The Rosy Resurrection

By Jamie Brisick | 11 February 2011

Shedding Peter Drouyn and becoming Westery Windina By Jamie Brisick

Westerly Windina peers into a vintage hand mirror and applies ruby-red lipstick to her puckered lips. She wears a white blouse, red bolero jacket, black slit skirt, black-and-white Chanel-style ballerina flats, and gold chunk jewelry. She sits with her back straight, elbows off the table. From a certain angle she looks like a ’50s blonde bombshell. She is the former Peter Drouyn, or Drouyn’s alter ego, or a magnificent publicity stunt, at this point I’m still unsure.
What I do know is that in 2008, Peter Drouyn announced on Australian national television that he was living as a woman. She said that this had been brewing in Peter for a long, long time. She mentioned taking hormones in preparation for gender reassignment surgery, which she hoped to undergo in the near future. Her new name, she said, was Westerly Windina.

As a young surfer coming of age in the ’80s, I’d missed Drouyn’s heyday. But I’d heard stories: that he was Queensland’s first surfing superstar; that he’d invented the man-on-man contest format; that he was theatrical and enigmatic and deeply embittered that surf historians hadn’t given him more credit. In Bustin’ Down The Door, ’78 world champ Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew describes Drouyn riding Kirra as: “The best display of surfing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

When the Westerly story broke I became instantly fascinated. I searched the internet and found various accounts, but aside from the basics, none of the pieces I read attempted to get beneath the surface. Most treated Westerly as a freak show.

When I telephoned to request an interview in late August of last year, she answered with a coquettish: “Westerly Windina here.” And when we arranged to meet at an Italian restaurant near Surfer’s Paradise, she said, “You won’t miss me, I’ll be the blonde and all the rest.”

That morning I called to tell her I’d be running fifteen minutes late. Westerly giggled: “Oh, that’s okay. ‘I’m always late, that’s just the nature of me these days.”

In the five slightly strained minutes between meeting out front, entering the airy restaurant, being shown to our table, and ordering drinks (ice water for both of us), it becomes very apparent that Westerly is far more female than male. In fact she’s almost Southern Belle-ish in her politeness and delicate mannerisms. I’m struck with the urge to open the door for her, pull out her chair. Should a mud puddle suddenly appear in our path I’d doubtless throw down my T-shirt. I’m also walking on eggshells. I have a long list of deeply personal questions that seemed perfectly legitimate when I rehearsed them on the ride here, but now seem suddenly inappropriate. Westerly, however, cuts right to the chase.

“This is the unfolding of someone experiencing…” she says in a soft, breathy tone, then pauses, looks down to her hands, folds one atop the other. Her mascara brushed eyes search the table, a wisp of platinum blonde hair curls like a Burleigh barrel across her forehead. “I’ll think of the words in a second.”

She takes a sip of water, collects herself and begins again. “This is the unfolding of someone experiencing a new existence. I’ve been plucked and put into a new dimension. This is actually something that has come and hit me and said, ‘You’re ready. You’re ready to enter this new space and time and there’s a mission for you in all this.’ It sounds weird, I know. I keep saying to people, ‘It’s not intentional.’ This girl is just…Wow! She’s out there, but she’s real. And I don’t want to get out of it. And I can’t get out of it.”

Peter Drouyn was born in 1950, and spent his early years frolicking on the beaches of his hometown, Surfer’s Paradise. His father, Victor, was a lifeguard/clothing store owner and played saxophone in a big band. His mother, Gwendolyn, was a singer and pianist. Drouyn and his older brother, Anthony, grew up in a middle class home with Catholicism and creativity at its centre. Before Peter was born his mother’s obstetrician told her that she was pregnant with a girl.

At age eleven, Peter was playing in the shorebreak when a Sydney surfer streaked past on a long balsa board. Peter asked if he could try it, stood up on his first wave, and proceeded to hijack the board for the next couple of hours. He surfed his first contest in ’65: the Cadillac Classic at Greenmount Beach. Suffering from a bad case of nerves in the final, he finished fourth. Later that year he won the Queensland Titles, which earned him a round-trip plane ticket to Sydney for the prestigious Australian National Titles.

