Carmen Rupe: Transgender Icon
Rest in Peace
(The Gender Centre advise that this article may not be current and as such certain content, including
but not limited to persons, contact details and dates may not apply. Where legal authority or medical related matters are
cited, responsibility lies with the reader to obtain the most current relevant legal authority and/or medical
Carmen Rupe, Transgender Icon
In 2008 Carmen led the Decade of the Divas float in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. She will be
Carmen Rupe has left us. Often referred to as a transgender icon on both sides of the Tasman, this
remarkable woman died on December 15, following some months of ill-health following a fall earlier in the year. Cause of death was given as
kidney failure. After a period of vigil during which she lay in state at Redfern’s Te Warua Rapu Church a service was held on Wednesday 21
December, well attended by friends and admirers from the drag, Maori, straight and
She was carried to her hearse in a brilliant red coffin decorated with floral arrangements and a red feather boa. A small pounamu stone
had been placed in her hand before her last journey, after passing through the hands of a number of her friends and well-wishers. This is a
gesture allowed for only a few, a gift from the people of Katiwaewae on the West Coast of New Zealand. Carmen had a long and distinguished
career as a drag performer at several of Sydney's seminal impersonator nightclubs, including Les Girls and worked in the sex industry, both
as a professional and an entrepeneur. She also opened nightclubs, brothels and cafés in Wellington, venues that were openly
gay-friendly when this was considered to be outside the law.
In 2008 Carmen led the Decade of the Divas float in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. She will be much missed.
Carmen was born into a family of thirteen children and was named Trevor but it did not take her long to start kicking the gender
barriers apart, and she is said by her sister Tessie to have been "borrowing" skirts from her mother and grandmother before she
After leaving school she gave up life on the family farm and explored the bright lights of Auckland and Wellington, having fun by
performing in drag while she carried out her National Service military training and worked in restaurants and as a nurse.
By the time she arrived in Sydney in the 1950s and started working in Kings Cross she had set her course to be as exotic as she could in
every direction, and to fear nothing. She vowed never to wear men's clothes again. She did a belly dance with a python in tow, and joined
the Les Girls troupe as the first Maori female impersonator, as far as we know, performing in Sydney.
She returned to New Zealand and in 1977 ran for the post of Mayor of Wellington on a campaign that included hotel bars being allowed to
stay open until 2:00am, prostitution to be made legal, sex education in schools, nude beaches, the drinking age to be lowered to eighteen
and abortion to be decriminalised. She was not elected but all her reforms are now legal in New Zealand.
Carmen's legal guardians, in cooperation with her executors and family, are establishing a Memorial Trust to commemorate her memory and
her legacy as an L.G.B.T.I cultural icon and to continue
her charitable work (you can be involved in the Trust by emailing The Carmen Rupe
Memorial Trust , or visiting the Trust's
Polare is published in Australia by The Gender Centre
Inc. which is funded by the Department of Community Services under the
S.A.A.P. Program and supported by the
N.S.W. Health Department through the
AIDS and Infectious Diseases Branch. Polare provides a
forum for discussion and debate on gender issues. Advertisers are advised that all advertising is their responsibility under
the Trade Practices Act. Unsolicited contributions are welcome, though no guarantee is made by the Editor that they will be
published, nor any discussion entered into. The editor reserves the right to edit such contributions without notification.
Any submission which appears in Polare may be published on our internet site. Opinions expressed in this publication do not
necessarily reflect those of the Editor, The Gender Centre Inc.I, the
Department of Community Services or the N.S.W. Department of Health.