Real Life

Transgender star Brady ‘I’m living my best life’

Told she’d never find success, the Timaru actress is now landing all her dream roles

As a trans woman, award-winning performer Brady Peeti has broken down many barriers. A star of TV and theatre, the actress has reached a point in her career where she is being cast as woman characters.

Last year, she even won major female roles in a professional production of the musical Rent in Christchurch and the Australian stage show Jekyll And Hyde, a feat once unheard of for trans actors.

But there was a time when Brady, 34, suppressed her passion for performance because she was constantly told she’d never find work as a trans actress and she was also scared of what others might think.

“At the time, I saw the world as being so binary and restrictive,” she tells. “If you looked and acted a certain way, you were going to be judged. I felt it was too cutthroat for me.”

Born in Whanganui, Brady – who is of Ngāti Maniapoto and Te Ati Haunui-a-Pāpārangi descent – knew she was different from an early age. When her parents moved to Timaru, away from their wider whānau, to work at the local fishery, the only child struggled.

“I felt like I had to suppress my true authentic self,” she recalls. “I grew up always trying to convince myself that I was a boy, knowing full well that I was not being completely honest. I hid my true feelings from my family because of the fear of being shunned.

As a boy, Brady put on a tough front “looking fearless”.

“I would walk down the street with my shoulders up, looking fearless, wearing this coat of armour. When you’re a young child, your emotions are heightened and you think you’re the only person in the world with these feelings. It was scary.”

Brady’s sole outlet was performing, especially singing, and she credits this passion for helping her survive the tough times. “My voice is my calling card. It’s quite an integral part of my design. It elevates me to strive to do great work.”

After finishing high school in Timaru, Brady attended the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art in Christchurch, majoring in musical theatre. But she then moved to Auckland for an office job at an insurance company, turning her back on her dreams and not utilising her performing arts degree.

“My life became consumed with this work that I didn’t want to do,” she tells. “It made me really angry and bitter because I didn’t have an outlet where I could be myself.”

But after three years of working in insurance, Brady had finally had enough. Inspired by the trailblazing trans women who had gone before her and fought for their rights, including politician Georgina Beyer, she realised she had to pursue her passion.

“I handed in my notice and decided to follow my heart – and I’ve never looked back!” she grins.

Six years ago, Brady began her transition from male to female. Coming out as gay at first, Brady knew that her journey was incomplete and her feelings towards her gender identity ran deeper than she thought. She explains, “There was still this strong feminine energy that was always there within me.”

In the end, what helped Brady to accept her true self was seeing the success of other trans personalities, like The Panthers actress Amanaki Prescott-Faletau and Niuean activist Phylesha Brown-Acton, as well as the love and support of her parents, Howard and Erica Peeti.

“My parents are extremely proud of me,” she asserts. “I’m one of the lucky ones because a lot of my trans sisters have been abandoned by their whānau. My parents love me for who I am and I hold that with high esteem.”

Brady has gone on to defy all the naysayers who told her that she wouldn’t find work if she came out as a trans woman. Since transitioning, she’s never been busier. She’s constantly booked for major events, including headlining the annual Big Gay Out in Auckland.

Brady was cast as a trans mother in the long-running Whakaata Māori drama Ahikāroa, now in its fifth season, and has featured in a short film about influential trans performer Carmen Rupe. Next month, she will also perform in the new theatre show Kōpū, an ensemble piece celebrating the voices of Māori women, at Auckland’s Te Pou Theatre.

Belting out the tunes in Kōpū. “My voice is my calling card.”

And as if that wasn’t enough, there’s a special man in Brady’s life too – her cat Rick Astley, who provides her with all the companionship she needs. She laughs, “He’s a ginger and a diva, but I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

However, in all seriousness, Brady enthuses, “When I discovered and embraced exactly who I was, I started living my best life.”

Kōpū runs at Te Pou Theatre in Henderson, Auckland, from 4 to 14 May. For tickets, visit tepoutheatre.nz.

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