Suzie St James – The Early Years – Darlington – Pictorial

I am sharing a series of photo’s that show a lot of our family history. Some are from my mother and fathers wedding, Nana M’s family in the early years and a whole bunch of stuff that relates in some way to my journey.

As this is also an interactive E story, please feel free to ask questions and leave comments.

All content copyright to Suzie St James. No part may be reproduced without my consent.

#SSJMYSTORY

 

 

Suzie St James Transitioning Begins

It was the beginning of 1984. I had just turned 16. School was over thank god. My mum tried to encourage me to complete year 11 and 12. No way that was going to happen. Not in a million years. I was still working at McDonald’s Auburn and earning a little money.

One day someone in the group suggested we go into the city. So we would all meet at the usual friends place and get ready to venture off. We would get a lift into the station and off we would go. Passion pop in toe. It was and still is a terrible drink. However it got you pissed.

We arrived in the city and I don’t know how but we ended up on Oxford Street. It was a whole new world. We discovered the Exchange Hotel. Me dressed in my weird attire of pink overalls and the pink corded handles of a Dotti Bag tied through my hair. Gosh looking back how special I must have looked. The Exchange was always packed and sometimes I found it hard to get in because I looked so young. However when I did get in I would venture around the place looking at all the different people. It was fascinating.

It was here that I came across my first transsexual. They weren’t called that much in those days. They were more commonly known as Drag Queens. I was besotted by what I saw and I had to know more. She was so beautiful. When I found out what it was all about; the penny finally dropped and I had found my life path. It was my dream to transition and become a happy person.

For weeks after weeks we kept going back to the Exchange and then maybe over to Club 45’s or Patches across the road. It was a totally different atmosphere back then. It was much more relaxed and there were so many venues on Oxford Street to choose from. It was here that I discovered I was not the most conventional person, a little weird perhaps. I had my own unique kind of style. We enjoyed the upstairs bar of the Exchange Hotel. I remember I was a little awkward in socializing, I don’t know if it stemmed from my hearing loss or just my personality. Who goes to a hotel and knits a cardigan in the process. Yes I used to knit while drinking cheap wine.

Soon after a couple of months my parents were getting very concerned as to where I was going and why I was coming home at all hours of the morning. If we missed the train we would share a taxi and one of us had the job of offering the driver a sexual favour for the job of paying for the long ride home. One morning when I got in at about 2-3am my mum was waiting. I copped the interrogation about where it was that I had been. So it was time to spill the beans. They didn’t take it very well and were very angry. So we came to the agreement that they would come to the Exchange Hotel with me one night. Oh dear I thought this is going to be tricky.

So Mum, Dad and I went to the Exchange. The look on my fathers face was priceless. I don’t I’ve ever seen the man speechless. My mum wasn’t too bad. They got a taste of where I was going and what I was up to. We kept going for a few months and then I got the courage and decided to move out of home. Neither of my parents were impressed especially because I was so young. But I had to do it. I don’t remember where the connection came from but I end up landing in a house filled with Drag Queens.

We lived in a house, really it was a house split into 2 apartments. There were a few Drag Queens (I’ll keep using the term as it represents the time) who lived upstairs and a few of us downstairs. It was so nice to be free and amongst people I could relate to. It was all very daunting at the time but I just seemed to finally blend in somewhere. It’s here that I met my best friend Ali. She was sort of a guidance and mentor to me. She showed me around the venues and even got me started on hormones. Cause I was a little too young I couldn’t get them from the Dr. So Ali would get them for me. Oh they were terrible things. They made you feel squirmish and sick all the time for the first couple of months. However it soon settled down. The price we pay to alter our gender.

I wasn’t very fortunate though with the results from the hormones in the early stages, especially in the breast region. They started to grow; but one was way bigger than the other. However the hormones softened my features a little more and I was pleased with the ongoing results.