Fifteen-year-old Peter flew to Sydney with big aspirations. On the eve of the event, he attended a competitor’s meeting at Manly Hotel, located across the street from the contest site. Beer and bonhomie filled the room, until a trio of surfers cornered Peter and began taunting him. They told him to go back to Queensland; that he didn’t stand a chance against reigning Sydney junior champion Kevin “The Head” Brennan. Peter’s retort was neither cocky nor docile. “We’ll see about that,” he said.

At 10pm the pub closed and a mob of drunken surfers pushed their way out the door. Peter walked across the street to check the waves. Suddenly the trio was on him. Two held his arms while the third – “a redhead with freckles, I can still see him”, recalls westerley – bashed him in the face, the stomach, the ribs. When they finally let go he fell like a ragdoll, his face slamming the brick footpath.

Fellow competitor Bob Evans found him in a pool of blood and rushed him to hospital. He received twelve stitches in his forehead and four in his lip. The doctor told him to stay out of the water, but Peter convinced him to cover his cuts with a liquid bandage. He went back to his hotel, smeared a bar of paraffin up and down the deck of his 9’1” Dale double-stringer, and anxiously awaited daylight.

The following morning he went out and won his first heat and then every heat thereafter. It was a sweet victory. Not only did he exact the perfect revenge on his assailants, but he became an overnight sensation in Australia’s fledgling contest scene.

Standing on the podium in front of a small sea of applauding fans and popping flash bulbs, he felt like the heavyweight champion of the world, like Cassius Clay.

Westerly politely orders a spaghetti arrabiata with calamari from our stout, simpatico waitress who calls both of us: “Doll.” She passes back her menu, tells me: “the arrabiata is to die for,” and rolls her eyes.

I order the same, then quickly scan the room. Our fellow diners are a mix of white-collar business people, manicured housewives, and old ladies sipping coffee. I mention something about suburbia being a haven for narrow-mindedness and Westerly says that Australia is: “An insensitive, backwards-thinking culture.”

She talks about the tall poppy syndrome, an Australian phenomenon in which mediocrity is championed and excellence and eccentricity get chopped down. ”Peter was an awkward misfit,” she says. “He had to do it all himself when he wasn’t really a fighter or a swearer or a beer drinker. His life was a lie.”

I ask how she came up with the name Westerly Windina and she explains that the westerly wind is offshore on the Gold Coast, and that these were Peter’s preferred conditions.

I inquire about Peter’s sexual orientation… “Pete’s not homosexual, let me get that loud and clear… But Westerley’s not a lesbian either.”

She explains that in this transition stage, she is essentially asexual. She says: I perform “women’s things in my own natural, evolving way,” and points out that to transition with integrity, a period of abstinence from sex is mandatory.

Which leads to my next big question: Has she had gender reassignment surgery? Westerly says it doesn’t matter, that the state operates on black and white terms: “If we’re born with a penis and testicles we’re deemed a boy; and if we’re born with a vagina we’re called female. But what about the ones who carry a mixed biochemistry inside them, imagine the incredible problems that person has to deal with?”

“Let’s just say that you’re getting around as a girl who was a boy. You’re dressing up as a girl because you know genuinely that you’re a girl. So it really doesn’t matter if you’re walking around with testicles and a penis. It’s tantamount to the testicles and penis being foreign to you. They shouldn’t have been there! It shouldn’t be there! And you’ve got to get them off as soon as possible. It’s like a leech that has gone into your body and you’re trying to rip it out but half of it’s stuck. You don’t want it there. It’s foreign.”

“So if you take that thought through, it really doesn’t even matter if you’re walking around as a girl with penis and testicles. If you know you’re a girl, and you’ve got the operation coming, so what? Yeah, you’re a girl anyway.”

Peter loved cowboy and Indian movies as a kid, and would slip off to a private corner of his backyard and re-enact scenes, only instead of playing the cowboy, he’d paint his fingernails and put on lipstick and a miniskirt and play the squaw. He adored flowers: smelling them, rubbing them on his face, wearing them in his hair. He wore women’s boardshorts in the surf for their tight, slender fit.

