Katie Neeves is an inspirational trans woman, who risked all to become who she truly was. Founder of Cool2BTrans, photographer Katie now works as an advocate for trans acceptance and helps to better the lives of those who are trans. A popular choice as a speaker for a range of corporate and public events, Katie is sought to speak on topics such as her journey to womanhood, what it is like to be transgender and how to positively manage change.
On a mission to raise awareness of the issues that continue to face Trans people, Katie came out as transgender after she had lived 48 years of her life as a man. In doing so, Katie risked her livelihood as a photographer, but nonetheless continued on her journey for acceptance and to live her true identity. Katie founded Cool2BTrans as a medium in which transgender people could both inform and educate on the issues that still continue to face trans people, pushing the fact that trans people deserve happiness as everyone else does.
Since coming out as trans, Katie has become a popular choice as a speaker for a range of corporate and public events. A role model of diversity and inclusion, Katie is often seen helping a variety of organisations to ensure that they involve diverse and inclusive practises in the workplace and to ensure that other transgender people are not discriminated against at work. She is regularly asked to speak on her own journey to becoming a woman, releasing the person who was trapped behind having to pretend to be a man.
Now a popular inspirational speaker for conferences, keynote speeches and after dinner tales, Katie has given various talks for educational establishments, companies, hospitals and business groups. Katie is also keen to appear on discussion panels, standing up as a role model for the trans community so their voices are heard. As a speaker, Katie is booked to share the raw and honest story of her long walk to womanhood, and also covers topics of what it is like to be transgender, how to support those who are transgender, positively managing change and preventing trans discrimination. A passionate and personable speaker, Katie is the perfect choice as a speaker to bring awareness to a fantastic community and various pressing issues surrounding it.
What advice could you give to those who are struggling in these unprecedented times?
The main piece of advice I would give people is to reach out and get some help. Just let people know you are struggling with whatever it is.Whether it’s mental issues, you’re having some sort of breakdown, or if you’re just struggling, as I was at the start of my gender journey, reaching out to people who can help you through that makes all the difference.
How important has support been throughout your journey?
I’ve had a lot of help throughout my journey from a clairvoyant and spiritual guide actually, who I just happened to meet at a business networking meeting! Clairvoyants are so interesting to talk to and I was just so fascinated by her that I decided to go for a reading – this was back in May 2017.
It was her reading that set me on the path I’m on today. She said lots of things that were amazing and just so pinpoint accurate. But then she said other things that just didn’t make sense at the time. She said things like ‘a new way of being’, ‘there’s an issue that you’ve always known about, but that you’re not fully in integrity with’ and ‘you need to go for a long walk to talk to yourself, talk to nature and talk to spirit, and they will show you what you need to see’. So, I thought, ‘oh alright I like walking so what the hell!’.
It was many months before I actually had the chance to do it. When I finally did do it, it just happened to coincide with my gender dysphoria, which is a great feeling of unease and a mismatch between how you feel in your head and heart, versus your sex characteristics and the sex you were assigned at birth. My gender dysphoria increased dramatically, and whether that was a coincidence or not, I don’t know. But it happened about the same sort of time.
I’ve gone back to her several times since and it was in a big session with her that I admitted to myself I’m a transgender woman and that I need to change my body. And of course, as soon as you admit that to yourself and acknowledge your true gender identity, you can’t unknow it – the genie wasn’t going back in the bottle!
But it’s one thing knowing it and another thing doing something about it. I had no choice about being trans, it’s just who I am. I didn’t want to be trans, I didn’t choose to be trans, nobody chooses to be trans! The only choice I had was whether to do something about it.
The research I did showed that most trans people who decide to transition usually end up happier. After the initial loss, pain, heartache, and bumpy journey along the way, they end up leading happy and contented lives. Whereas many trans people who don’t do that and decide to live their lives for other people are sadly often the ones that end up in a spiral of depression.
The urge to live my truth was just so overwhelmingly strong. I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I had a happy home life, a successful business – could I put all of that in jeopardy just for this? But it’s the real me, and it’s all about authenticity and living your truth, and the desire to live my truth was just so overwhelming. I just had to do something about it.
I’m so glad I did because I am so much happier now!
What were some of your main fears leading up to your transition and how did you overcome them? My biggest fears were not being accepted, so losing friends and family, losing my business, my income, and my whole reputation – so just a few, small things…not! It was massive! Absolutely huge. And the other thing was my photography and video business was, and still is, named after my old male name, Martin. It’s called ‘Martin Neeves Photography & Film’, and at that stage, it had been an established brand for 22 years and is ranked second in the U.K. on photographers on free index, purely from customer reviews. I’ve twice been commissioned to photograph the queen inside Buckingham Palace!
So, I had built up a great reputation for myself and a strong brand that was very well known, so I felt I couldn’t change the name of the business. I had to somehow detach myself from the name of that business. Instead of being Martin from Martin Neeves Photography & Film, I’d be Katie from Martin Neeves Photography & Film. But in order to do that, I’d have to come out very openly, very honestly, and very publicly about being trans.
So, I made a coming out video to put on social media. It was such a risk. If you have a look at my website, it’s still on there and you can see how red-faced and stressed I was! I was so nervous and fearful of coming out, but I did it and that was the most important video I’ve ever made in my life.
I sent it to all my clients, and I put it on social media, Facebook being the first platform. I vividly remember my finger nervously hovering over the mouse, knowing that as soon as I clicked, my life would never be the same again.
