British racing driver and LGBT rights campaigner
For many trans people, the process of becoming themselves can be terrifying and costly before it becomes rewarding. Racing star, Charlie Martin, tells us how becoming her authentic self has helped her scale both new personal and professional heights.
At the age of 19, Charlie Martin experienced the buzz and magic of the Le Mans 24-hour race for the first time. One of the most recognisable events in the motor sport calendar, a seed had been sown. If she was to achieve anything in life, it would be to compete at that race in the driver’s seat.
Yet even that 19, she was focused on an even more impossible dream – changing the gender she was assigned at birth.
“Growing up trans was difficult. I always felt I was being pulled in two different directions.”
Charlie had grown up around cars – one of her best friends came from a racing family and she often spent weekends with them at racetracks. Seeing her friend start driving at 19 was a catalyst, it happened the same summer she visited Le Mans for the first time.
I thought I had to choose between racing and transitioning
Pursuing racing seemed like it would have to come at the expense of her desire to transition.
“Motorsport is a very male orientated sport and I felt that if I wanted to transition, I would have to choose between trying to be the societal ideal of what makes a woman, and my passion, which was to race.”
By 2012, aged 30, Charlie had reached a crisis point in her life, she either went through the long and daunting process of transitioning to female, or she stopped living altogether.
“I was suicidal prior to starting transition. Things had become so hard to deal with; I just couldn’t continue living like that.”
“I had to re-mortgage to afford the transition”
Transition cost her tens of thousands of pounds, forcing her to re-mortgage her house.
“In 2012, the first step was seeing my GP who referred me to a gender clinic. I had to wait four months for an appointment, where they began assessing me.”
“Now that waiting period is between two to three years. It’s appalling, so many people are already suffering an enormous psychological strain, you would never tell someone diagnosed with depression to wait this long.”
For the trans community, the anxiety felt both before and during transitioning is often incredibly acute. Fear of abuse, and the threat of physical violence can all become part of a daily struggle.
“Reaching out to other trans people helped me get through”
“I discovered a lot of trans vloggers on YouTube. People I could relate to with normal jobs and normal lives. Seeing these people living authentically as their true self made it harder and harder to continue living in the wrong body, I’d lost all sense of connection with my identity.”
Yet, even well into her transition, Charlie still felt the sting of judgement in everyday life.
“One aspect of my healthcare which had a huge impact on my day to day life was the gender affirming surgery I had, known as facial feminisation surgery.”
“I felt anxiety about my gender identity and whether people saw me as female. But since the surgery, I’ve experienced what it’s like to leave that feeling behind; it’s been a huge relief for me.”
Both personally and professionally, finally feeling that people gender her as female has unlocked Charlie’s true potential.
Improved results on the track and happiness in herself were worth the angst and she now realises the role she can play for other trans people.
“I don’t really want the fact that I’m a trans driver to be a thing, but there’s so little diversity in motorsport and so much good that come from me being visible. It’s worth it.”
Charlie is aiming to race at Le Mans by 2021, it’s not just a personal dream, but the chance to make history for the trans community and inspire acceptance and positive change in the world.