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Gill Greer
Cooking after Masterchef

Gill Greer

Writer and former Director General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) Gill Greer, CBE, MNZM, is one of many women from Aotearoa who have had an international impact. She spoke with Jenny Rankine.

GG & closest friend IpohGill lived in a small village in Malaya from when she was a toddler, where she is pictured with her best friend. She was sent back to boarding school in New Zealand when she turned eight. Her father was a railway engineer and her mother a journalist. At school she had to read Katherine Mansfield, “disliked her intensely” and swore she would read no more “precious” New Zealand literature.

“I always joke that the women’s movement passed me by,” she says. “I was lost in suburban neurosis in Khandallah.” She had a daughter and a son and now has four grandchildren.

Reading KM

After she became a teacher she started work at Wellington Girls College, where she couldn’t avoid teaching about their most famous Old Girl. So she read John Middleton Murry’s heavily edited collection of KM’s letters, which “turned me around”. She read KM’s hand-written journals in the Alexander Turnbull Library, seeing the blots of tears on the page as KM wrote about her husband’s affair. Phrases like: “How I hate all these things men expect of their women” jumped out at her.

GG KM1When she moved to work at Victoria University in 1988 for a decade, she published three books as Gill Boddy, two about KM. The first wrapped Gill’s commentary around KM’s collected notes, poems, letters and stories in Katherine Mansfield, the woman and the writer.

“She wrote some very intimate journal entries from her times in Days Bay and Europe. About Edie Bendall she wrote: ‘Nothing remains except the shelter of her arms…I had never known what it truly was to love and be loved’. KM was very strong on women’s rights, the need for “power, wealth and freedom” and there are also implications of deeper relationships between women in her stories.”

GG KM2Gill started a PhD in women’s literature at Victoria, and in 1991 published Disputed Ground – Robin Hyde, Journalist, co-edited with Jacqueline Matthews. She finished the PhD in 1996, the same year her book, Katherine Mansfield: ‘A do you remember’ life, was published. Gill’s introductory biography related the following four Mansfield stories to KM’s upbringing, and discussed KM’s relationships with as Ida Baker and Maata Mahupuku.

Coming Out

Gill came out during her time at Victoria, when her children were 17 and 18. “I’d been married for 14 years and realised I was also attracted to women. Coming out in teaching would have been difficult; at Victoria it was a time and an environment where it was possible but not easy. I was hugely lucky, and my grandchildren are growing up with a gay grandmother.”

Lorae Parry & Gill GreerShe and her partner, actor and playwright Lorae Parry, right, “were friends for a long time. I came out of a relationship, she and her partner were separating amicably, and it just happened.” The pair had a civil union – “it was all that was available at the time and it didn’t bring a stereotype of marriage”.

Gill was active on sexuality and gender issues at Victoria; as Director of Student Services she launched a Respect campaign “across genders and sexualities. We enlarged student services – a lot of mental health issues they dealt with were linked to sexual and gender identity.”

She became Assistant Vice-Chancellor Equity and Human Resources, responsible for “ensuring equal opportunity for women as students and staff, as well as those with disabilities, and better support and services for Maori and Pacifica students. We founded Vic Volunteers because there was very little funding for support for students with disabilities.”

GG & LP Santa MonicaAfter she left Victoria, she became Chief Executive of the NZ Family Planning Association. “It was a time of great change; like many other NGOs we moved away from grants to a contractual arrangement with government. We weren’t computerised and didn’t know the financial value of our work.”

Gill helped set up a forum between the Ministry of Health, NGOs and DHBs. “It was exciting – we had a one-page statement of government intent, where the government promised respectful relationships with community organisations and Māori – it was a commitment to accountability, consultation and good communication.”

She visited FPA clinics and schools around the country. In some areas, such as the West Coast, she was told, “young gay and lesbian people left or sometimes they committed suicide, because they couldn’t be who they are. The limited data we have show trans students today are more likely to be bullied or self-harm; boys and young men who don’t fit the masculine stereotypes are too often rejected, and all these people can struggle with mental health problems. We’re still so far from the recognition that gender stereotypes impact on everyone, limiting us all.”

The FPA’s international work was with peer organisations in Pacific countries. “We advocated with governments for services for young people, women, men and for choice. That was a critical part of the work.”

