A trans woman who has written a book about her life has spoken of how she has been able to use her experiences to change attitudes.
Julie Clarke, who lives on the Isle of Coll and whose book – Becoming Julie – was published in 2014, was speaking to KaleidoScot ahead of the inaugural Icon Awards, in which she has been shortlisted for Role Model of the Year.
Julie’s journey so far has been anything but straightforward, and she relates with brutal honesty the “harrowing and difficult” times and the events which “pushed [her] to breaking point”. But her story is not merely one of victimisation and prejudice, but one of overcoming and of her transformation into a confident, outgoing and optimistic woman.
The Hebrides are not known for being a safe place for “out” LGBT people, but Julie has lived on Coll for eighteen years. Julie accepts that it can be more difficult to be true to who you are in smaller communities, but doesn’t necessarily feel her community has been any less accepting than any other. “Like anywhere else some have been supportive and some not so much”, she explains. “I do think it is harder to do what I have done in the small community as you’re always under scrutiny as everyone knows your business.”
However, she believes that she has been able to be a pioneering influence on changing attitudes at home and – through her book – further afield than she would ever have imagined possible. “On Coll, the anonymity of the large city does not exist. But the Islanders had their own way of dealing with, and eventually coming to terms with what was sometimes a very difficult situation. But I do think it has changed attitudes for the most part though.”
Julie currently works for Caledonian MacBrayne, at the Isle of Coll ferry terminal. There is no question of her not being accepted for who she is – in fact, she’s reguarly asked by customers to sign her book (which is available to purchase on the ferry or in the local bookshop)! “Often I’m asked to sign books when I’m collecting their tickets to board the ferry and I’ve even signed books leaning on the bonnet of their cars”, she says.
Julie’s decided to write her book after a friend suggested it to her at a party. “It had been on my mind for a few years,” says Julie, “but after others said I should I thought the time was right.” She was determined her book should be no “misery memoir”, but a celebration of triumph over adversity with a distinctly optimistic message. “Much of my life story is about being rejected by society, which has made me strong, and has taught me to persevere and to never give up, which has made me the successful woman I am today. But my story is also one of hard-fought success and is one of hope.”
Indeed, it’s that message of hope that has seen Julie shortlisted for an Icon Award – something she considers “an honour” and which “makes [her] toil worthwhile”. Like many inspirational people, Julie never set out to become an ambassador or a role model but aimed simply to be true to herself.
“I wrote my book for no other reason than just to answer some questions for myself. However it soon took on a life of its own and I began to realize that my story might help others. I couldn’t have imagined that people would see me as a role model, but if they do I will happily take that on and hopefuly I can continue to inspire many in the future.”
While Becoming Julie deals with the past, it also forward-looking and clearly focused on what Julie has become – and is becoming. So what hopes does Julie have for the future? “For myself I just want to live life as an ordinary woman, although I do have a lot of ambition left, as books 2 and 3 will come eventually. I also want to get back into my music (she was a professional drummer in a number of rock bands), which is begining to happen. I especially want to do all the things in life now as a woman that I’ve never been able to do, and that may well mean leaving my beloved Island of Coll.”
Julie is, however, also focused on working to raise awareness of transgender issues and supporting other transgender people: “Hopefully I’ll also be in a position to continue to inspire other transgender people, and as importantly educate cisgender people too – something which is already happening through Becoming Julie.”
The Icon Awards are being held in Glasgow tonight at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Becoming Julie can be obtained from Amazon, on board CalMac ferries or from all good bookshops.