While watching his first surf film on the big screen, featuring the massive, thundering waves of the North Shore, he was so viscerally moved that he had to hide behind his seat. “He looked like a boy,” says Westerly, “but his emotions and sensitivities were like a girl.”

“The start of Peter becoming afraid of himself”, came at age eleven. Westerly was reluctant to go into detail, but from what I could glean, Peter and a young girl slipped off to a nearby lake for hanky-panky. They were kissing, groping, dry humping, when Peter came in his pants. He spiralled into a horrific panic. “His Catholic guilt came out,” says Westerly. “He thought he’d gotten her pregnant. He thought God would damn him, that he’d go to hell.”

More panic attacks followed. He became increasingly shy and mistrustful. He couldn’t concentrate in school, and eventually stopped going altogether. His parents sent him to a psychiatrist. Westerly insists that Peter suffered from severe OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), but at the time doctors had yet to diagnose it as such. He was prescribed medication. And then surfing came along.

Whether a form of salvation or a wedge between Peter and his true self is open to conjecture. Two things are certain: One, he was ridiculously gifted on a board. While his contemporaries did walkovers and hang fives, Peter heaved up and down, back and forth, pioneering what the Aussies dubbed the power style. He could lose himself on a wave, apply every nerve, every cuticle. “It was a rebellion thing,” he said in a ’97 issue of Deep. “I powered. I had to get it out of me. I’d punch the wave.”

Two, the mid -’60s Aussie surf scene was no place for a hypersensitive teenage boy with the emotions of a girl.

In a Surfer article, Nat Young describes the awards banquet of the 1969 Australian Championships: “The things I remember after dinner are vague. Everyone consuming literally gallons of anything alcoholic and the party had really started to move. Some guy executed a perfect hambone, dropping his pants, and the beer started to flow freely from one room to another through the air.” He goes on to describe a food fight straight out of Animal House, and a guy, “urinating all over some girl that had been asking for it all night.” Peter appears twice: splattering “tomato sauce all over everyone,” and dumping a “rubbish can into the atmosphere.”

After back-to-back victories in the juniors division of the Australian National Titles, Peter finished second to Nat Young in the men’s division in ’67 and ’69, then won in 1970. That same year he went to the North Shore and won the Makaha Invitational, placed 4th in the Smirnoff and 2nd in the Duke. But despite his competitive success, a series of misfortunes left him feeling spurned and ostracised.

He was sure he’d won the Duke final, and when he exited the water at Sunset, friends and spectators patted him on the back and told him likewise (he lost to Jeff Hakman by half a point). During the ’68 World Titles in Puerto Rico he caught a vicious flu. He was bedridden, delirious, coughing up blood. He lost first heat, but what’s worse, none of his Aussie mates came to his aid.

After being announced the winner of the ’69 Australian Titles—trophy in hand, his Queensland team mates lavishing him in praise—the opposing teams banded together and changed the format retroactive to the start of the event. “Sit down,” said the contest director to an ecstatic Peter. “This isn’t going to be pleasant.” Peter then had to hand his first place trophy over to Nat Young.

The kicker was what Westerly bitterly refers to as “Surfgate.” In the mid ’60s Peter dropped out of school and began working at a surfboard factory. He learned how to shape, glass, sand, and set fins, but more importantly, he learned that he could go shorter and lighter. While the standard board was upwards of 10’, Peter was riding an 8’11”.

According to Westerly, there was a session at Byron Bay where the eminent Nat Young dinged his 10’1” and at Peter’s behest, had a go on the 8’11”. He ripped on it, and proceeded to ride it for the next three hours. Shortly thereafter Nat ordered a similar design from Bob McTavish, won the ’66 World Titles in San Diego on a 9’4”, and effectively kicked off the Shortboard Revolution.

In “We’re Tops Now,” the John Witzig-penned Surfer article that officialised this seismic shift in board design and waveriding approach, Nat Young, Bob McTavish, and George Greenough are credited as the pioneers, while Peter scarcely gets a mention.

