She’s had her fair share of detractors over the years, but one person remains transgender girl-about-town Mary Haddock-Staniland’s biggest fan – her devoted husband Willie.
As they snuggle up in the lounge of their luxurious south Auckland home on the eve of their 10th anniversary, the glamorous LGBT advocate and the mild-mannered rail executive are the epitome of domestic bliss.
And the couple, who met online, say their new four-bedroom abode has signalled the next phase of their lives – parenthood!
“A future with children is definitely part of why we’ve moved to this massive house,” tells Mary, 34, an ambassador for Tongan Tourism, adding that they will be looking to adopt a baby from Tonga.
“I’ve been there several times and fallen in love with the people and the landscape. Adopting a baby from there would be entirely possible and I’ve always wanted kids. I have 21 nieces and nephews, and two great-nieces!”
Mary and Willie are polar opposites. He’s a quiet Johnny Cash and Star Trek fan, while she’s a champagne-swilling social butterfly who “only listens to Beyoncé”. But they insist their differences will be their parenting strengths.
“Willie will be good cop and I’ll be bad cop,” explains Mary. “I’m really strict, but I know what I’m doing – I grew up changing nappies in a big extended family.”
Born a boy named Robert, with an identical twin brother, Mary grew up in Matamata in the shadow of schoolyard bullying and a violent, abusive father. She began living as a woman at 18, but a promising radio career on now-defunct station Viva came crashing to a halt after the self-confessed limelight-lover was convicted of credit-card fraud and revealed to be stalking newsreader Simon Dallow.
Housed in a male prison, Mary says she was raped and beaten by other inmates. “It was a long time ago,” she says, but she still shudders as she recalls being brutally maimed in the shower by two burly prisoners.
Transgender issues have gone global since Olympic gold medallist and reality TV star Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn in 2015. “What she has done to raise awareness is incredibly powerful,” smiles Mary.
Another woman Mary adores is Oprah Winfrey, who she met when the talk host visited New Zealand last year. Mary was six when she watched Oprah talk to “a little boy who wanted to be a little girl” and realised that she suffered from gender dysphoria too.
“I told Oprah about how it changed my life,” recalls Mary, whose selfie with the star is proudly displayed in her lounge. “She gave me a look like, ‘Got it.’ I’d only had my boobs for six weeks, so I was fresh off the boat!”
The double-Cs are a complete about-turn for Mary, who always maintained she would never get surgery. But time spent living in close quarters with three other women for last year’s ZM radio stunt Ladies of NZ made her envy their bodies. She confesses, “I felt it was a box to tick to ensure I was living an authentic life.”
Yet Mary’s drawing the surgery line firmly above her waist. “There doesn’t need to be a public statement as to why I don’t want the full op,” she laughs, “but everything sits so much better since I got my boobs. The whole Farmers thing probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d had them back then.”
Last July, Mary hit the headlines when it emerged she’d been banned from the store’s female changing rooms for being “half-man, half-woman”. She took the case to the Human Rights Commission and has since become more active as a role model for transgender youth.
“This wasn’t ever about money,” she explains. “It was about Farmers educating their staff so that no-one has to go through that again.”
However, Mary still receives regular abuse on social media.She sighs, “The Twitter hate in particular is ghastly. They say things like, ‘Die, fraudster!’ It doesn’t faze me – it just frustrates me and makes me want to keep breaking down barriers.”
Mary, who married Willie, 44, three years ago, is so passionate about transgender issues, she’s considering entering local-body politics. “I’m like Maggie Thatcher and Willie is my Denis,” she grins. “I haven’t aligned with any one party yet, but I am really serious about raising the issues we have in Manurewa. It’s about making change in my own backyard.”
In the meantime, there is so much to be happy about. Mary concludes, “I never thought I would have come this far in my life having gone through what I’ve gone through.
To have met Willie and now be in this new phase of our lives, I am truly in the best place I’ve ever been.”