GG DG IPPF @ NZFPA confeIn 2006, she was asked to apply for the Director-General’s job with the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), which is made up of 141 organisations funded by 19 donor governments. “To my great surprise I got the job. The first task was to develop a Sexual Rights declaration in the midst of the HIV epidemic.” She and the president, a psychiatrist from Trinidad, worked on it with a group from around the world, consulting with the member agencies. It took two years.

“New Zealand, in passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Act, decriminalising sex work and setting up needle exchanges, was a world leader. If every country in the world had followed that model, the impact of the epidemic would have been very different,” she says. “In some countries sex workers still are refused health care”, denying their human rights and contributing to the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

GG colleagues Washington mtg volunteering & SDGs“There are still 58 countries where sexual relationships between men are criminalised, which has a major impact. The declaration looked at all the ways people are refused basic human rights – privacy, passports, choosing who they married, saying no to sex – on the basis of sex, sexuality or gender and linked that denial to all the human rights treaties, conventions and covenants. The representatives from 36 countries who made up the IPPF governing council agreed that this was the centre of our work.”

[With her above are a committee member from Canada and the Co-ordinator of the Volunteer Groups Alliance from Madagascar.]

The sexual rights document was also the foundation of training courses on sexual rights, which included sexual and gender fluidity through life. “It was challenging work, given the cultural and religious diversity. One of the board representatives was opposed to the declaration; she would rather I hadn’t been appointed and was probably happy to see me go.”

Gill used paper clips and boxes to illustrate sexuality and gender fluidity across the continuum – “people often change across their lives. We did a lot of advocacy, developing research and data about oppressive laws, setting up women’s social enterprises, supporting women to stand for parliament.”

Gill IPPF signing funding agt“If you look at complaints to the UN Human Rights Council, many have been from IPPF member associations about their own governments. One of the first was the Cameroon FPA about their government’s refusal of health services to HIV+ people.”

“Associations couldn’t become members unless they had at least 50 percent women on their board and at least 20 percent under 25 – the aim was to help women and young people learn about good governance, and show what they can contribute.”

She used the shorthand that “human rights are for all – there are no non-people”, and quotes suffragist Kate Sheppard: “All that separates, whether of race, class, creed, or sex, is inhuman, and must be overcome”.

Gill’s five years at the IPPF came after George Bush cut funding for international reproductive health services that could be used to fund advice about legal abortion, so her job also included finding new funders. Above she is pictured signing an IPPF funding agreement with the German Government.

She fought to get access to family planning included in the Millennium Development Goals in 2007 after it was omitted at the request of the USA and others. “It taught me that if your critical issue isn’t on these kinds of international shopping lists, your chances of driving change are much smaller.”

Gill has seen the usefulness of the UN’s Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review machinery for community groups and IPPF associations trying to change laws and policies blocking sexual human rights. “CEDAW has said to our government for the last 12 years that it needs to do more about gender equality, the gender pay gap, women in leadership.”

The UN Universal periodic review process includes “around 30 representatives of other governments interviewing NGOs and government ministers and commenting publicly on their human rights failures– governments don’t like being seen as less than their peers, so this drives accountability and change.”

GG on holidayIn 2011 Gill returned to Aotearoa, where she saw the lack of a strategy that was urged overseas – “we haven’t followed the principle of investing in women to reduce child poverty and inequality; we can’t do it any other way”.

Gill supports quotas and targets to get women into parliament, and corporate and state sector leadership roles. “My belief in quotas goes back to my time in the IPPF. The women parliamentarians in Uganda got there due to a quota, and they’re an extraordinary group driving change as hard as they can.”

“CEDAW has said again and again that we need to use special measures, such as time-limited goals, targets and quotas so that women are represented.”

“Because, if they are, policies and priorities change. Even one woman on a company board reduces the risk of that company failing. The research has been out there for decades that women in senior leadership increase loyalty, innovation, inclusion, return on investment, and share of markets. But one woman isn’t enough – we need 30 percent of any minority and to address intersectionality.”

She’s heard comment, including from women in debates against female quotas for the public service and private sector that made her “amazed that we ever got the vote. The question always seems to be ‘can we find enough of the right women’, but I don’t hear that asked about men.”