To survive the expensive life of transitioning there weren’t too many options a young queen had at hand. Normal work was very scarce and limited with what little skill sets I had and most of the show work around the traps was taken by the older and more experienced Drag Queens. The last option and the most common in those times was prostitution. I hummed and arghed for a little while but Ali soon convinced me that it was the most viable option and the one to get the things I needed in my young transitioning stage. I remember the first night I did it. It was the most scariest night of my life. I decided to tail Ali down to a place not far from the house we lived in to try and get a feel for what was to become a so called career option. The place was called “Premier Lane”. Fuck it was a scary place. A one way lane way wedged between a giant sandstone wall and the rear of buildings on the other that faced onto busy William Street. It was dark and just situated on the outskirt of Kings Cross.

There were cars parked on one side of the lane and the other was clear for cars to drive along. The girls were either standing between the parked cars dressed all sexy to impress. Or if there were no cars they would line up somewhat like a row of pins in a bowling alley. The clients or “Mugs” as they were called would drive up the lane. If they saw something they liked they would stop, wind the window down and chat to the girls about their rates and services they provided. I was so overwhelmed by it all Ali gave me a pill, little did I know it was Rohyptonol. I ended up passing out on the back seat of one of the girls car. Ali and the others came and got me at six in the morning and took me home. I had fears about working, It all came with risks. The possibility of sexual disease transmission and violence and abuse. The lane was quite a dangerous place. As it was one way in and one way out for vehicles, yet if there was an attack by guys on foot from both ends; there really was no way out, except fight.

A day or so later I went back down with Ali and a few girls from the house and decided I had to do something to survive. I lined up like a ten pin skittle and waited. I was dressed in a swimsuit that Ali lent me and it wasn’t long before I was approached. Ali filled me in earlier of the going rates. I upped each by about five to ten dollars for the services I was offering. Oral sex was the most common service as you could do it in the car with the client somewhere discreet. However you had to do a lot more of them to make descent money.

My offer was accepted and away we went. I performed oral sex in his car for forty five dollars. He was what’s known as a regular mug or client and Ali yelled and told him to look after me. He took me to some place in the back streets of Paddington and I performed the deed. He wanted a raw act. No condom. I didn’t oblige even though he offered and extra bonus. I did a little research into the outcomes of bad sexual practices. I wanted to live a full life, not a quick one.

We returned to the lane and Ali asked how it all went, I said ok and we then lined up to await the next line up of cars that would come through. It was like a Macas drive through system. But it was how we survived.

Being around drag queens was a little intense for me at first. They can be aggressive and very bitchy. There were certain circles as I called them that would define where you were on the Drag Queen ladder. I learnt so much in these early years with the environment I chose to live in. Prostitution was illegal and staying a step ahead of the police was a constant challenge. They would define the rules that all of us broke in order to survive in what was a very competitive way of earning a living.

The one thing that I remember very well from this time was that you grew up fast. Learning to try and fit in amongst other Drag Queens and becoming street wise was daunting but exciting at the same time. I did however relish in the thought I was finally on my way to being the person I was happy with. I am now Trans.

Transitioning Part 2 – The quest to be the showgirl.

All content is copyright to Suzie St James. No part may be copied or reproduced without my consent.

#SSJMYSTORY

 

Transitioning Part 2 – The Quest to be a Showgirl.

Transitioning in the mid to late 80’s was a fruitful time. I had made new friends, done things I never thought I would and started enjoying life as my new self. It took me a short while to adjust to the new way in which I presented to the world. Being so young things were exciting yet very intimidating at the same time. It was time for a name change. I chose my name from a show that I watched on television as a child. Susan St James was an actress in America and she starred in a detective show called McMillian and Wife. My mum used to watch the show and the name just stuck in my head. In the 80’s we changed our name via deed poll. So off I went to the Land Titles Office and I registered my name and I was now Miss St James. I preferred Suzie as a shorter version to my name. So Susan was my legal name and Suzie was her alter ego.