I clicked the mouse and I waited, but then I had to go on a job! My mind wasn’t on the job at all. I got it done as quickly as I could – I was on autopilot and the client was very happy with the pictures, but I couldn’t wait to get back to see what was happening on Facebook because I was so worried! Everything, my whole livelihood, my reputation, everything rested on the reaction to that one video. But I needn’t have worried because when I got back, I was inundated with hundreds of messages of support.
It was amazing. I felt so loved and it went from being something that I was absolutely dreading, to being one of the most uplifting experiences of my life, second only to the birth of my daughter.
Why do you think the suicide rate amongst transgender individuals is so high?
There’s several things at play. A lot of trans people put pressure on themselves, and often fear is worse than reality. I feared I wouldn’t be accepted and yet, in reality, I’ve been very well accepted.
All my neighbours, my clients, and my friends are great with me. Out and about I don’t have any problems and I have a nice life. I don’t get aggravation, although I know that some trans people do. We live in a very lookist society, which is a horrible word, and it shouldn’t be like that, but I’m very lucky – I’ve always had very feminine features, like a heart-shaped face.
I don’t feel the need to have facial feminisation surgery, whereas a lot of trans women do because they have typical male features, like a thick squared jaw or protruding forehead. They might be six-foot, very broad, and built like rugby players, but feel just as feminine inside as I do. They often get a lot more stick and I’ve been very lucky because I haven’t had those problems.
A lot of trans people put pressure on themselves, but there’s also pressure from outside as well. Social media can be great in many ways as there’s lots of trans support groups which I certainly benefited from. But social media is a double-edged sword. There’s the dark side of it as well.
There’s a lot of hate out there and a lot of people say really nasty things that they wouldn’t dare say to your face, because they hide behind the cloak of anonymity. They can easily make a fake account by just setting up an email address in a different name. With a fake account, fake name, and an avatar they’re completely anonymous and they can say anything they like, however vile it is.
Recently I had over a thousand messages of hate after I wrote an open letter to J.K. Rowling following all the transphobic messages she’s been putting out. I knew I was going to be in for it because she’s one of the leading anti-trans people in the UK at the moment. I knew if you criticise one of the leaders then all the followers will attack, and they certainly didn’t disappoint!
But I knew that I was going to be getting that, and so I was prepared for it. But a lot of people aren’t so see all this stuff on social media and think that is what it’s going to be like in real life. But it’s not! You’ve got to detach yourself from the two and many people can’t do that. A lot of people are too frightened to even step out the front door just through all the fear that’s been created through social media. Many trans people do end up with mental issues because of all that pressure but being trans isn’t a mental issue at all.
Also, it’s just a hard thing to do. We’re brought up in this very binary, gendered society. Right from birth when a baby’s born, the doctor or midwife looks between the legs of the baby, and depending on what they see, they assign that baby either as a boy or girl, nothing in between- that’s it. Purely on the physical sex characteristics. But what’s not taken into account is the baby’s brain. What’s between their ears rather than just between their legs, because that’s just as valid.
But the trouble is at that point the baby can’t speak, and children don’t start to get a sense of their gender until about three or four anyway. We put this very crude label on them, and the thing is, nature is very messy. Nature doesn’t do black and white – it is a whole spectrum, and everything in between, and so is sex and gender.
Sex and gender are two completely separate things, they’re not linked. For 99% of the population, they’re very lucky that sex and gender do coincide. To them, I say, ‘lucky you!’. But for about 1% of the population, which is a minority, but still a sizable minority, this isn’t the case.
“There’s a lot of non-binary people who don’t identify as either male or female. There’s also gender-fluid people who some days can feel more feminine, some days more masculine. And they’re all valid, everyone’s valid.
Why can’t we just accept people?
We’re not ill, it is a perfectly valid way of being. I just want to try and get that acceptance out there, and also let other trans people know that it is okay to be trans, and that you can be trans and happy.
To everyone else, don’t feel sorry for us. If we can get ourselves into a position where we can actually live our best lives, then be happy for us.”
As a key role model for the LGBT community, why is it important we continue to raise awareness and support the LGBT community?
I think it’s important because of all the negativity that’s put out there, we need to counteract it.
LGBT events aren’t just for LGBT people, they’re for everyone because we’re all part of society. We need allies so much because trans people make up around 1% of the population, and so we need the help of the other 99% to make us feel valid.
I’ve got some wonderful friends who are true allies. I’ll give you an example of something that a true ally does. Way before lockdown, just before Christmas 2019, I went to a black-tie event and several people in the room knew me.
Two men were talking just on the other side of the room and one pointed me out and said, ‘you see that woman over there, that used to be Martin Neeves, I don’t get it myself’, and started talking about me quite disparagingly. But thankfully, the man he was talking to had previously watched a lot of my vlogs, and so he’d been educated on trans issues purely from my videos. He replied, ‘well actually, there’s a lot more to it than that’ and proceeded to educate this other man.
This was all completely without my knowledge, I only found out about that conversation after the event. That is what a true ally does and shows why allies are vital. A lot of bigotry and prejudice comes from a fear of the unknown. So, if you can take that unknown away through education, the more acceptance there is and the easier it becomes for other trans people to A) admit to themselves that they’re trans because that’s the hardest thing. And B) to come out and be able to live their lives in peace, because that’s all we want.”
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Listen to yourself and don’t shut that little voice away. I’ve always had gender dysphoria, that voice was always there, but I didn’t listen to it. I shut it away because I felt I had to live my life how other people wanted me to live it and be who other people want me to be.
Be who you want to be! It’s so important to live your authentic life because that is the path to happiness.