GG recentFrom 2012 Gill was CEO of Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA). “One young woman working at VSA said she was grateful to have an openly gay CEO. In her rural town coming out would not have been an option. VSA sends skilled Kiwi volunteers overseas to work with local communities. New Zealand volunteers have an impact in building organisations and understanding of human rights, including in countries where same-sex relationships are illegal or not accepted.”

From 2017 to 2018 she was the first out lesbian Chief Executive of the National Council of Women. The NCW leads the Gender Equal campaign, which includes a gender attitude survey, a gender dashboard, and the development of a gender culture and media task force. “A hundred and twenty-five years after women won the vote we ask ‘What would a truly gender equal household, school, organisation or country look like?’ No vilification or stereotypes – it would be a very different country.”

She points to the fact that in the last Global Monitor report, “women were the focus of only seven percent of news stories in mass media, less than it used to be, though this may have changed with Jacinda Ardern as Prime Minister”

She’s opposed to mainstreaming of gender issues – “it makes us invisible”. She gives the example of asking a government staffer about whether they used a gender analysis. He didn’t know what that meant, and hadn’t got a framework for asking about the impact of proposed policies or changes on women or how women had been involved in decisions about those policies. She advocates the same process for Māori and Pacific peoples and others who are marginalised including those with disabilities.

She gives the example of Treasury’s proposed new Living Standards Framework, asking how “data about women in all their intersectionality” has been included. She doesn’t believe it’s enough to compare women’s pay with men’s; “comparing Pasifika women’s pay with Pākehā men’s is very different”.

GG & Maggie Eyre“It’s amazing that there’s so much more to do to finish the suffragists’ work 125 years after suffrage was achieved; I would hate this anniversary year to be just a talkfest. It needs to be a real start on addressing sexual and family violence – where we have the highest rates in the OECD – and other issues.”

Gill says being out “was sometimes not a plus, but I am who I am and you get the full package”. At times in her life “it would have been a professional and personal risk” to be interviewed for LNA. She is pictured with Maggie Eyre in Santa Monica.

She is working on two books, one about the impacts of George Bush and Trump’s policies on women’s voice and choice around the world. She’s also interested in working with her mother’s letters to her father during World War II, and the log he kept while he was at sea.

She also serves on several boards, including Evofem Bioscience, a US Nasdaq-listed biotech company developing a non-hormonal contraceptive gel that will prevent chlamydia and gonorrhoea. “And I want to spend more time with my family and friends”.

Cooking after Masterchef

Some readers may recognise Elizabeth Marshall from TV show MasterChef, while Wellington readers may know her as the organiser of Out in the Park earlier this year. She spoke with Jenny Rankine about her career in hospitality.

Elizabeth Marshall cooking for Snoozy Bear and Ragedy AndyElizabeth grew up in Massachusetts in the north-eastern USA, but did a year of high school in Christchurch, where her dad had a job as a paediatric neurologist, dealing with problems in the brains and nervous systems of babies to teenagers.

“I really fell in love with New Zealand and didn’t want to leave, but I was too young to stay by myself.” She finished high school in the USA and went to university. “My two passions, hospitality and acting were not considered appropriate professions.” Instead she studied performing arts and communications, performed in university and professional shows, and worked in hospitality jobs on the side.

“Then I said ‘stuff it’ and went into theatre and acting fulltime. I always said I’d come back to New Zealand, and I did in 2002 when I was 23.” She’s now a New Zealand citizen, has spent half her life in each country and identifies as Pākehā. “I’m definitely tied to New Zealand”.

“In Wellington it was difficult to get full-time acting work because I couldn’t use my American accent, so I worked in event management – corporate events and murder mystery dinners where there was still acting involved. Then I did more office work and administration but realised didn’t want to keep doing that.”

Elizabeth learnt her love of cooking from her mother, “a stay at home mum who entertained a lot. We have lots of old photos of me standing on a stool licking the spoon.”

Elizabeth Marshall dessert canapes for Well Travelled Bride LaunchShe started volunteering to cook lunches for 30 to 50 senior citizens every Friday at Newlands Community Centre. “I’d supply the ingredients – I had to create dishes for very little and use all parts of the produce; that was cool. We might roast a head of broccoli and puree the stalk and all into sauce for pasta or soup. I found some pretty creative things to do with it. We’d sit and chat over lunch with them; they really valued the food and the interaction.”

