Katie Neeves – “It’s about us being happy and it’s about us being who we always have been”

In this #YesSheCan blog, we talk to Katie Neeves, founder of Cool2BTrans and trans ambassador.
She talks about her journey through transitioning, the importance of allyship and community and her mission to change perspectives.

I’m Katie Neeves and I’ve been a photographer and filmmaker for the last 35 years.

But then four years ago, I came out very publicly as being transgender after living for 48 years as a man. I now have a new business as a trans ambassador doing training and inspirational speaking and it’s amazing and it’s doing so much good, I’m loving it!

My advice to other trans people who are going through their journey is… I would say peer support is good and I’m always happy to have a chat to people as well to help put them at ease of it because we go through a stage at first of not knowing and just questioning.

When I went through that stage and didn’t know what gender I was at all, admitting it to yourself is hard. Once you have admitted to yourself, you say ‘well, what am I going to do with this?’

Most people do have losses through it, and you must face up to that. It’s awful that’s the case, but it is the case, and often the families can be some of the most unsupportive people. In most of my friends’ cases, it’s been the same.

However my friends have been amazing, they’ve been my support, so I think it’s just a case of getting the right support.

Someone can become a trans ally… through education. I think education is the key and I think trans-awareness training should be mandatory everywhere.

I do my talks and explain this all the time and it’s amazing how people are just amazed by it because they just don’t know. They haven’t had this education at all, which is vital.

Once you have been educated, you can then tell other people about it. I always say at the end of my talks, go and tell at least one other person, tell five other people, or plaster all over your social media, remembering to tag me in at the same time, haha.

But spread the word, because that makes a big difference. I think one of the things is whenever you hear any transphobic remarks, don’t ignore it, stand up to it. If you do ignore it and let it go, then you’re effectively choosing the side of the oppressor.

I had an experience a couple of years ago, I was at an event where there were lots of people in the room who knew me and I was told about a conversation between two men the other side of the room.

One man had pointed me out and said, “You see that woman over there? She used to be Martin Neeves. I don’t get it myself.” And was talking about me quite disparagingly.

But thankfully, the man that he was talking to had watched a lot of my vlogs and he’d been educated on the subject through that, and he said, “Well, actually, there’s a lot more to it than that.” And he then went on to educate this other man and I thought, that is brilliant.

That is what a true trans ally does because it would have been so much easier for him to have just done the polite thing and just let it go and then started talking about something else – but he didn’t.

He did the hard thing and he stood up for me and I’ll be forever grateful to him for doing that. That is what a true ally does.

“It’s not about us being somebody that we’re not, it’s about us being happy and it’s about us being who we always have been.”

Changing perspectives is… about us being happy and it’s about us being who we always have been, but we’ve never been allowed to show it.

Generally, I find most people accept me well and I generally don’t have any problems. I do get misgendered sometimes. Most people, when they see me, tend not to misgender me because I think the visual aspect tends to overrule the audio aspect.

I’m much more relaxed about it because it’s my authentic voice and my journey is about authenticity and about being the authentic me. I think people should just accept that some women have deep voices, and some men have higher voices. Nonbinary people have all sorts of voices.

People should just accept that I’m trying to change the world and their perspective on things.

I have noticed generally people are great, but I do get a lot of abuse but I think that’s because I put my head above the parapet and so I know that I’m going to get shot at. Trans rights are constantly under threat and it’s just awful now.

We’ve got a real fight on our hands because there’s a lack of education about what it is to be trans. There’s so much ignorance about it so a lot of people see all this misinformation that’s put out on social media and everything. People get fed all this misinformation and because they haven’t been educated in it, they just accept that as the truth.

We need more people like me, more gobby trans people like me, going out there and showing people that we’re just ordinary people. It’s not about us being somebody that we’re not, it’s about us being happy and it’s about us being who we always have been.

My experience coming out… coming out went from being something that I was absolutely dreading, to being one of the most uplifting experiences of my life.

I made this coming out video basically as a business protection exercise. Because I was freelance, I wasn’t protected by any anti-discrimination laws or anything. So if my clients had an issue with my being trans then I’d lose all my clients, I’d lose my income, I’d lose my reputation – everything.

I remember now, my finger nervously hovering over the mouse. As soon as I made that click to make the video live and send it to all my clients, I put it on all my social media as well.

I needn’t have been worried because when I got back, I was inundated with hundreds of messages supporting it, it was amazing. I felt so loved, it was incredible.

I had lots of messages from friends and from clients but then I also had messages from other trans people who’d seen it and they said that they had been struggling with their gender identity but what I said had helped them and they thanked me for it.