“Politics and injustice worked against poor Peter,” laments Westerly. “He was devastated by how they sidelined him. They forced him into exile.”

Lunch arrives, and without asking, our waitress grates a coating of Parmesan over Westerly’s pasta. Westerly shudders. She gives me a distressed look. When our waitress walks away she tells me she can’t eat cheese; that the doctor said to steer clear of it. After brief deliberation, and triple-checking that I won’t think her a Prima Donna, she takes it back for a new plate.

We discuss decorum and etiquette, the lack of lady-like role models in pop culture and the importance of style and good taste. She tells me that her friends, of which she admits there aren’t many, were first taken aback by Westerly, but are now “getting used to her, and actually treating her as a girl without even realizing they’re doing it.”

I’m fascinated by her repeated use of the third person. It feels theatrical: as if Peter and Westerly are characters she’s playing in a movie. What’s more, she’ll often mix pronouns then correct herself: “I was devastated, I mean, Peter was devastated.” She is a protean conversationalist, bouncing from old Hollywood films to Aboriginal history to the monsters that robbed poor Peter in a single breath. She’s also prone to great bursts of laughter in which her eyes go glassy and cheeks turn rosy.

I ask about surfing and she says that she surfs “when there’s a quiet, empty wave”, but avoids the popular beaches because “Australian surfers get around in packs, and have a tendency toward violence.” I ask if her connection with the water has changed. “I see the whole environment as being beautiful,” she says. “When I see a wave, I don’t necessarily want to go out and surf it, I just love the way it curls over and breeches and sprays; the colours, the noise, the way it just dissipates on the shore.”

There is a delightful sense of wonder about Westerly. She seems genuinely gracious and awestruck and childlike. I ask who her heroes were growing up and she mentions Muhammad Ali, Juan Belmonte the famous Spanish bullfighter, and…

“You’re not going to believe this, but Marilyn Monroe in River of No Return and The Seven Year Itch and Bus Stop. And I was disappointed in The Misfits!”

In 1971 Peter enrolled in the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) and studied Stanislavski’s system—an approach in which actors draw upon personal emotions and memories, and immerse themselves fully in their characters. Peter was a natural. He acted in plays, films, and television commercials. He learned about movement. “He went from being a gorilla to style and elasticity,” says Westerly.

His theatrical side seeped into his surfing. At contests he’d show up with a six-foot-four, top hat-wearing caddy named Johnny Walker who tended to Peter the way a second tends to his boxer. He charged surfer magazine a fee to be interviewed. At parties and awards presentations he’d perform skits, race calls, and impersonations, most famously Brando in The Godfather in which he’d stuff his cheeks with tissue paper.

1976 World Champion Peter Townend tells a vivid story of the time Peter was losing in the finals of the Queensland State Titles at Snapper Rocks: “He exited the water mid-heat, threw a McEnroe-sized temper tantrum that not even his gorgeous blonde girlfriend could quell, then sped away in his car, leaving girlfriend and personal belongings behind.”

He also began to conceive of “Method Surfing.” Much has been written about the early ’70s “pocket rockets” – boards so short and manoeuvrable that they became extensions of their riders’ imaginations. Peter’s approach took this several steps further: “I styled it off what I learned at NIDA: the Stanislavski-method style of acting,” he said in a 1980 issue of Surfer. “That is, you are one and the same, you become the ocean by degrees of concentration and relaxation, kind of a hypnotic state…I went out and just became the ocean.”

In 1973, Peter and filmmaker Bob Evans (the same Bob Evans that rescued Peter during the ’65 Australian National Titles) set off on a six-month around-the-world odyssey, chasing waves along the coasts of Mauritius, South Africa, Angola, the Canary Islands, Morocco, Hawaii, Japan, and Indonesia. The resulting film, Drouyn, captures Peter at the height of his powers. When he’s not charming topless Angolan tribeswoman, kissing giggly Japanese girls, or swaggering around naked in Biarritz, he’s punching the lip at Tamarin Bay, pulling into deep barrels at Cape St. Francis, and carving elegant, muscular lines across empty, double-overhead Uluwatu.

