Ah Carmen, you were amazing! What a life you led!
It's hard now to imagine just how hard life was for any sort of queer only a few decades ago. If you were a gay man, lesbian, transgender, or bi, the world really hated us and wasn't shy about saying so, and NZ was no exception.
It's sorta weird the way we queers often get labeled as weak and sissy, when so many of us show so much courage. And Carmen really had balls - she didn't take shit from anyone. And just think of the courage and smarts it took to come out as she did in the 50s & 60s and live the way she did and survive. That's courage, that's about knowing who you are and refusing to apologise for it.
It still isn't easy being transgendered, but it was way harder then. She worked, among other things, as a stripper, a hooker, a nightclub hostess, a cafe owner - she got sent to jail, she was persecuted, but she stood her ground.
Here in NZ, her cafes in Wellington were famous, one of the first nightspots that brought all sorts of us out of the woodwork. She even got hauled up before Parliament's Privileges Committee for saying that there were male MPs who enjoyed a bit of sex with queers on the side. That was one time she did have to back down, but I think the majority of people knew she was telling the truth.
She stood for Mayor of Wellington - that was an amazingly gutsy thing to do, when being queer in any from was so despised. Imagine if she'd won!
If you know your gay history, you'll know about the Stonewall riots in New York in '69, when the cops raided a popular gay bar, and the customers fought back hard. This is usually seen as the start of the modern gay rights fight. All the reports talk about the central role the drag-queens and transgendered played, how they fought back hard, they had nothing to lose, so why not stand up and fight? I reckon it's interesting that we owe so much to a transgender like Carmen who had the same attitude.
It’s often that way - those people out on the edges are the ones who push the limits, and open the road up for the rest of us to follow. You need people who are willing to take risks and push for change, who aren't afraid to stand up and say "No! This is wrong!" She wasn't the only one, but she sure was out there and had a huge impact in making our world better, and she deserves to be remembered for that.
Her funeral was held in Sydney, and she has had a memorial in Wellington as well. Here in Auckland there is a memorial for her on the 11th of February at St Matthews in the City - the details are here on our website.
She was fabulous, beautiful exotic, smart, funny, kind and humane - and she gave us so much. We were lucky to have her as long as we did, and we owe her heaps. Rest in peace now.