So for me, coming out went from being something that I was absolutely dreading to be one of the most uplifting experiences of my life.

“Coming out went from being something that I was absolutely dreading to being one of the most uplifting experiences of my life.”

My drive and determination… The thing that really started was a message from the mother of a child who was going through struggles with their gender.

I started seeing the good that it was doing, and I’m regularly contacted by other trans people nowadays who want a bit of support and also parents of trans people who are struggling.

Just to be able to just give them a little bit of support. Often all they need is just a bit of handholding and just to show them that it is okay to be trans or it is okay to have a child who’s trans.

It’s just gorgeous to see them blossom and flourish. Some people need a lot more help on that and it can be quite distressing at times, especially if they’re in a dark place. But again, it’s very rewarding to be able to help them in their times of need.

If I can inspire a few people to be themselves just through things like this and other media appearances, it all helps, it really does. Just knowing there will be trans people out there who will see this interview and then they realize that they’re not alone, there are other people and then it is okay.

It’s a tough journey and there are lots of losses along the way. Even though I’ve had an awful lot of losses, I’m so much happier now, really and even though I’ve got a different name and a different appearance, I’m still the same person on the inside.

I also have cravings for chocolate now too, I must have my stash of emergency chocolate in the fridge – not that it stays there for very long!

We need to explain sex and gender… We’re all born as just babies. No surprises there. But we’re born as babies with various bits.

The only bits that count in terms of the birth certificate are the bits between our legs or their appearance. In some countries, there’s no requirement to put down the sex of a baby, but in this country, it still is and it’s binary.

The trouble with nature is it’s very messy, it doesn’t like binary things. It doesn’t like just black or white or boy, girl – it does a whole spectrum of things. Many people are what’s called intersex.

We’re all used to seeing a whole spectrum of secondary sex characteristics, we’re all used to seeing everybody looking different there, but it’s no different with the primary sex characteristics. But that’s just talking about sex. That’s got nothing to do with gender.

So, gender is the sex of your brain, and it shows itself in how you feel in your head and your heart, and you just know it.  Just as sex isn’t binary, gender isn’t binary either. There’s a whole spectrum, and it’s not linear either.

A lot of people think they are because their gender matches their sex. And so, their gender has never caused them any problems, and they just accept what’s given on their birth certificate.

We’re all on the spectrum somewhere – all these things are perfectly normal and perfectly natural ways of being a human being. There’s nothing wrong with human beings, but there’s an awful lot wrong to do with the very rigid binary sex labelling system that is forced to adopt that ignores gender completely.

“We’re all on the spectrum somewhere – all these things are perfectly normal and perfectly natural ways of being a human being.”

In terms of harmful stereotypes… Just let people be themselves. And that’s the thing.

Labels can be useful in some situations, but other times they can be harmful. So just let people be themselves.

Things like the constant debate that goes on about trans women using women’s loos. I mean, that is just ridiculous because we just want a wee in safety just as much as everybody else does – that’s all there is.

Cisgender women aren’t in any danger of being attacked by trans women. And the whole thing is crazy as well because they make a big thing about there’s a certain high-profile author that keeps banging on about this sort of thing, but I don’t want to give her any more publicity because she’s got enough as it is.

But she goes on but the reality of it is that most trans women are actually on hormone therapy and the effects of that actually make yes, some trans women who are non-pp or pre-op will still be the owner of a penis, but it won’t have any sexual function because of the hormones and the blockers that they’re on anyway.

So, if people, if cisgender women are worried about any sort of sexual advances, that’s ridiculous because trans women are the least likely people to be to have any feelings like that. That is just like completely out of the equation.

Everybody should be protected from violent people and sex predators – that’s it, there’s no link to trans people.

Overcoming barriers… Once I decided that, yes, this is what I am going to do, I had to fully commit myself to it. But then what am I going to do about the name of my business? Because it’s named after my own name.

The first barrier was basically my photography and video business was and still is named after my old male name, which is Martin – so it’s Martin Neeves photography and film.

The other barrier is that when I admitted it to myself because I’ve always had gender dysphoria, which is a great feeling of unease and distress caused by a mismatch between how I felt in my head and my heart and my gender identity, as opposed to my primary sex characteristics and the label that I’ve been given at birth.

So, I’ve always had it ever since my earliest memory is age about three or four, my mum caught me trying on a pair of my sister’s knickers. She told me off and then told me to take them off and for every day the following week, she pulled the shorts down to check to make sure I was wearing my own pants. And it was humiliating, but it sowed the seeds for a very long time.

