"I had a hard life growing up as a sistergirl but that was a journey that I had to take to be who I am now."
Crystal Love is a mentor to the sistergirl community of the Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin - a group of transgender women traditionally known as Yimpininni. In the groundbreaking documentary Sistagirl , she tells her story and dishes out more than a few sassy comments, while being snapped for a project by acclaimed photographer Bindi Cole.
After her own experiences of support and rejection in the past, Crystal Love has been an Aunty to the community and a keen educator on the Tiwi Islands, encouraging those around her with honesty and love.
Growing up as Cyril Johnson in Lajamanu in the Northern Territory, Crystal says she always knew she was a woman: ''It's like I'm trapped in something I'm not. And it's hard, y'know.” Moving to her mother’s country in the Tiwi Islands at 16-years-old was a breakthrough moment for her and she quickly became part of the sistergirl family.
She later adopted the name Crystal Love, originally her drag-show stage name, and she still makes the occasional appearance at Throb nightclub in Darwin.
Crystal Love is upfront about issues with alcohol and drugs in the Tiwi Islands and the discrimination the sistergirls have experienced in the past. She quotes Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa as inspirations in her quest for love and education about her community - her method of peaceful resistance to the violence and derogatory comments that they sometimes experience.
However she says that “there has been change,” particularly after meetings were held and a place for the sistergirls was established in a traditional community, where issues were divided into men’s and women’s business. “Our community loves our people and we love them,” she says.
Her role as an educator has not stopped with her own community. She has been involved with Sisters and Brothers NT, a cross-cultural advocacy and support group for LGBTIQ people in the Northern Territory. Her work has also taken her to Barcelona where she addressed a UN Working Group on issues of domestic violence and the transgender community in 2010.
The documentary Sistagirl shares the stories of Crystal Love as well as the diverse sistagirl community of 50 people, who live among a population of 2500 other Islanders. The documentary follows Bindi Cole for five weeks as she constructs her photographic series and the Sistergirls themselves - who open up to her about their stories and their struggles.
The small community is a world that few visitors get to experience so when Cole was invited by “beautiful big, black drag queen,” Jason de Santis (aka Foxy Empire) to visit the community she was keen to capture their story.
''I thought you couldn't be more of a minority than being Aboriginal, gay and a drag queen” Cole told The Age.