‘Balmain Boy Becomes Beauty,’ read the headline. It was the first she had heard of her son Richard’s sex change.
The 1960s and ’70s were dangerous times for transgender Australians. A man in a feather boa on stage was wonderfully flamboyant and risque, but on the streets? It was scandalous.
Performing as a showgirl in the iconic Les Girls show, Carol ‘Carlotta’ Spencer was arrested for ‘offensive behaviour’ when she walked home from work through Sydney’s Kings Cross one night, face still painted. A man in women’s clothing.
Now in her seventies, Carlotta’s fight is not over and nor are the issues facing the trans community. And now she’s detailed her incredible battle for acceptance in the podcast, Fighting For Fair:
The ‘Queen of the Cross’ always felt more like a woman in a man’s skin. It wasn’t enough to perform it, she wanted to live it.
So the Sydney showgirl began hormone therapy. Her skin was softening and her breasts were growing. But she didn’t like the idea that she was a woman up top, and a man down below. That’s when she found out about the sex change surgeries being performed in Sydney hospitals. But she says it was a procedure that was degrading, humiliating, and offensive.
“You had to sign up for all these tests,” she said.
“They used to put wires on my head in some of the tests, make me look at obscene photos of people having sex, animals having sex, to see what my reaction was. To see if I get aroused I suppose.”
Carlotta found the ordeal so degrading that she ended up pulling the wires off her head. This wasn't the way. A few weeks later, she tried again. This time in front of a panel of doctors, psychiatrists, a clergy man and a priest, who thought they should have a say in the Sydney showgirl's identity.
But in this room the test was different. Carlotta was instructed to step into a pair of towering red heels and cross the room. Prove her womanhood.
"I thought, what has this got to do with me wanting to have a sex change?" she said.
"I just got so mad, I pulled the high heels off and I threw them at the table."