Elizabeth was in her early 30s, and it was “too expensive to go to culinary school – it means taking a whole year out and it costs more than a chef would earn in a year for a top school. So I applied for MasterChef. I combined my true loves – I’d already been on TV as an actor, doing minor and extra roles.”


“When you watch shows and don’t know the background, you think ‘Oh my god, I could do that’. It’s a totally different kettle of fish to have three cameras down your neck and a director asking questions when you’re in the middle of cooking. It was a lot of fun and I’m thankful for the experience, but I wouldn’t recommend it.”

“They start with about 50 applicants and whittle it down; we had around 20 for the show and I came eighth. I met a lot of amazing people, I learned a LOT about cooking myself and working with other people. It was 24/7 food, cooking, eating, talking, learning. The interesting thing is that after the show only two of us out of the 20 were working in commercial kitchens.”

Elizabeth Marshall Chef Shed 5Elizabeth had never chefed in a restaurant before. “I was lucky enough to get a job as a kitchenhand at Martin Bosley’s in Wellington before the show aired. He paved the way for molecular gastronomy and fine dining in New Zealand.”

“Molecular gastronomy involves altering the shape and texture of food to create a wow factor.” Elizabeth gives the example of “a caviar-like ball that starts as a soft puree, develops a skin and ends up being a sphere, a caviar texture that pops. I always wanted to do dish with peas in a sphere on MasterChef but never got to.”

Elizabeth is still bound by a contract not to talk about how the show works behind the scenes. “Watching reality TV now I know there is lots of film that doesn’t make it to the screen, so when you see it it’s a different story to being part of it. All those monologues – there’s a director asking you questions, prompting certain reactions.”

Restaurant cooking

Making MasterChef took two months in Auckland, but didn’t air until nine months later. “By that time I’d been working in a commercial kitchens for six months. Most of the time restaurants take people who’ve been through courses but chefs like passionate, hardworking cooks, so sometimes they’ll take someone who wants to get stuck in and doesn’t mind starting at the bottom.”

Elizabeth Marshall as Guest Chef for a Wellington on a Plate Event“I learned a lot from Martin’s sous chef, about cooking in a restaurant kitchen and seasoning. It is so different from home cooking. Home cooking is a lot more relaxed, less formal, less rushed – you can change the dish halfway through. In a commercial kitchen, time is money and you have to make sure the dish is identical to the last time the customer ate it. There’s not much flexibility with flavours.

“I did struggle at times in the commercial kitchen environment because I wasn’t as fast as the other chefs. It’s a lot of multi-tasking – doing eight different dishes at once, looking ahead to see what’s coming up so you have the things you need. Making sure that your entrees go out to that table altogether and the mains to another one.”

Elizabeth still continued cooking lunches at the Newlands Community Centre while she was cheffing. “I only stopped two years ago when my dad died, after I’d done it for six years.”

“I wish I’d been able to work at Bosley’s for longer, he’s an amazing chef and person; unfortunately he went into liquidation.” Elizabeth moved to another job with the Nourish Group, which owned Shed 5 and Crab Shack. “Bosley’s was only open for dinner, so it wasn’t as gruelling as Shed 5 (above), which is open for lunch and dinner. They were long days – I started at 10am at Shed 5 and sometimes didn’t finish until 1am. You get up next day and do it all over again.”

“The chefs worked at those two restaurants at the same time. We’d do fine dining for a month or two, then casual seafood, and then I did desserts for both restaurants on pastry section. It’s very hard on your body and mentally challenging; you’ve got to be really fast, the pace is insane. It’s a similar rush to performing onstage – hard work but fun.”

Eventually Elizabeth had to have surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. “I started teaching people how to cook and doing stuff for friends, and wound up making more money doing my own stuff than working 80-something hours in a commercial kitchen. I was old enough to be everyone’s mum – it was a no-brainer.”

Making her own business

Elizabeth Marshall with her boozE cake made for Wellington Pride Festival Launch 2018“I started doing masterclasses, renting commercial kitchen space in the Crave Cooking School; I also cooked in people’s homes and in community centres. Cooking in different kitchens is fun, it keeps you on your toes.” Elizabeth had started making her alcoholic cakes for a friend’s birthday, before she was on MasterChef.

“She doesn’t like cake and loves bourbon, so I made her a bourbon chocolate cake and she loved it. The alcohol is one of the ingredients, not just drizzled over. You can’t taste some of the alcohols, but it makes a real difference. Friends started asking me for birthdays, and then I started selling them at the city artisan market at Schaffers’ Dock every Sunday.”

