showgirl?
Suzie: Simone and Monique Playgirl review and The Christy McNicol Priscilla Show.
Monika: If you compare the present drag show business with that of the older days, what differences can you see?
Suzie: Today the shows are filled with Drag Queens, not transsexuals. The tits and feathers are gone.
Monika: According to Penny Clifford, most clubs in Australia now shy away from hiring transgender women in the clubs. Do you agree?
Suzie: I think transgendered girls are trying to work behind the scenes rather than doing the drag shows. They are more inclined to be bar girls, waitresses, or work in administration.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in Australian society?
Suzie: I think they are very well accepted; they still need to be vocal in saying they are transgendered. The more vocal we are about our sexuality the more we can be accepted. I think Australian transgendered women are still a little shy in speaking about their gender in the workplace for fear of discrimination.
Monika: There are more and more transgender ladies coming out in the USA. Unlike in the previous years, some of them have the status of celebrities or are really well-known, just to mention Lana Wachowski in film-directing, Jenna Talackova in modeling, Kate Bornstein in academic life, Laura Jane Grace in music or Candis Cayne in acting. Do you witness the same trend in Australia?
Suzie: I don’t see a lot of transgendered women in the celebrity status arena here in Australia. I wish there were more. I still think we are a little behind in accepting it here in Australia.
Monika: Where did you grow up?
Suzie: I grew up in Sydney, both in the inner Sydney suburbs and in the west in Granville.

Publicity Promo
 (Patrick Jones Photography).

Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or man?
Suzie: I knew from a very young age. I was about 4 when I first started to dress in my mother’s clothing.
Monika: For most transgender girls, the most traumatic time is the time spent at school, college, or university when they had to face lots of discrimination. Was it the same in your case?
Suzie: Yes, it was a very emotional time, there was lots of bullying, but it made me tough. You have to be tough to make it on your journey of being a transsexual.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends? Did it have any impact on your job situation?
Suzie: When I first transitioned I left home at 16 and I had no support. Other transsexuals were there for me and supported me through the early stages. I was somewhat lucky to be very effeminate to start with so when I started taking hormones it all came into place rather quickly.
Monika: Transgender ladies are subject to the terrible test whether they pass as a woman or they do not. You are a beautiful woman yourself but how about other transgender ladies that have to struggle every day to pass?
Suzie: I think it is a hard choice to make; you have to really want it to put yourself out there and cope with the criticism that people have for you. If it is really the journey they want, then they will do whatever they have to succeed.
Monika: We are living in times of modern cosmetic surgery that might allow transitioning even in the late 50s or 60s. Do you think it is really possible? What kind of advice do you have for transgender ladies at such an age?
Suzie: No matter what age you transition at it’s hard, but it’s about making yourself complete as a person, so if you transition young, or when older, it’s about making yourself happy.

Gay Newcastle Reunited 2012.

Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Suzie: Very few well-known trans women to look up to. Caroline Cossey was one of them, but I looked to more local trans women for inspiration and support.
I had little knowledge when I was young about what exactly my path was until I went on the gay scene and met my first trans woman. Then it all made sense.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Suzie: I think family is the hardest thing about coming out, you don’t want to hurt them. You want their acceptance.
Monika: Have you ever been married? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Suzie: No, I have never been married, but have had several serious relationships. I am single at the moment and I am just enjoying being by myself.
Monika: What do you enjoy most in being a woman?
Suzie: The glamour, the sexiness, the clothes, and shoes.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Suzie: I think we need to stand up and be counted, but I am not into politics, I find it a waste of time.

Calendar Shoot (Miss November) Priscilla Show 2000.

Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Suzie: I think they are OK. I have never been in one. I find beauty comes from within. However, I understand that a lot of trans women have big egos and need to constantly be told how beautiful they are. 
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Suzie: I love fashion. I like to mix it up. It depends on my mood. The joy of being a woman is there is so much to choose from.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBT community?
Suzie: From time to time I can be active, I like to support where I can. I look after my elderly grandmother and work full time. So finding time is hard for me, and I try to support online forums and give support to trans women coming out and needing advice.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Suzie: I have from time to time. I get a little confused as to what would be the best parts to emphasize. I have kept a journal from the age of 17. It’s pretty big and I often go back through it to refresh what I have experienced.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Suzie: I would say that I am content. I would love to explore the world more.
Monika: Suzie, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Suzie St James.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska  

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