The Peter on-screen bares no resemblance to the tortured, introspective Peter that Westerly describes. He’s constantly smiling, laughing, jesting. Most riveting is his exuberant “Method Surfing.” With a fluid stance and cocked front arm, his off the bottom/off the top combos are vicious and almost dizzying to watch. He is profoundly at one with the wave.

Westerly becomes particularly excited when she speaks of the climax scene at Uluwatu. She says that Peter made eye contact with a Dugong, and that it looked at him with a primal familiarity. She describes a wave in which he rode behind a soaring albatross with an eight-foot wingspan, and swears that they played follow the leader.

Peter arrived home from the trip ecstatic, transformed, convinced that the film would blow minds. The premiere was held in a wine cellar in Sydney. Peter wore a yachtsman’s navy blazer and flared white slacks. After the screening, he hopped up on stage and launched into what Tracks journalist Phil Jarratt called: “A stream of consciousness rave that incorporated every nuance of manic brilliance that he’d picked up in bars around the world, The National Institute of Dramatic Art, and a decade in the jetstream of international surfing.”

He went on to say that: “Peter Drouyn is the personification of what surfing is all about and…Deserves to be as important a figure in sport as Muhammad Ali.”

Nevertheless, Drouyn flopped. Audiences didn’t get it, nor did the magazines. Even worse, they largely ignored it. Peter’s sense that the surf media was conspiring against him grew. He fell into a crippling two-year depression.

And then the phone rang.

In 1976, the general manager of Stubbies clothing asked Peter to mastermind a surf contest. The timing could not have been better. During his sabbatical, Peter had been studying acting and boxing. Along with his loathing of the surf media, he considered the existing surf contest format: “As corrupt as Idi Amin’s government.” To him pro surfing needed more high drama. As he emphatically put it in a 1980 Surfer interview, “There’s got to be contact in surfing for it to work as a competitive sport.” He drafted a letter to the 44 invited surfers explaining his new judging criteria: ‘A surfer who is in complete control of his board is obviously on a winning way. A surfer who is not in control is obviously on a losing way. Defining the points split of two surfers in complete control will depend largely on the pressure of mind and body stretched to the limit in discovering and using ways and means constantly to achieve victory.’

The 1977 Stubbies Pro was a colossal event. Competitors, spectators, and media alike were rapt by Peter’s new format. Former wrestling champion Lord Tallyho Blears provided blow-by-blow commentary in his dramatic baritone, judges were partitioned off so as to avoid peering over shoulders, and the enigmatic Michael Peterson got severely barrelled in spiralling, aquamarine tubes at Burleigh Heads and pocketed $5K for the win. Most importantly, the man-on-man format would revolutionise competitive surfing.

“I can mention for you some of the strange things that have happened to me that I’ve tried to suppress,” offers Westerly, about two-thirds of the way through the pasta. She proceeds to tell how some years back, Peter was searching at length for an arcane book for his law studies. When he finally found it in a second-hand bookstore, it was sitting on the shelf right next to a Marilyn Monroe biography. “It just jumped right out at him,” remembers Westerly.

Peter bought the book, devoured it in an evening, then proceeded to buy every book on Marilyn that he could find. He was astonished by the similarities between his and Marilyn’s life. Both suffered panic attacks, both hated to be alone, both experienced paralysing bouts of low self-esteem, both studied method acting, both cited Marlon Brando and Clark Gable as their favourite actors, both spent two weeks in a mental institution, both tried LSD at exactly the same time. “About seven times in ten when I’ve looked down to my odometer in the last two years, the number 36 always comes up,” declares Westerly. “Marilyn was 36 when she died!”

She goes on to say that Marilyn never felt she was taken seriously and neither did Peter; that Marilyn suffered gender identity issues; that Marilyn dreamed of being a lawyer, which is precisely Westerly’s vocation. “I didn’t even realise that ‘MM’ upside down is ‘WW’!”

“That’s interesting,” I say.

“And it’s totally true.” Her eyes well up. “I get scared when I think about it. I get really scared. I used to think maybe I’m mad, and I’d analyse and analyse and I’d say, ‘No, no. Stop! It’s just a coincidence.’ I repressed it for so long.”