Elizabeth is also testing recipes for “a lot of ‘free-from’ snacks and items for sale in Commonsense Organics and other places. I’ve always had family and friends who have to avoid certain foods.”

“It used to really frustrate me that people who couldn’t eat certain things were ostracised and had to eat by themselves, so I taught myself how to create those things. In those days all the gluten-free stuff tasted like crap and all the vegan stuff was horrid.”

Elizabeth Marshalls cake celebrating 30 years HLR.jpg“I’ve re-invented all my friends’ favourite dishes and classics that they couldn’t have because of things like Crohn’s and Coeliac disease, so they actually tasted good. I knew they were good if I tested them out on my flatmate and workmates who didn’t have allergies, without telling them. I like people being able to eat all together and feel included – it’s not rocket science.”

Elizabeth’s voluntary work remains largely food-oriented. She has been involved with Good Bitches Baking since a friend started it four years ago. “We bake for people in need; it’s about spreading kindness for people going through a rough time. A treat or a cake for the neonatal ward or Women’s Refuge lets people know there are bakers out there who care about them. Sometimes I bake once a week, sometimes once a month, usually during the week.”

Elizabeth Marshall as Guest Chef at GF Cooking Masterclass at Gluten Free Food and Allergy ShowShe’s also part of a related group teaching long-term male prisoners at Rimutaka Prison how to bake, as they prepare to leave prison. “We just did a six-week pilot in July/August with six guys, and we’re hoping to continue it – it was received very positively. I was one of the teachers; we have one teacher per prisoner and a floater or two, up to eight bakers at a time from a roster of 12.”

Coming out

Elizabeth came out when she was 28. “In my US high school I was part of the gay-straight alliance – I always thought I was the straight one! I’d had an experience with one of my best friends – I thought everyone fell in love with their best friends, that it was part of growing up. All I knew about lesbians was that they looked like boys and I didn’t fit into that mould – I didn’t look gay and didn’t dress butch. I was so naïve.”

“One of my friends was one of the first openly lesbian girls at high school when I was 14. She held hands with her new girlfriend, and kids got stones from outside and threw them at her. I thought it wasn’t right to ostracise people and treat them differently, so I got involved with GSA. We had about six to 12 in the group, we met regularly to talk. The straights in the group looked out for bullying and stood up for our gay friends. It was a upper middle-class White Catholic/Jewish community.”

Out in the Park“At uni I got dared to kiss other girls at parties and I really loved it so I thought I must be bi. It wasn’t until I came to Wellington and followed The Drag Kings at Pound Bar that I thought ‘This is totally me’. When Our Bar opened, run by women, I had a couple of hook-ups and that was it. I’m definitely a lesbian; for a while I liked dyke but now I’m older it doesn’t feel right anymore. In saying that, I don’t really like the word lesbian – I wish we lived in a world where we didn’t have to label people. We don’t want to put ourselves into boxes yet we do.”

Elizabeth is in The Drag Kings. “I’ve been with them for nine years now – as everyone’s getting older we’re doing fewer shows. I have a few personas, including Just-in Thyme, a wannabe Justin Timberlake, and a drag queen Litsea Liqueur.” Her first name is Elizabeth’s favourite essential oil, and her whole name is a pun.

Elizabeth organised Out in the Park in 2018, and is on the Out Wellington Inc Wellington Pride Festival organising committee again, involved with Out in the Park for 2019. This time is with a co-director Karen Harris, and Roxy organising the entertainment.

Elizabeth became involved in Wellington Pride “because I had told Virginia Parker-Bowles I would and I never had. I always wanted to – I just never had time. I did lots of volunteer work but not for our community. On the day she died she had a big party, but was too sick to be there. Her message was read out: ‘Get involved with your queer whānau and do things for our community’. She touched a lot of people. So, on her deathbed promised I would.”

Photos: Second: Dessert canapes for Well Travelled Bride launch; Fourth: Guest chef for Wellington on a Plate event; booze cake for Wellington Pride 2018 launch; Elizabeth’s cake celebrating 30 years of homosexual law reform; Guest chef at GF Masterclass of Gluten Free Food and Allergy Show.