Since there was no internet in those days, we relied a lot on each other for guidance and information. Some would even adopt a Drag mother. My hormone regime was going well, my features were softening yet still a little harsh in my eyes, however I was blessed with the one boob syndrome. My right one grew and left one was going nowhere. So in came the padded bra and numerous other ways of creating a bust line. Some used bird seed stuffed into stockings with odd choices of items used as nipples and others just used socks. I opted for 2 padded bras which were very sufficient and easier than stuffing stockings.

Working the streets was tough work and it was taking its toll on me already. Late nights, multiple sex partners day in day out was the norm, so I learnt to reward myself for working a bit longer some nights so I could have the next day all to myself. Having time out was just as important as working such a taxing profession. Living with other Trans and drag queens was great experience because I got to learn so many things from so many different people. I’ve always listened to various people on things and then take all that information and make it my own.

Inside me though, I had this quest. A quest to become a showgirl. Ali used to take me to places like Pete’s Beat, Club 45’s and numerous other venues along the strip (Oxford Street). There were so many places to choose from back then. Patches and the Exchange Hotel down the bottom of the strip to the Taxi Club up on Flinders Street. The Taxi Club was a drag queens haven. Late night or early morning drinks was always on the cards after a big night on the Meryl. Yes we called the street the Meryl. Drag code names and pillarie was all the rage back then. We had a dialogue that we could use without others (straight guys mainly) knowing what we were saying so we could communicate. The Taxi Club was infamous for trans or drag queen trade (otherwise known as a guy who likes to sleep with trans women). Many a nights I would lure men home from the establishment.

Then in late 1985 I got a chance to be in a drag show. It was with another drag queen and two male dancers. It was a big change for me as I also moved away from Darlinghurst to an outer suburb where there was no established gay community where you felt safe. It was the real world. It was a bit more travel to get to work on the Meryl. We lived in a super new townhouse where I shared with a drag queen and her partner. They had a pretty aggressive relationship and it reminded me much of living at home. I missed home, helping dad with the animals and going to work. Most of all mums cooking.

So my first show was on the horizon. I remember saving some money and buying my first costume. It was a lovely pink bodice gown that had a black lace overlay and a puffed sleeve jacket with peplum that tied at the waist. I bought it from a shop on Oxford Street run by a fabulous drag queen. She was a showgirl and we’ll known character of Oxford Street. Her name was Loraine and when I went to the shop to purchase my outfit she asked me to go downstairs into her boudoir and parade my purchase in front of her. It was dark yet lit with lamps that illuminated a soft glowing light. She had a lounge or day bed which she laid on. It was like she was the queen. She ushered me to get changed and show her my young self in the newly purchased gown. I whirled out into the area where the day bed was situated, scared and unknown to what she would say. I walked out in the gown, she sat up in a slow moving way and looked at me. She said in that husky voice, you’re gonna make one hell of a good looking chick. I was over the moon. My quest to be a showgirl was in motion. It was also the first time I had received a compliment from a well known peer.

Soon after I was performing at the Unicorn Hotel and other venues with the troop. I honestly can’t remember the first drag number I did. It was probably something tragic that didn’t suit me. It was good experience for me as I learnt being a showgirl was hard but rewarding work. It’s a glamorous life but one that requires lots of discipline. My previous dance experience had helped, but it was all so foreign because I was doing it as a girl instead of a male. I soon adjusted and the reward of all that hard work comes from the audience appreciation of your performance. We would travel a lot and do heaps of various venues like pubs and discos. But I had this urge to join a bigger show. Les Girls was still operating in the Cross but I never had the opportunity to work there. Another show Simone and Monique’s Playgirl Revue was a multi award winning drag show that toured the big RSL clubs all over Australia. They were having auditions and I put my hand up to try out. I was so nervous at the audition. I was trying out for one of the best drag shows Australia has ever seen. Unfortunately I was later to learn that I didn’t make the cut, it was more about who you knew than what you know.

I took it in my stride as one does but I never gave up hope. I continued to do the smaller shows around the traps. While the showgirl path wasn’t going true to plan I made a small mark in the Sydney Party scene. It’s here that I earned the nick name High Kick Sue.