“Do you feel the spirit of Marilyn inside you?”

“Yes, there’s no question about it, she’s in me. And God has put her there.”

“Well then who exactly is Westerly Windina?”

“Westerly Windina is a person who has been placed inside of Peter Drouyn. She’s taken over his body. Westerly has left behind Peter’s fears. Westerly… She’s a comedian, she’s a singer. Westerly has a new life. I’ve been resurrected!”

“You keep speaking of Peter Drouyn in the past tense. Is he gone for good?”

“He’s gone. He’s actually…” She points a finger heavenward. “I think he’s up there with Mum and Dad.”

Theatre, method surfing, man-on-man competition, and a penchant for dreaming up fanciful ideas melded together in ’84, when Peter challenged four-time world champion Mark Richards to a showdown. Titled “The Superchallenge,” he and MR would duke it out at Burleigh Heads on a range of boards including single fins, twin fins, thrusters, four fins, and longboards. The idea was to determine “the best versatile surfer.” But there were interesting twists: the judges would not be accredited IPS judges, but instead teachers from NIDA; the scores would not be scratched on paper, but rather punched into a computer, which would then appear on a large LCD screen; the first ever computerised scoring system. He took out campy advertisements in the surf mags: Peter clad in underwear, smeared with ketchup, posing Gladiator-style, with Muhammad Ali-like jibes slashed across the page.

He had been researching wave pools. His hope was that this would be the start of Vegas-like surfing performances in “wave stadiums.” He envisaged orchestra pits, laser shows, and trained dolphins leaping over the heads of barrelled surfers on centre stage (a decade later we’d get The Flow Rider).

At any rate, the Superchallenge seemed cursed from the get-go. First the local council refused to give Peter a permit for Burleigh Heads, then Lennox Heads, his Plan B spot, fell through. He had to settle for Ballina, a sub par wave down the coast. The day of the event started out smooth enough. MR won the first round; then Peter [who’d dyed his hair white and wore a Lycra one-piece for the occasion] won the second. MR was slightly ahead when a shark slithered through the line-up and the sky turned grey. A light drizzle quickly turned into a Biblical storm. Spectators, judges, and media fled, banners and fences blew across the beach, and the computer equipment was buried in sand. “That really broke Peter’s heart,” says Westerly.

Next up was the Far East. Enrolled in Asian Studies courses, learning to speak Mandarin, and repulsed by all things Australian, thirty-five-year-old Peter began to obsess about China. His plan was to introduce the Chinese to surfing, breed a team of über-waveriders, and coach them to victory in the ’86 World Amateur Titles—a last laugh against the surfing world that had wronged him. He drew up a formal proposal, presented it to the Ministry of Sport, and in 1985, became the first official surfing coach to The People’s Republic of China.

He was received like royalty, given a troop of twenty selected male and female students (many of whom were trained gymnasts), and “felt like Lawrence of Arabia.” But then the strange diet, copious amounts of alcohol and exhausting travel schedule took its toll. After “five weeks that felt like two years,” he flew home.

The latter half of the ’80s and entire ’90s were marked by a litany of false starts. His various jobs included starting a modelling school, coaching world-title aspirant Barton Lynch, working at a surf shop, driving a taxi, selling insurance door-to-door, opening a drama school, designing a wave machine, working as a sander in a cabinet factory, studying engineering in Tasmania, and attempting to open a surf resort in the Philippines, in which he “got screwed.” For much of this time he was destitute, living in tiny flats, caravan parks, or with his parents.

In 1989 he traveled to South Africa specifically to find a wife. He did, had a son [Zachary] then divorced shortly thereafter. Custody battles ensued for nearly a decade, but today, Zachary, now 20, spends weekends with his father, and remains the centre of Westerly’s life.

In 1993 Peter’s mother died, which devastated him—she’d been his closest friend. For the next fifteen years he’d care for his father, who died last year.