Elizabeth-Marshall logo

Medicine more holistically

Dunedin-based GP and writer Lucy O’Hagan spoke with Jenny Rankine.

OHaganLucy identifies as Pākehā, descended from “many generations of Irish Catholic peasants”. Her father was the first in the family to go to university, working first as a GP and then as a respiratory physician. “I was born in Winton in Southland – Dad was a GP there when I was born. Then we moved to Invercargill and later to Christchurch.”

She describes her dad as “quietly radical – his response to the Cartwright Inquiry was to invite Sandra Coney down to speak to senior doctors in Christchurch”.

Lucy was in the 1983 medical class that was the first at the University of Otago Medical School to be half women. When she and a friend became the first female doctors in a Wanaka practice, female GPs were still uncommon and people rang the practice to check that they wrote prescriptions.

Lucy worked as a GP in Wanaka for 20 years. There she joined a women’s theatre group called Flatout Productions; “we probably put on a production a year for seven years, with professional directors”. They included Jo Randerson and Stuart Devenie among others; “they taught us a lot.”

“With Jo we workshopped our own adaptation of MacBeth, called Witches over Wanaka”, which run during the Festival of Colour, the major arts festival for the southern lakes area.

OHagan witchesThen she joined another group of three in Wanaka, Silk Tent, who wanted to create a theatre piece about self-mutilation. One of them, an artist called Lizzi Yates, became Lucy’s best friend – “that’s how we met. We got a grant to create a multimedia theatre piece, Girl with no words. People came up to us in the street after they read about the grant, and we had some amazing conversations with people about their lived experience of self-harm.”

“The three of us collaborated on the narrative, and I played the main character. The play included Lizzi’s projected images, music, and projected mini-documentaries of experts – a psychiatrist, a sociologist, an anthropologist and a service user, who were all our mates acting.”

“It was received really well, opening a College of GPs conference in Wellington, and playing in Auckland, Wanaka, Queenstown and Clyde.”

OHagan Silk_Tent“People’s response to mental distress is interesting – cutting makes people want to step away. For others it’s like testimony, people respond with their own story.”

“I was in a relationship with a man for 28 years and we had two children, and about five years ago I fell in love with Lizzi. It was a really tricky situation, because she was married. I’d separated from my husband before it ever occurred to me.”

“It took me a long time to tell her, and then I read a book on moral philosophy to see if it was okay to break up someone else’s marriage,” she laughs. “Apparently it comes down to whether you’d be okay with someone doing it to you in the same circumstances.”

“Telling Lizzi was quite difficult – I thought she wouldn’t be into that at all and I’d lose my best friend, but it didn’t turn out that way. She separated from her husband. We both lived in Wanaka and we were quite well known in the community. What fascinates me is that people didn’t tell us their reactions to it, although we did hear that it was the talk of the bridge club!”

The relationship was “not an issue for my family at all. I emailed my mother that I was with my partner. She was 83 then, and she immediately rang and left a message saying how marvellous, and she couldn’t imagine a lovelier woman for me to be with.” [Lizzi and Lucy are pictured dressed for a nephew’s 21st.]

OHagan & Lizzie for nephew's 21st“I have a gay son and a sister who has been in a lesbian relationship for 25 years. And the father of their two children is in a gay relationship. My children in Wanaka also had surrogate grandmothers who were a lesbian couple.”

Lucy and Lizzi “bought a house together, and have lived happily ever since. It’s quite different going into a relationship with someone who’s been your best friend for five years – I think it makes it a bit easier.”

However, the relationship changes took their toll. “I got burnt out after breaking up my relationship, falling in love, her leaving her relationship – it was a full-on few years working through all that, including the kids. It was quite important for both of us to preserve relationships with previous partners, but that was quite hard. I was a practice owner, which is a big job. General practice takes a lot of energy and if you have a lot going on in your life, you can’t do it. But the culture of medicine is pushing on through. I should have taken three months off after my separation, but that’s not the culture. Doctors just keep going when they’re sick or under pressure.”

Lucy has since talked about burnout at conferences and in articles. “I think doctors are quite worried about being shamed. For me being burnt out had a lot of shame and failure about it, which was worse than the burnout. It took me quite a long time to dismantle that shame.” The photo below is of Lucy at work a week before she burnt out.

