Beyer: Yet another mountain to climb

SERIOUS ILLNESS: Georgina Beyer is suffering from kidney failure.
SERIOUS ILLNESS: Georgina Beyer is suffering from kidney failure.

Georgina Beyer was once one of our highest-profile MPs and fought battles over prostitution and civil unions. But the former drag queen and Carterton mayor is now fighting a very personal battle.

A night of glamour and sparkles is how the tribute evening to former Carterton mayor and Labour MP Georgina Beyer is described in the fliers.

Glamour and sparkles are certainly things that Beyer needs in her life right now.

Eight months ago she was diagnosed with chronic end-stage kidney failure, a diagnosis that sentences her to daily dialysis till a new kidney can be found, assuming she is approved for a transplant.

The prognosis without one? "Oh death . . . eventually," says Beyer.

The tribute, organised by Labour MP Louisa Wall, will be held at Wellington's St James Cabaret. It was there, 34 years ago, that Beyer launched her life in the public eye, as a contestant in the Ms Wellington drag contest. She won "Miss Personality" and became a mini celebrity after an article in The Listener.

In her trademark fashion, Beyer talks about the week she found out about her illness like it is a hugely entertaining story - one about rushing around for blood tests while New Zealand was shut for Easter, GP visits and a diagnosis that came out of the blue after her opthalmologist noticed some pinprick haemorrhaging at the back of her eye while he was checking her for cataract surgery.

"I had been a bit tired and a bit fatigued but that was all. And I was thinking that was just being overweight and not doing enough exercise."

But the tests all came back indicating kidney failure and a biopsy confirmed her kidneys were only operating at 7 per cent of their capacity.

Her immediate reaction was to wail "but I'm not sick and I don't drink", Beyer says. "But it's like they just caught it in time because as soon as all this happened I started to feel crap."

For a life played out in the school of hard knocks, this knockback is one of a string in recent years. Beyer quit Parliament in 2007, disillusioned over Labour's foreshore and seabed legislation and bruised after Helen Clark passed her over for promotion. But she has not had an easy time of life after politics.

"I had thought, well, I'll just go and find some work to do but the door was just shut."

Among the jobs she applied for was a position as a human rights commissioner but she failed to make the shortlist, despite her high profile as New Zealand's first transgender mayor and MP, and her work promoting prostitution law reform and civil unions.

At one point she got a retail job in Masterton but was quickly shown the door by her boss when a story about her plan to run for the Masterton mayoralty in 2010 was splashed in the local paper.

"He essentially said, ‘well, we'll let you go now'. I was a victim of the 90-day fire-at-will law," says Beyer.

With no income, she had no money to fund the mayoralty campaign. "It kneecapped me."

When the money ran out, she sold her house rather than go on the dole. "I wasn't going to sell [the house] but I had no income, I didn't have a job, I had no money . . . I didn't want Labour to go through the embarrassment of a recently high profile MP suddenly turning up on the dole.

"So for all those reasons I was avoiding going on the dole and I just did all the wrong things. It was a stupid mistake to have sold my house and it's hard to come back from that." But that money ran out eventually too and there was no option but to sign up for the unemployment benefit.

That was a true "humble pie" moment, she says.

The last time she had been to the Masterton Work and Income office was as the local member of Parliament escorting prime minister Helen Clark.

"And now I was going in there to sign up for the dole. I'd never felt so ashamed in my life. Can you imagine? It was devastating."

But life seemed to be on the up again after she decided to run for the Wellington City Council and throw her hat in the ring for the mayoralty "just for the hell of it".

"I was all primed up to do that; I was going to make the announcement in May. And then I got this diagnosis at Easter and it was one of those ‘say what?' moments. ‘Excuse me - renal failure? What the hell does that mean?'."

What it meant, the doctors informed her, was four times a day hooked up to a home dialysis machine, a spare room stocked with boxes filled with solution for the 30-minute treatments and regular trips to hospital.

It is a tedious procedure and one that Beyer still finds personally difficult.

It's been a roller-coaster since then. "I've been a bit down about it, I suppose, but who wouldn't be? And you've got to rise above it. It's just another one of those things one has to deal with and there are many people in worse situations than I am in at the moment."

There was another "humble pie" moment when she applied for the state home that is the apartment she now lives in.

"But it's not as if I can hide; it doesn't take long for word to get out . . . "

But she doesn't play the pity game for too long, she says.

"I'm not howling about it. There are many people who trip up like this, who are struggling out there."

Fairfax Media