Life and Fashion part 2


By Edwina Keelan

When we ran Part One of Edwina’s story in Panorama 66, we learned about her interest in Fashion. This time we’ll take a closer look at the serious issues faced by the Transgender community, as well as some other aspects of Edwina’s life.

Transgender people and human rights

EDWINA: Transgender people go through a lot of dramas. One major fear for Transgender women is the worry that they won’t pass as female, that “she looks or sounds like a bloke”. Many of us carry a heavy weight of unhappiness on our shoulders, and need a lot of help to get by. My mum tells me I’m one of the ones who needs help!

The human rights of Transgender people are still not respected in many places around the world. There is often real hatred directed towards us. We are harassed, assaulted, arrested and jailed. Many employers will not give Transgender people a fair go, so we often cannot get a job. Sometimes we are even denied access to medical care, public services or education. This still happens despite the fact that countries like the USA have made it illegal to discriminate against Transgender people in such ways. We are still not making enough progress with having our rights upheld. Each year I mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20. This memorialises the Transgender lives that have been lost to violence, including deaths in custody. Transgender men and women are still being murdered in high numbers. 

About Edwina

Like most Transgender women, I always wanted to be a girl from an early age, about 5 years old. I began transitioning in 2004 by taking female hormones, which caused my breasts to grow and made me look more feminine. I also pluck all of my facial hair, as the other hair removal methods I’ve tried over the years failed to work. 

Some of my treasured milestones include my first kiss. This was when I was about 14, and I kissed some guy on a train from Wellington to Tuamaruunui in New Zealand. 

I never went to the High School Ball or dated in the 80s because my family was so poor. However, I managed to win First Place at a Blue Light Disco/Radio Launch dance competition, scoring a T-shirt and a music cassette tape. 

My favourite films include The Bodyguard, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, The Reigning Queens, Chicago 10, Once Were Warriors, and Wonder Woman. My favourite colour is purple and my prized possessions are my hats, notebooks, diaries, fashion illustrations and DVD collection. My ideal wedding dress would be from the Op Shop, and my ideal man would be loyal and hard-working like me. My proudest moment was seeing Whitney Houston live in concert. When I pass on, I want to be cremated, and I want Whitney Houston played at my funeral. Instead of buying flowers, I want people to donate money to charity. 

When I came to Australia I was a sex worker for a time. I always wanted to look pretty and have nice things. When I started out, I was (usually) a non-smoker and I didn’t do drugs or anything like that. 

While I wasn’t diagnosed with Bipolar until 1999, I knew I was not well. I was living in a shelter and it was a lonely period. 


My mother and father were distant cousins in New Zealand. Dad was born in Waipiro Bay 1952, and mum was born there one year later. My father was the eldest of four siblings, and very well educated, becoming Dux of Ngata College. I don’t recall much about him, and I only have a few photos to remember him by. Like my dad, I am the eldest child of four. I have two half-brothers and a half-sister, and they all have their own children. When mum immigrated to Brisbane in 2000 she worked as a tea lady, milked cows, did process work, mowed lawns, did maintenance work, and also did industrial and commercial cleaning. She also looked after my stepfather right up until he passed away. 

Friendships can be forever 

There are four important people in my life, though one of them has passed on. Her name was Carmen, and she used to perform with Les Girls, a famous cabaret show in Kings Cross compèred by Carlotta. There is still a theatre restaurant operating under that name. I learned about HIV/AIDS awareness from Carmen, about human rights, about building a community and how friendships can be forever. I also learned about wearing outrageous colourful clothes and being “out there.” I first met Carmen at Mardi Gras, and we both marched in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Project ACON float. 

My message to you

I want you to know something: people don’t have to like you. Just be you. My recovery is all about being a team player, enjoying the company of my colleagues, and being on time. I only wish there were more hours in a day. Give it 150% at all times. Try something new. Take small steps, then reward yourself. Look after yourself. Reach out to somebody when things get on top of you. Or go back to church. Maybe there is a God after all? 

Taking a trip anywhere is better than going nowhere at all. 

Finally: we all have challenges, but that doesn’t afford us any special privileges. 

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