OHagan on call last wend b4 burnout“Doctors are trained through humiliation. For example, when you’re a med student on a ward round, the teachers interrogate students to the limit of the student’s knowledge and then ask one more question to humiliate them. When I describe that scenario to doctors, they all know what I mean.

I think doctors are ashamed by not knowing something, or not coping with pressure, or making a mistake, or getting emotional.”

“Telling people that you’ve been burnt out gives other people permission to tell their story too. It’s amazing the people who come up after a talk and tell their story, when you’d never have that conversation otherwise.”

Two years ago, Lucy and the family moved to Dunedin, where Lucy teaches in the College of General Practice courses for postgraduate students. She also works at Ngai Tahu’s Mataora, “a low-cost medical clinic in Dunedin. I also work an afternoon a week at a free GP clinic at the needle exchange service in Dunedin. I like being a fringe dweller on the edges of medicine. It’s not hard because medicine’s pretty conservative.”

“At Mataora, sixty percent of the patients are Māori or Pacific, whereas Wanaka was one percent Māori. It’s profoundly different because in Wanaka, people are relatively affluent, whereas here I’m face to face with poverty. It’s a lovely workplace – both Mataora and the needle exchange have a very good kaupapa of caring for people.”

“We see a lot of people with significant mental distress and traumatic memory. When you have that with poverty, it’s pretty difficult. When I did the Girl with no words I became interested in the effect of childhood trauma and abuse on adults.”

“It’s astounding to me the lack of support people have, there are a few services out there but most people with mental distress or trauma and poverty are pretty isolated. People are amazing, they have incredible strengths.”

Lucy gained a certificate in Narrative Practice in Boston, which is part of a programme in narrative medicine. “Narrative is a theoretical way of looking at therapy or ethics or medicine through story. It gives you a different lens for thinking about what you’re doing.”

“Medicine is very much about taking a history, making a diagnosis and offering treatment. It sometimes works quite well, but there’s a few problems, especially when there isn’t a diagnosis, or there’s no treatment, or if the surgery doesn’t make people better.”

“Psychiatry tends to be more interested in people’s diagnosis than their story. You can think of illness as a disruption to someone’s story; your role is to help them move their story to a different place. People have to make some meaning from cancer or major medical problems.”

OHagan with couples 3 kidsWhen I asked about the future, Lucy said, “I’m probably going to write a book about being a doctor, based around fictionalised stories from general practice. From feedback on presentations I’ve done, I sense a real thirst among medical audiences for books that get them thinking differently about their practice.” [She’s pictured above with the couple’s three children.]

When asked about her sexual identity, Lucy says, “I don’t really like labels. My kids go, ‘Oh mum, you can’t be binary about it’. I haven’t had a need to put a label on it, but a lot of other people, particularly heterosexuals, feel a need to label me. They call me lesbian because I’m in a relationship with a woman.”

“It feels like an odd question, because I can’t imagine being in a relationship with anyone else, male or female. I don’t know how it will evolve. I appreciate that I’m in quite a privileged position, with a family that’s very open, and at a time in history where it was relatively easy.”

“If I’d fallen in love with my best friend in Wanaka 30 years ago it would have been a very different story – labelling myself would have been necessary. I really appreciate the older women who’ve gone before us who made it possible for me to come out quite easily.”

“Having said all that about not needing the label lesbian, we both found it fantastic spending the weekend with a group of lesbians [at the Australasian Lesbian Medical Association], because there was a certain freedom in it. It was beautiful seeing people being in their own skin and not posturing and adjusting themselves. It was fun. It makes you realise how much you monitor yourself in a heterosexual world, how self-conscious you are. It’s subtle, you’re not totally aware of it until you’re not in that world.”

“They were incredibly welcoming; it was incredible being in a group with that much warmth towards each other. I don’t spend a lot of time at event where there are only lesbians, it was quite an experience to do that.”

4 thoughts on “People”

  1. Kia ora Sophie, I just had to make comment on the scanning work you do with sheep… oh my gosh, so fascinating and a big cheer on the grey day outside the window on the 3rd floor of Whanau House in Henderson, Auckland. If you’re ever in the Hokianga, Mitimiti to be precise, head 2-km north, cross 3-creeks (the third one is Ngatuna) you’ll find horse heaven and one of the best rides in the world.
    Nga mihi


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News, pix and profiles about lesbians and queer women in Aotearoa/New Zealand

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