by Edwina Keelan
I was born as a boy known as Eddie Paranihi Keelan in Te Puia Springs New Zealand in 1975. Since 1999 I have lived full time as a woman called Edwina, or “Weena” for short. My nieces in New Zealand all call me Aunty Weena. The very first person to call me Edwina was another transgender woman, Wanita Hutchison.
A few little facts about me: My favourite colour is purple, and my most prized possessions are my hats, notebooks, diaries, papers, fashion illustrations and my DVD collection. My ideal wedding dress would be from the op shop, and my ideal man would be loyal to me and his career, and be hardworking like I am!
“At high school, my dream was to live in London and become a big fashion designer.”
Transgender people face many challenges. In my case, I’ve had a lived experience with childhood trauma, drug addiction, mental health issues and I was also homeless at one point. But I make an effort not to revisit the difficulties of my past, and instead I meditate on The Now. At this point in my life, I have many supports both old and new, such as my NDIS goals, and my religion of All Faiths. I worship at the MCC Church at Petersham, NSW.
After my dad died in a motorbike accident in 1981, my father’s sisters helped to bring me up. Even at such an early stage, one of my aunts once told me, “You should have been born a girl.” At primary school I was teased and bullied for who I was, and called a “poofter faggot” all the way home.
My mum and step-dad moved us around a lot. We never had a permanent address, and every 6 months we would move. My room only had a mattress in it. At that point I loved collecting miniature Smurfs. They cost 30c to 50c at the petrol station, and I always loved adding new ones to my collection. During all those years of moving around, my little brother Nephi was my favourite toy. And while my stepfather was very cruel to me, we eventually reconciled before he passed away 2016.
At high school, my dream was to move to London and become a big fashion designer. One of my fondest memories at high school was “The Spaced Out Variety Show”. I designed a silver costume with a Madonna bra, a high-waisted wrap skirt, full-lengths and platforms. This was the beginning of my life in fashion.
“Deciding to travel was the best idea I have ever had!”
My first job was with The New Zealand Herald as a paperboy. I was 11-years-old, my pay was $15 per week, and I delivered newspapers around Ruatoria Gisborne, East Cape New Zealand, rain or shine, on my cousin’s Raleigh 20 bike. On payday, my aunt taught me how to layby board shorts and a watch! I did that for a year between 1986-1987.
I completed some trade certificates as a machinist and in sewing. I also half-completed a BA in Fashion at Wanganui Technical College. When I got a Fashion Honours student scholarship worth $1,000 I studied really hard because I was young and talented and ambitious, and the attitude from my peers was often reverential.
Fashion and Free Trade
I worked as a Bendon, Pragma and Bamboo Frankton, in the late 90s making clothes. The work that gave me the greatest satisfaction was when I presented a 3-piece collection of fashion designs at Westfield Style Pacifica and was one of the top 8 designers in the country. And I enjoyed making “Madonna bras” and G-strings when I was at Bendon. Another problem with the Fashion industry was the economic crisis that hit New Zealand with the Free Trade Agreements. All the piece-making or garment jobs went to China, Fiji, Vietnam, India and eventually Bangladesh. There was a lot of regional unemployment in New Zealand. Not even the footwear and clothing union of NZ could save their jobs. Many of the ones who held top union positions were staunch, strong women.
Across the Tasman
When I first came to Australia, I worked a few different jobs. I was a tailor, I sold the Big Issue, and at one point I was a street-based sex worker in Kings Cross.
When an opportunity came up to study Fashion, I found that the environment among students was very competitive. Some students’ end of year collections were over-the-top and extravagant, with students spending loads of cash on their end-of-year shows.
In Part Two, I will tell you something about travel, Transgender issues and a special person I met along the way who inspired me.