“I know the person I see in the mirror is the real me” | Charlie Martin
“When you’re walking along with the wrong gender expression, or gender identity, you don’t need a doctor or a piece of paper to tell you that’s the case, you just know something deep down is wrong.”
Charlie Martin, professional transgender racing driver, knew form the age of 6 that she identified as female. It wasn’t until she was 30 that she decided to make the transition.
Now, her ambition is to not only make motorsport a more inclusive place, but to break down the stigma and societal ignorance that caused so much struggle in her life.
As a child, whilst on a family trip to Alton Towers, someone asked Charlie’s father if she was going to be taking his little girl onto the ride.
“My dad said ‘No, that’s my son’, and it was a bit of a joke that used to get thrown around quite harmlessly.
“I remember just hearing it now and again as a child and every time I heard that said, I remember feeling and thinking that I was a girl.”
“I thought ‘I don’t fit in the box of what a trans female child should
supposedly look like and in terms of the things I love doing.’
I didn’t know how to be the person I wanted to be”
Whilst Charlie came out to her mum at 10 years old, she still struggled with her gender identity. Growing up, she felt that her interests were not aligned with what it “meant” to be transgender.
“I thought ‘I don’t fit in the box of what a trans female child should supposedly look like and in terms of the things I love doing.’ I didn’t know how to be the person I wanted to be.
“I was very unsure about what was the right thing to do, so I just tried to get on with my life.”
As well as the issues Charlie was battling with internally, the lack of access to relatable individuals and information only added to her confusion.
Now, in the internet age, we have access to information, videos, articles and profiles that can provide us with the opinions and experiences to support people through such challenges.
“One of the biggest problems when I was growing up is trans people were not visible.
“You didn’t see anyone and if you did, it was a random character in a film which was generally something quite derogatory used for comic effect.
“Growing up, I couldn’t see that being trans was going to be a positive thing in my life. I thought it was going to mean having to deal with basically being on the fringes of society.”
“Growing up, I couldn’t see that being trans
was going to be a positive thing in my life”
Around 2011 Charlie reached a familiar crossroads in her life, only this time it was harder than ever and to choose the path she had been walking for so long.
“I was having a nervous breakdown. I was trying to reconcile all these things inside me but I reached the point where I was suicidal.
“I really was going to take my life because I couldn’t see a way out that wasn’t going to result in pain.”
But through viewing normal people, not ‘celebrities with millions of followers’, on YouTube explaining and documenting their own transitions, Charlie realised that in order to be happy, transitioning was something that she needed to do.
“I always felt like I left it too late, like I wasn’t going to ever end up feeling or looking like the person that I dreamt of being.
“I thought ‘I’ve got to be brave and it’s not going to be easy,
but if I really want this, it’s there and I can reach out and grab it”
“But when I saw these videos, although these people had their difficulties like anyone, you could see they were truly happy.
“That made me realise that it was possible. I thought ‘I’ve got to be brave and it’s not going to be easy, but if I really want this, it’s there and I can reach out and grab it.’
“That’s what I did and it’s completely change my life.”
Charlie began her transition, including a procedure called facial feminization with FacialTeam in Marbella, a type of surgery specifically for trans women.
“I knew that this would make a massive difference in terms of how people reacted to me.”
Whilst Charlie considered selling her race car to fund the process, her family encouraged her decide against it, with her brothers telling her it could be a mistake. She may not have sold her car, Charlie did walk away from the sport for a year. She did not believe that the motorsport world was ready to welcome a transgender driver.
“The idea of me coming into the sport and saying ‘Hey everyone I’m trans’, you can’t look for someone else who did that or someone who’s really trodden the path.”
But Charlie made a leap of faith, and with the support of friends within the racing world, was made to feel welcome. She became the first, the trailblazer, and acknowledges that the main issue is a lack of understanding leading to ignorance.
“Trans people are just normal people. We’re not trying to change
what it means to be male and female, we just want to have happy lives”
“It’s just about breaking boundaries and breaking down barriers on a wider scale.
“That’s just symptomatic of the problems we are facing as a society, and as a community, in educating people to remove that stigma.
“I’ve learnt people don’t understand, but when you sit down and talk compassionately and logically about something, people come away with a better understanding.”
Alongside her racing career, Charlie is determined to address the obstacles transgender people face in both life and sport. Working with Stonewall, the leading LGBTQ+ charity, she works with governing bodies, brands, organisations and government to make both sporting environments, and everyday situations such as the workplace, more inclusive.
“A big part of my role is Stonewall is using my (opportunities) in my sport to be visible, empower positive change and create awareness.”
Visibility is key and, whilst Charlie may have struggled to find people she could relate to on her journey, she wants to make sure she tells her story to ensure ‘no one has to go through what [she] went through.’
Her YouTube channel documents her journey throughout her transition, and it is clear to see her comfortability and confidence grow as her journey goes on.
“It’s made me much happier because, on a very simplistic level, I wake up every morning, stand in front of the mirror and brush my teeth and I know that the person I see in the mirror is the real me.
“Trans people are just normal people. We’re not trying to change what it means to be male and female, we just want to have happy lives, the same rights as everyone else and be free to get on with what we want to do. That’s not a big ask.
“I’ve restarted my life and I’m who I want to be. I don’t want to waste a moment.”