“You have to strike a pose for the photographers and then turn and strike a pose for the audience. I decided to do the model thing of not smiling as I was walking, just keep neutral… but I’m a big smiler. So, I decided that when I struck my pose, I’d come out in a big smile.”
When Katie Neeves walked the runway at London Fashion Week last year it was nerve-wracking, but by this point she was used to all eyes being on her. Since 2017, Katie has been on camera countless times, speaking her truth on TV and online, as well as in front of huge audiences. Her name regularly appears in lists of inspirational people, and she recently won ‘Hero of the Year’ at the Burberry British Diversity Awards. She’s even had her portrait painted. And, yes, she is a big smiler. Because she is an incredibly happy woman.
Before Katie Neeves was born in 2017, she was named Martin. “I talk about Martin in the third person. I'm grateful to Martin for stepping back and allowing me to be Katie,” she says. “I'm quite unusual in the transgender world that I am comfortable showing my old photos and people knowing my old name. I make no secret of it and I'm completely comfortable with my past. He'll always have a special place in my heart and I'm proud of everything I achieved as Martin and who I was as Martin. But I'm not Martin anymore.”
On the ‘about section’ of Katie’s website, Martin is there. And when she delivers trans awareness training at schools, colleges and to companies, she will often show photos of Martin. But she knows this is a very personal choice and that many transgender and non-binary individuals find photographs and footage of their pre-transition selves impossible to look at, let alone share. Gender dysphoria (the distress felt when a person’s assigned gender at birth does not align with their gender identity) is a recognised medical condition and one that can be deeply traumatising. In most cases, it takes a long time for a person to gain access to the kind of support, care and treatments they require to become the gender they should have always been. And this delay alone can contribute to levels of emotional suffering, depression and anxiety that can, and does, stop life in its tracks. Certainly, when Katie’s gender dysphoria reached its peak, it was paralysing. “At the age of 48, my gender dysphoria increased dramatically and went through the roof,” she recalls. “I was in complete turmoil, it was horrendous, it took over my life completely. My business suffered; I couldn't do any work. I couldn't do anything. Every waking moment, every sleeping moment. My whole life. I couldn't think of anything else.”