Saturday 15 February 2014

Interview with Jacquie Grant MNZM

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Jacquie Grant MNZM, a proud naturalized New Zealander of many talents, Sex Worker, Merchant Sailor, Drag Club owner, Restaurateur, Dairy Farmer, Small Zoo owner, District Councilor, Foster Mother, Sock Knitting Machine Museum owner and businesswoman. Hello Jacquie!
Hello Monika! Nice to hear from you and to read some of the stories of our sisters from around the world.
Monika: Your story could be a perfect movie scenario. In 1964 you had to run away to New Zealand to avoid imprisonment for dressing as female…
Jacquie: Yes, I along with some friends left the country of our birth Australia to escape the oppressive political regime that would see Trans and Gay people outside of the legal system and would go out of its way to harass and victimize people who by birth were different.
In post war Australia, it was illegal for a “male” person to dress as the opposite sex except in some strictly controlled circumstances, for example on private property or performers in clubs who change after performances.
The only option for those of us with little talent as performers and who felt the compelling need to express who we were had to fall back on street work something that was dangerous for those of us who came out so early for me. It was 1958 and I was 14 years old suffered from what is now known as ADHD.
After being imprisoned several times as I said a group of us came to New Zealand where the law was far kinder to Trans people which gave us the freedom we craved.

At 15 years mug shot.

Monika: After you came to New Zealand, you worked in many different places, including being a merchant navy and a restaurant/nightclub owner.
Jacquie: Yes that is correct the Pet Shop came first then Restaurants and Night Clubs I did perform a little myself but soon found I suited the role of manager or being the person in charge far better.
I was responsible for starting New Zealand’s most famous Drag Club Mojo’s in Auckland I gave all that up in 1970 and started my journey to have surgery. To be totally sure I spent several years dressed as a male and went to Sea where I honed my cookery skills and finally paid off the Ships as a Chief cook.
Around 1973 I moved to Christchurch in the south Island and opened a Restaurant and two burger bars, at that point I reverted back to my true self at first gradually then finally having surgery in 1975. At 31 years of age.
Monika: Following the marriage with your husband, you fostered over 70 children! You are the grandmother of how many grandchildren?
Jacquie: Bill was my second partner who I met not long after the death of my first love in 1982. Bill and I were together until he passed in 2000 with him I got my white picket fence and a totally normal lifestyle. We were dairy farmers; a farm we later sub divided and built the Zoo on a small part that was left. I became a foster parent by accident I would need chapters to recount that story. I guess I had always wanted children and always vowed I would not let the big bad world treat my children as badly as I had been treated as a child.

Jacquie and her first partner Lez, 1973.

It was a huge battle convincing the authorities to appoint me as a legally approved foster Parent but somehow through tenacity and a little luck I was finally approved around 1982 after I had been informally fostering for some years. There were many children; some stayed a few weeks, some a few years and others their whole childhoods.
In fact, one is still with me at 30. Grandchildren, well in what I call my immediate family, the kids I had long term, there are about 36, and goodness knows how many from all the kids I fostered. I feel incredibly humbled when every now and then different ones call and introduce me to their partners and families and tell me I did make a difference. I have heard from nearly every kid I fostered at some point.
Monika: What did you feel when in 1998 you were awarded the Order of Merit for your fostering work?
Jacquie: I was awarded the Medal for fostering and service to the Zoo industry mainly in Kiwi recovery, Kiwi being NZ’s iconic flightless bird, and for running programs for behaviorally challenged pre- teens, I was humbled but always in the back of my mind was this is one for our community I think I was the first TS person to receive a royal honor in the world.
In addition, I served as a Lay Judge on the New Zealand Human Rights Review Tribunal for three terms, 9 years total; a role which saw me picked several times to sit as a Judge in The New Zealand High Court. I sat on several landmark cases which resulted in case law. I retired from that role 2 years ago.

Jacquie and Miss Chloe.

Monika: In addition, you established the Moana Zoo, home for endangered animals, and Wildlife park at Lake Brunner on the West Coast, of the South Island where you used to run courses for children with behavioral problems.
Jacquie: The Zoo was the perfect environment for running those programs we catered for 11 to 13 year olds who had challenging behaviors in a residential setting for one week at a time the participants were limited to 10 children boys and girls, and the Kaupapa (Maori for philosophy) was around natural foods, looking after animals, and learning to bond and have each other’s backs.
I think the success was because I was so different the kids saw in me a kindred spirit if that makes any sense, the program ran for several years on a bi weekly basis and was incredibly successful.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women compared to your harsh times in the 60s and 70s?
Jacquie: To be honest these days I can hardly relate to today’s TG women a lot who claim they are Lesbian and transition so late in life I think I see the majority of this new wave as having lived a lie and not being true to themselves, I can’t help thinking I would rather have died than be forced to live a lie as a male; prison and all the hardship was a small price to pay. 
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Jacquie: Yes, I did I guess Christine Jorgensen was my first role model as well there were many in Sydney who were there before me and of course my peers were also my role models and still are.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Jacquie: Nothing at all I knew what I was and left my adoptive parents at 13 I never went back they were not nice people so I had no difficulty in coming out or walking away.

Some of the family.

Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Jacquie: I guess that depends what country one is from, this is not a good question for me as I understand the Transsexual both pre and post op far better than I understand all the gobbledygook of the Transgender continuum.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Jacquie: I am active in politics I was elected to the Grey district council for three terms as an open and out TS, I recently stood for the mayoralty here in Westland unfortunately I was not successful missing out by 100 votes. I follow politics intensely and where I was once far left leaning I now find myself practicing centrist politics.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Jacquie: Love, I love my Children I love my friends all with a passion I loved both my partners deeply but in totally different ways these days I just love myself.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Jacquie: The inevitable tranny book, I must admit yes, I have done it well. I have documented up to 1980 and filled around 1000 pages. I will carry on maybe one day when I retire, which I plan to do in ten years’ time at 80.

One of the machines Jacquie makes.

Monika: You founded a Knitting Machine Museum. Quite a peculiar hobby.
Jacquie: The Museum is just one small part of the business and consists of a collection of vintage sock Machines which is housed in my retail sock shop called Sockworld situated in the town of Hokitika.
The premises also house a small spinning mill where we specialize in producing Possum Merino and Merino yarns for the export market, the business also manufactures hand Crank sock Machines for the hobby market and we export these worldwide. 
I enjoy this aspect as I am involved in the design of the machines and get a lot of trips to the USA visiting customers and teaching knitters.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Jacquie: I have just sold my motels and Motor home Park and am currently working on a new project designing a cone winding machine once again for the hobby knitting market and am establishing a yarn distributorship in north America.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Jacquie: BE True to yourselves do not try to please partners, families, employers, just be true to yourselves and remember we are more intelligent than the norm and can do anything we set out to do.
Monika: Jacquie, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Jacquie Grant. 
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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