High Kick Sue came about from my wild days on the dance floor. I was infamous for having a boogie on the dance floor and without a blink of an eye I would do the most en point high kicks. They were high and always performed with precision skill. All while wearing nothing more than a hanky and a dash of lipstick. Hence High Kick Sue was born. I finally started to feel a sense of being a known character amongst the scene. I was making my mark so to speak. The fabulous Hedda Harper had a field day with me in her columns, in one she called me the flying prey mantis of the dance floor. I’ve never laughed as much as when I read that. What a giggle. There was a big party just about every weekend. Looking back I wonder how we survived the abundance of parties we had. We would create amazing costumes and outfits, consume copious amounts of drugs and have so much fun it would be considered illegal today. OOOppps. It is. In those days it was the thing to go to Mardi Gras in big costumes and outfits. Ali was a huge inspiration for me here as her love for all things feathered and glamorous had rubbed off on me. One favourite memory I have is going to a party and you would look over the crowd in the big halls with thousands of people and see large feathered head dresses dancing amongst the crowd. They really were amazing times. We got up to so much fun night after night. Then it was off to recovery. We didn’t stop we would party on for days. I remember after one party Ali and a friend were returning home and found a wheel barrow. Well Ali decided to wheel our friend home all the way from the showground to our flat in Darlinghurst and made the news the next day. Hilarious times.

However it was not all coloured rainbows. The onslaught of the Aids epdemic was rife. I cannot count how many friends I have lost to HIV. It was an ugly disease back then, one which usually ended in a death sentence. Alas as a community we fought back. Raising awareness campaigns and educating ourselves with safe sex practices. Little did I know that soon it would take my best friend away from me.

Drag during this time was also encountering a shift. No longer was a drag queen one that lived life as a female and performed. There were alternative performers and guys dressing in drag during the night and living as men during the day. I think it where today’s perception of drag has evolved from and the drags that lived as females during the day became more recognised as Transsexual Women.

Another opportunity was on the horizon to join Simone and Monique’s Playgirls Revue. This time I had to audition with the Amazing JJ. JJ and Stefanie had acquired the show from Simone and Monique and continued the tradition. She was an amazing performer. I was put through a routine from the show which took me a few goes to sink in. My dream had finally come true. I was finally a part of a large Cabaret Show. I learnt so much during my time with the show. The amazing JJ was a deep inspiration for me and she had taught me so many things that I felt like I was on my way to become a polished performer in the drag industry.

My first tour was outback Queensland. A real eye opener for me and one of the most exciting times I’ve had as a performer. The one thing I found with doing these types of bookings is that you got to meet average everyday people. Real Australians. They were different from the gay crowds that I was used to performing to. I found them more humble and more appreciative. A little bit more down to earth. Less bitchy and crtitical.

I worked with the show for about a year before it dissolved. The final booking I did was in Newcastle. After the show we decided to go get food from a takeaway shop in Darby Street and next thing I remember I was waking up in hospital. I had been involved in a car accident and had my Achilles’ tendon severed in the incident. The injury had put me out of action for quite some time. I honestly thought my show days were over. It took a long time to recover from that accident. Painful physiotherapy sessions and a second operation was performed to get my tendon right. If it wasn’t for the support of Nan & Pop M during this time I don’t know how I would have gotten through it. Nan would come over with food hampers and ensure I was ok. I couldn’t work or perform and relied a lot on friends and flatmates.

My relationship with my family was estranged. I constantly thought I couldn’t discuss things with my Mum and Dad for fear of being alienated, judged and told I wasn’t doing the right thing with my new life path choices. Time was needed for them to understand my adjustment so I felt it was easier to keep my distance and only return for the annual Xmas lunch. I used to dress down as a boy, if you could call it that for the sake of not upsetting my family. To regress during transition is like 4 steps forward and 5 back. But it’s how I coped.

It was during my recovery from the accident one of the most magical things happened to me, something I felt would never happen. I fell in love.

Part 5 Surgery and The Relationship.

All content is copyright to Suzie St James. No part may be copied or reproduced without my consent.
#SSJMYSTORY