I’m Julie Clarke. I live and work on the Isle of Coll which is just of the west coast of Scotland, a 3 hour ferry journey from Oban. You’d be right if you thought living on a remote island posed certain challenges as there isn’t the more reliable amenities and services which those living on the mainland enjoy.
However being faced with certain challenges is nothing new to me as I knew from a young age that I was very different from my fellow school friends. As the years went on I came to the realization as to what it was and to use that old cliche, I was a girl trapped in a boys body. I faced much discrimination and prejudice from a young age and was subjected to verbal, physical and sexual abuse right up to my early adulthood. Although the treatment dished out to me over the years wore me down, and I came close to my own demise many times, thankfully the resilience and sheer determination I had built up in the face of the abuse always pulled me back from the brink.
Even with the odds stacked heavily against me for most of my life I eventually walked out of my front door in 2004 officially as the woman I always felt I should have been. I finally realized my dream when on the 18th of February 2006 I underwent full gender-reassignment surgery, meaning my body and mind were were now at one with each other and I finally became my true female self. This was truly the start of my new life. Miss Julie Clarke was born.
I had come a very long way since the bad old days of the of the 1970s, 80s and 90s and for the first time in my life I was being talked about in a positive way; people were commenting that they liked me better as a woman and some were even saying that they had respect for me and that I’d been very brave. I’ve become a confident, optimistic and ambitious woman looking to the future and living a life I could never imagined possible even 15 years ago.
Although still working fultime with CalMac Ferries and it is a job I love very much, I’m always looking for a new challenge and when someone said to me, “why don’t you write a book, Jules?” I replied, “funny you should ask that as I’ve been thinking of doing just that!”. The very next day I went to my computer and created a word document and entitled it “My Book”. From that moment on I worked pretty constantly dedicating at least 2 -3 hours nearly every day for about 15 months and then working with my editor for another 6 and, when I finally succeeded in finding a publisher willing to take it on, I worked for about another 4 months with their editor. The publishing process took a few months more and it was duly published on the 3rd November 2014, with the title being ‘Becoming Julie’ with the whole project having taken nearly 3 years.
I embarked on on a UK wide launch tour with the official launch being at Waterstones Oban on 7th Nov and culminating in a launch signing event at Waterstones Islington London on 21st Nov after having been on the road for 3 weeks.
It would be true to say that up until now at least I’ve never had much contact with the LGBTI community, therefore I knew little about wider trans or LGBTI issues that perhaps hadn’t affected me directly, and had never campaigned or took part in rallies or attended meetings or the like. That doesn’t mean however that I’m not concerned for the plight of others like me, not least as I have the mental and physical scars of a lifetime of prejudice towards me to prove that I do care. It wasn’t until I was half way through writing Becoming Julie that I realized that my own personal story might be of some help or even an inspiration to others, whether that be male to female or female to male trans people in terms of me being able to convey that it can be done even with the odds staked heavily against you.
I also began to realise that if I could get my story to cisgender or mainstream readers also I might be in a position to enlighten and educate them as to our plight. I am of the view that in some ways this approach is the more important one, as its only with a better understanding by the mainstream public (hopefully resulting in a more sympathetic attitude towards transgender people) that future lives be less likely to have to endure the appalling treatment from society that my generation has had to live with. That is why I wrote Becoming Julie, candidly and honestly in my own words in a straightforward way, discussing the workaday life of an ordinary person’s struggle through life while having to deal with the confusion of their gender identity (Gender Dysphoria). I really do feel I have and can make a difference, not necessarily though the normal channels of activism but simply by writing and telling it like it has been for me.
I can say with some confidence that I have achieved this to a great degree as the considerable amount of positive feedback from mainstream readers and the press-media alike testifies. Many people have said that my book has been a real eye-opener or that I’ve allowed them to see what life was like for those of us who’ve had to take an alternative path in life, through no fault of our own. Others have openly stated that they’ve ben empowered, because of Becoming Julie, to view transgender people in a completely different light and in a more sympathetic manner. Ignorance is our biggest enemy and I hope I can go some way at least to address that through my writing.
It was also intersting to see that 90% of those attending the book launches and the many subsequent signing events were cisgender people, with only a small minority being people from the LGBTI community.
When Becoming Julie was published, I have to say I was surprised at the huge amount of publicity we received which started even before the day of its release on 3 November and from that day the book seemed to take on a life of its own and was attracting ever more interest from the media, with my story and book being featured to date in 10 newspapers, 9 live radio shows including on BBC Scotland, and The Culture Studio – as well as appearing twice on the Kaye Adams show. I also appeared live on 2 BBC television news programmes and appeared on the Riverside Show on STV. I was also a guest speaker at this years Eye Write book festival to talk about my book. So, all in all, I was able to get my story across to thousands of people through all of those interviews and features with a lot of people saying that I’d become a wee celebrity, which I suppose I have as people reguarly say they’ve seen me on TV or that they’ve read my book.
Life being life, there’s always going to be someone who’ll criticize you for whatever you do – and while I’ve had a lifetime of that anyway, it can be annoying or even distressing at times. Strangely though some of that criticism actually came from a few people within the LGBTI community who said that I was too commercial and that all I wanted to do was sell books. In my own defense, I could never have imagined in a million years that my story would have attracted such huge attention from the media and public. I didn’t ask for it. However, for the first time in my life I was the focus of attention for positive reasons as everyone wanted to hear what has been called “an inspiring and uplifting story” and there was no way I was going to pass that over, even if it meant becoming that “wee celebrity”. I’m grabbing the opportunity with both hands as I know it wont last forever. If my modest celebrity status helps me spread the word as to the plight of transgender people everywhere I’m going to make the most of that, and I’ll continue to do so for as long as I can and I hope I don’t upset too many people along the way.
Writing Becoming Julie was a major undertaking and there was a period where I though I would never find a publisher, as I was being rejected time and time again as the subject matter didn’t suit their lists, until a couple suggested I find an LGBTI publisher. Of course, as a trans woman I’m also an LGBTI person, but I see myself as being an ordinary woman who does ordinary things within society. In fact some in the press-media dubbed me “The Ordinary Woman With The Extraordinary Story”, which has stuck and has been used a few times while introducing me. I’d always felt that my book should have been published by a mainstream publisher as it is not a book about the subject of LGBTI issues or politics because it’s a personal story. But I was mindful that I would have an uphill task if I was ever to find a suitable publisher for my work, and was accpeted by Fledgling Press in Edinburgh, an independent publisher committed to publishing debut authors. They have to be commended for taking a risk with me and allowing my voice to be heard, while the larger publishers were categorizing me as an LGBTI subject author, presumably because my story is about a transgender person, which I just happened to be me.
Julie Clarke is a transwoman who currently lives on the Isle of Coll. She was a shortlisted finalist for the Icon Awards’ Role Model of the Year Award in 2015. Her book, Becoming Julie, is available on Amazon or on board CalMac ferries. Further information about Julie’s life and her book can be found on her website.