Becoming Westerly: New book traces trans journey of champion surfer
This article was originally published on Hungertv.com -- the online counterpart to Hunger, Rankin's biannual fashion and culture magazine.
In the 60s and 70s Australian Peter Drouyn was one of the most famous surfers in the world, a pro at the sport who pioneered a new approach which became known as "aggressive surfing" and who was followed by legions of fans.
Today, though, by all accounts Peter Drouyn is dead. For the last decade Peter has been living life as a woman known as Westerly Windina.
In 2009 Jamie Brisick, a surf journalist who had been aware of Peter, travelled to Australia to write a profile of Westerly, but what what consequently happened became a far greater story than that.
Starting with Westerly's 2012 trip to Bangkok for gender reassignment surgery, Jamie follows Westerly's story -- from a teenage hopeful in Queensland to a surfing champion to a glamorous, complex woman in her mid-sixties, and throughout learns lessons about life, love and friendship that we can all understand -- regardless of our gender.
Talk us through how you discovered Westerly's story, and why were you drawn to tell it?
I knew of Peter Drouyn in the mid-80s. It was past his surfing heyday, but he was still active in the surf world. He'd actually challenged four-time world champion Mark Richards to a man-on-man showdown called The Superchallenge. He was flamboyant and theatrical.
I heard that Peter became Westerly via websites—most of which treated her as a punchline. I knew that it challenged the surfing status quo in a terrific way. I was drawn to it because I thought she deserved to be treated better.
When did you first meet, and what were your first impressions?
It was in 2009, when I traveled to Australia to write a profile of her. We met for lunch at an Italian restaurant near her home. She was fascinating. She referred to Peter, her former self, in the third person past tense. It was like I was talking to Peter's mother about her deceased child. She was charming, smart, witty, funny.
But I couldn't tell if "Westerly" was for real or a publicity stunt. I wanted to believe, but all of Peter's longtime friends and contemporaries warned me that he often took on guises, that he might be taking me for a bit of a ride. That tension fascinated me. I also have a bit of a beef with the surf world for being so narrow-minded. I was happy to champion Westerly -- she poked at taboos and phobias.
What were the challenges of telling this story?
There was Westerly's version, and then there were other people's. They were not often consistent. Parsing through all that was challenging. Peter felt like he'd been neglected by the surf world, and that is pretty much the truth. I guess my biggest challenge was remaining neutral. I wanted to just "mid-wife" the information along and let the reader decide.
Gender is extremely newsworthy this year, from transgender models breaking into mainstream fashion to reality star Bruce Jenner's transition to a woman -- do you think society is accepting, or do we still have a way to go?
It's getting better for sure, but we have a long way to go. When I first started researching the story I suddenly remembered how many times I'd seen trans-people pushing shopping carts with all their belongings in them. It's as if there's an abyss between male and female, and anyone that doesn't neatly fit into either one falls into a place where it's hard to get work, acceptance, etc. I hope that improves soon.
Read more at Hungertv.com