On a sunny afternoon in 2002, Peter Drouyn paddled out to his beloved Burleigh Heads. The sky was cloudless, water warm, and waves slightly overhead and spiralling down the point. He picked off a set wave and proceeded to streak across the shimmering face. On the inside section, where shallow sand creates a kind of zippering suck-up, he went to do his trademark straighten out in which he adds a matador-like flourish, as if the lip were a charging bull. The wave clocked him square on the head. As it took him down, the left side of his face slapped the concrete-hard surface. He was held underwater for a preternaturally long time. “This feeling is never to be forgotten,” remembers Westerly. “Peter felt terribly disoriented, his equilibrium was shot, he thought he was dead, he saw a powdery white light…and suddenly he popped up and drifted to shore.”

Westerly says that this accident, which left Peter with a concussion and perforated eardrum, “pretty much fried his brain.” She says things were never the same again and that soon after he started changing into a female. She tells a fairy tale-like story of Peter walking back from a surf one late afternoon. The beach is empty, Peter’s in a ponderous, introspective mood, when he nearly steps on a discarded women’s bathing suit, pink with white stripes. He takes it home and tries it on in front of the mirror. It fits. He sashays around the house in it regularly, often to the accompaniment of classical music. He experiments with lipstick. This leads to visits to local thrift stores, where he buys up women’s clothes by the bagful. In the middle of the night he puts them on, drives down to the beach, and dances along the shoreline in a kind of bewitched rapture. Pretty soon she’s wearing more women’s clothes than men’s.

“It was just bursting out of me,” says Westerly. “It was as if the suffering just couldn’t continue. And the moment I started believing I was a girl my body started to change. I went from a square gorilla to long-legged and slender. The hips are higher, the bum has lifted right up. The doctors can’t believe it!”

Westerly takes her latte with three sugars. She wears her emotions on her sleeve. Her face is animated in a way that calls to mind the tragicomic mask of the theatre. Much like Peter’s rollercoaster life, she is capable of going from tears to laughter in the course of a sentence. Over lunch she cries exactly four times: twice while recounting the struggles of Peter Drouyn, and twice while describing the divine intervention-like events that gave birth to Westerly Windina.

I ask: “Could you ever imagine going back to Peter Drouyn?”

“I think about this sometimes. No, absolutely not. It would be a fall back into a very deep hole. Peter was a life of wreckage. I was meant to be a girl.”

“And what does the future hold for Westerly?”

“I want to bring back the power of femininity. Everything I do—my speech, my communication, my clothes—is from the point of view of purity of femininity and the power of that internal spring; that caring, that sympathy, that sensitivity. A woman’s touch is finer than 16,000 magic carpets from Aladdin’s lamp! It can change the world.”

After we finish coffee I ask if I can take her picture. She blushes and says that she’d be honoured. She reaches into her purse and pulls out her hand mirror.

“I might even give you a peep at my bikini just to show you,” she says. “You’d blow out. It’s her figure. It’s unmistakably Marilyn’s figure.”

She paws her hair, applies lipstick. I imagine her signing autographs, blowing kisses. Suddenly she looks up.

“Well, what do you think? Do you think I look female?”

In coming months we’ll speak almost nightly. She’ll rave about her singing lessons, how she’s destined to come to America and make it big as an entertainer. She’ll repeatedly mention the surgery, how desperate she is to get it done. “My breasts are getting bigger, my legs are getting longer, my voice is going up an octave – I’m getting more feminine by the hour!” She’ll exclaim in one phone call. And then in the next she’ll be despondent, broken. She’ll complain that the Aussies don’t understand her; that they make fun of her on the street. She’ll send me dozens of self-portraits, and insist that I look closely and see her evolution. Most of all, she’ll reveal her vulnerability, her childlike need for love and attention.

She cups her hands together under her chin. Her cheeks flush, her eyes sparkle luminously. It’s as if a big birthday cake with lit candles has been placed in front of her face.

“No doubt about it, Westerly,” I say. “You’re one hundred percent woman.”

“Ah, good,” she says. “I knew you’d think so. Let’s go. I know of a little park across the street where the light’ll be just right. I can show you my walk!

Published by Tracks Magazine –

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