Charlie Crimston

Dr. Crimston is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Queensland whose research looks into the psychology of morality. In late 2018, Dr. Crimston took a brave step forward and publicly transitioned and was kind enough to share her story with us.

James: When did you know that something was different?

Charlie: It took me a long time to make sense of what I was feeling. I do have these vague memories as a kid that something didn’t quite line up, but back then I couldn’t possibly find the words to explain it. Throughout my teens and early 20s the feelings intensified, but I still wasn’t able to arrive at a position of clarity. Mostly I just thought I was different.

I think part of the reason it took me so long was because when I was growing up, I simply didn’t see trans people in society. They were not in my books or on the TV. There really wasn’t anywhere I could see someone like me.

So all up, we are talking about twenty years between when I first noticed something wasn’t right to the point of seeking professional advice and actually transitioning. A ridiculous amount of time in hindsight, but I try not to fret about that. I’m just glad I did eventually work it out and felt supported enough that I could finally say to somebody “I think I’m transgender”.

James: What did you feel was different?

Charlie: It’s hard to explain to those that haven’t felt it. It was just a sense that I wasn’t who I should be. In primary school I remember being told that I shouldn’t play with the girls and that I had to make friends with the boys. I remember wanting to wear a yellow dress that I thought was really pretty. I didn’t really understand why I wasn’t allowed to do these things, but for the most part I accepted it and tried to live my life. The feelings never went away though. It was always there somewhere and just got stronger and stronger as I got older. Physical changes in my teens were a bit of a nightmare. Seeing my masculine body develop made me really uncomfortable. Having masculine pronouns felt increasingly wrong and out of place. I had these feelings for quite a while and honestly just reached a point where the fear of NOT doing something about it finally exceeded the fear of facing up to it.

James: Charlie is a beautiful name – tell me your name story!

Charlie: I love hearing other people’s name stories too. Mine is kind of weird as the origin of the name is actually from an important male in my life. My middle name was Charles, after my Grandfather who was a really wonderful, compassionate person. I was OK letting go of my deadname and didn’t really like any feminine variations of it. So, I decided to keep Charlie as that name meant a lot to me and thought it was actually quite cute. After pairing it with a very feminine middle name (Rose) I knew that was it.

James: Were you worried about how transitioning would affect your academic career?

Charlie: Yes! Absolutely. In my personal life I had incredible support from my wonderful partner at the time, Jodie, my friends, and (for the most part) my family. But I also had some really great support here at UQ. Dr. Fiona Barlow was one of my amazing mentors that I approached when I was considering making the public transition. We spoke together about how this transition could potentially affect my career. Ultimately though, I knew transitioning was something I had to do, so any career-related anxiety I was wrestling with wasn’t ever going to stop me.

In general, the overall response has been really positive! I remember the day that I sent the email out to everyone at work explaining that I was transitioning and that I had a new name and new pronouns. I still get emotional when I think about the overwhelmingly positive responses I received from people in my department. Lots of people wished me well and offered their congratulations. Later that same day I walked into the mail-room to find the wonderful reception team had already gone and changed the name on my pigeon hole. I walked home that day with happy tears in my eyes.

James: Are you able to change the names and initials on published work you have so far?

Charlie: I’m working on it. Some publishers already had processes in place and made it really easy. Others were kind enough to implement new processes for trans and gender diverse authors after I reached out to them. But there are a few I’m still fighting with. It isn’t something that keeps me up at night, and I’m generally comfortable with being a visible member of the trans community, but if I can make the process easier for other trans and gender diverse researchers to update their names then I’m happy to continue the fight.

James: Has coming out changed your research interests?

Charlie: Yes? Maybe? I don’t know? I’ve always been interested in moral, social and political issues so that hasn’t really changed. But it has given me a new perspective on things. It has helped me become more aware of the privilege I had, to confront the privilege I still have (as a white trans woman) and has driven home the importance of intersectionality and minority solidarity.

I’m also directly involved with a couple of trans focused research projects now which I think are incredibly valuable. Having more trans researchers involved in trans research is definitely a step in the right direction.

James: What steps do you think Australia needs to make to move toward a more trans-inclusive society?

Charlie: I think we have taken some very important steps over the last few years. When I was younger, the term transgender (or some variation thereof) almost always carried negative connotations. Positive portrayals of gender diverse individuals in books, film and T.V. were pretty hard to come by... if you encountered them at all. This is slowly starting to change, and I think people in general are more aware of transgender issues, people and stories. There is definitely a long way to go, though. It’s scary how little the general population understand about what it means to be transgender. This confusion leads to fear, which in turn leads to intolerance and transphobia. I think wherever possible we need to shine a brighter light on trans people in the community. Being trans or gender diverse is something that should be celebrated, never shamed.

James: It’s hard that time is what we have to rely on to change people’s attitudes as there are so many people suffering in the trans community who don’t have the strength to wait for tolerance.

Charlie: I think that is absolutely right. We don’t do enough to support trans people, especially trans kids. It is frustrating to see some of the fear associated with education initiatives aimed at educating children on what it means to be transgender. For example, the controversy over the Safe Schools Initiative. Having something like that available when I was at school would have made those years so much easier. Teaching kids to be compassionate for their peers who might be struggling… isn’t this something we should be striving for? Kids tend to have very open minds about these things, and they need that reinforcement that it is OK to be different. It really does warm my heart to see how kids in my life have reacted to my transition. My niece giggled the first time she saw me as Charlie and said she liked my hair. My nephew didn’t even say a word about it, he just grabbed my hand and asked me to go play.

James: Do you have any advice for people out there who are questioning their gender identity? Or who have begun transitioning?

Charlie: I would love to take my younger self aside and reassure them that YOU ARE OK, and it is all going to be OK. You’re not these horrible things that the voices in your head are telling you. Sure, I may be statistically uncommon, but now I see there is something special about that. We know that a number of biological factors contribute to our gender identity. To know this when I was younger, to know that it wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, would have gone a long way in helping me accept myself. Over the last few years what has helped me the most has been hearing compassionate stories from other trans people who are successful and thriving. I recommend that anyone interested in trans issues seek out these stories and consume them… they help.

So, to others going through it I would say, yeah I know there are times when you are struggling, when everything sucks and you don’t see a way forward, but it does get better. I know at times might seem hard to believe, but I promise it does.

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