What I was doing was wrong, it was not what respectful people did. So I’ve always had gender dysphoria, it’s always been there, but I’ve just been in self-denial over it and it took me 48 years to admit it to myself. The thing is, you don’t have a choice about being trans. The only choice you have is whether you do anything about it or not.

The research I did shows that most trans people who decide to transition after the initial loss, pain and heartache and bumpy journey usually go on to lead happy and contented lives.

Whereas many trans people who decide not to do that and to live their lives for other people, they often end up in a spiral of depression or even worse. And so the urge to live my truth is just so overwhelmingly strong.

So once I decided that this what I am going to do, I had to fully commit myself to it.

The trouble is, at that point, my business had been an established brand for 22 years and I was, and still am, actually ranked second in the UK on the free index purely through customer reviews.

Of course, they were all referring to Martin, so I couldn’t take Martin out of my business completely the name Martin out, because otherwise I just thought, I’d have to get rid of all those reviews, which I’d worked so hard to get, and I’ve got this great reputation.

I thought, what I’ve got to do is treat it purely as a brand name and then detach myself from the brand name, even though I’m the only person working in that business. So instead of being Martin from Martin Neeves photography and film, I’d be Katie from Martin Neeves, photography and film.

“So once I decided that this is what I am going to do, I had to fully commit myself to it.”

My passion for photography… has gone a bit I haven’t got a passion for promoting the business, so for instance, very recently I was taking photos of the President of Bolivia of all things, and that’s something one time I would just put that all over my social media.

In terms of promoting the business, that passion is gone but the passion is still there when I’m taking photos, I always give 100%, so whenever people do book me, they absolutely get 100%.

The passion definitely has shifted towards doing the trans ambassador work now because I see the good that it does and I get contacted by a lot of trans people and also, parents of trans people as well, because they struggle with it and just being able to just give them a bit of support, just a bit of hand holding, make so much of a difference. It’s incredible.

With support and community… ultimately, whether we’re trans or not, we ought to live our best life, don’t we?

There’s one particular message that really struck a chord with me, and that was from a woman whose son had gender issues when he was going through puberty, and he was being treated for it at a gender clinic at the time for kids. And she said that she was worried at the time that he would either be bullied or he’d self-harm or he’d even attempt suicide.

She said, “if only there was someone like you out there at the time he was going through this just to let him know that it’s okay to be trans because it really is okay to be trans.” And that got me thinking.

I thought ‘I’ve really got to do some good with this’. So I decided to vlog my whole journey just to bring people along on the journey with me, demystify the whole process, make it accessible, and in doing so, reach out to other trans people to let them know that you can be trans and you can be happy.

Then my story got picked up initially by local media, and I started doing interviews for local radio and local newspapers and then escalated. And then I started doing interviews for national radio and television and national newspapers and magazines. And then all of a sudden, I’ve become this trans-ambassador, or gobby trans woman, as I like to call myself. And it’s amazing.

No one chooses to be trans, you just are trans, but the only choice you have is whether you do anything about it or not and that’s about the choice of being happy, because if you continue to live your life by fighting it, then that’s not a path to happiness. Trust me, it’s not but now it feels absolutely amazing.

I think that education is the key here because I think a lot of prejudice and bigotry come from a fear of the unknown. So, if you can take that unknown away, then you’re doing a really good thing.

Education is the key so the more education there is, then the more exceptions there will be. The more exceptions will be, the easier it be for other trans people to A, admit to themselves they’re trans because that’s the hardest thing. And B, actually do something about it and live their best life, as ultimately whether we’re trans or not, we ought to live our best life don’t we?

“Ultimately, whether we’re trans or not, we ought to live our best life.”

My role models… there are lots of people that inspire me, to be honest with you.

People like Hannah and Jake Graff I mean, they’re amazing role models, they really are. People like Charlie Martin, the Trans racing driver, she’s amazing, too. Also, people like Bobby Pickard, who runs Trans in the city. She’s amazing, she’s a great friend as well, she’s brilliant.

She just does so much in the way that she’s organising lots of big blue-chip companies to really get behind. And we are, in the main, backed by big business, and they are getting on board and being much more inclusive, and they are supportive, which is great, which is in such a contrast to what’s happening in politics and in the media and so this dichotomy. People like that, I think, are really doing so much good and so many other people I could name doing amazing work.

A huge thank you to Katie for taking the time to talk to us about her amazing journey and how she is continuing to help and educate others. You can find out more about her work here – www.cool2btrans.co.uk
This #YesSheCan blog was transcribed from a video interview that you can watch in full via our membership.
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