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02 July 2018

Roberta Perkins (1940 – 2018) sociologist, activist

Perkins did a dissertation on transvestism and transsexuality at Macquarie University in Sydney in 1981 – one the very first by an openly trans woman.

She was also one of the members of the newly founded Australian Transsexual Association. She approached Rev. Bill Crews of the Wayside Chapel Crisis Centre to ask for a regular meeting place. Weekly support meetings were arranged.

Roberta’s book The Drag Queen Scene: Transsexuals in Kings Cross, a study of 146 lives based on her dissertation came out in 1983. This was read by Frank Walker, New South Wales Labor Assembly person and at that time Minister for Youth and Community Services.

In July, he invited her to come in and talk, which led to a grant of $80,000 which was used to open a centre, Tiresias House, at 75 Morgan Street, Petersham, Sydney – its 12 bed spaces were filled immediately, and had to be converted to 16 by using the lounge as a bedroom. In December that year, Walker officially opened the centre.

Within a few years, the centre has expanded to four houses, one of which was registered as a halfway house for ex-convicts on parole. A residential nurse and a community worker were employed. Six years later it was renamed the Gender Centre.

Perkins left Tiresias House in 1985, and went on to write and subsequently publish books and articles in peer-reviewed journals on trans women and sex workers. She was involved in the struggle for decriminalization of sex work in New South Wales and Australia.

Roberta died aged 78.
Publications by Roberta Perkins:
  • The Third Sex and Sanctified Persons: A Cross-Cultural Survey, Comparison and Analysis of Transvestism and Transsexuality. Macquarie University BA Hons Thesis 1981.
  • The Drag Queen Scene: Transsexuals in Kings Cross. George Allen & Unwin, 1983.
  • With Nikki Searant & Linda Tyne. Transsexualism: An Overview : Understanding the Transsexual.: Collective of Australian Transsexuals, Australian Transsexual Association, 1983.
  • With Garry Bennett. Being a Prostitute: Prostitute Women and Prostitute Men. Allen & Unwin, 1985.
  • A History, Manifesto, and a Report on the Proposed Welfare Services of the Australian Prostitutes' Collective. The Collective, 1985.
  • Female Prostitutes in Visible Prostitution in Inner-City Sydney. The author, 1985.
  • Female Prostitution in Sydney an Overview: An Information Document on Female Prostitution and Prostitute Women of Sydney. Australian Prostitutes Collective (N.S.W.), 1985.
  • "Working Girls": Normality and Diversity Among Female Prostitutes in Sydney. Macquarie University MA Hons Thesis, 1988.
  • Interviewed by Phil Jarratt. "The working girl's friend. -Interview with Roberta Perkins, founder of the Australian Prostitutes Collective". Bulletin (Sydney). 140-141,143-144, 13 September 1988.
  • "Wicked Women Or Working Girls: The Prostitute on the Silver Screen". Media Information Australia, 51, 1989: 28-34.
  • "Working Girls in ‘Wowserville’: Prostitute Women in Sydney Since 1945". In Richard Kennedy. Australian Welfare: Historical Sociology. Macmillan, 1989: 362-389.
  • Working Girls: Prostitutes, Their Life and Social Control. Australian Inst. of Criminology, 1991.
  • With A. Griffin, & J. Jakobsen. Transgender Lifestyles and HIV/AIDS Risk. University of New South Wales, 1994.
  • With G. Prestage, R. Sharp & Frances Lovejoy. Sex Work, Sex Workers in Australia. University of New South Wales Press, 1994.
  • With Frances Lovejoy. "Healthy and Unhealthy Life Styles of Female Brothel Workers and Call Girls (Private Sex Workers) in Sydney". Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 20, 5, 1996: 512-6.
  • “The Drag Queen Scene: Transsexuals in Kings Cross". In Richard Ekins & Dave King (eds). Blending Genders: Social Aspects of Cross-Dressing and Sex-Changing. Routledge 1996: 53-62.
  • With Frances Lovejoy. Call Girls: Private Sex Workers in Australia. University of Western Australia Press, 2007.
About Roberta Perkins
  • Katherine Cummings. “Vale Roberta Perkins (1940-2018)” Gender Centre, 2018. Online.
  • “'Trailblazer' to be remembered in Sydney”. Australian Associated Press, 28 June 2018. Online.


It is a shame that Roberta's books are so hard to find.

She was a pioneer in what we now accept as normal, that trans people write about trans people, but until the 1980s this was regarded as heretical, and writings by trans persons were dismissed simply because the person was trans.

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