TEDx Bath was an incredible experience in more ways than one.
As some of you may know, I run a small social enterprise called Claire’s Transgender Talks, where I talk to groups and organisations in order to help them better understand transgender people and the issues we face, and what they can do to better engage and include us.
When I started, my intention was to educate those who wanted to know the truth about people like us. I never imagined that within a couple of years I’d be standing in front of a hundred people talking about what it’s like to be transgender in the UK, live streamed and translated across the world to an audience of at least 800 in 6 different languages (including Hindi and Chinese Mandarin) , and being put on YouTube soon.
Not bad for a nobody trans woman from Essex, early in transition, but let’s rewind a bit.
How it all began
It all started back in July 2020, in the middle of Covid, when out of the blue I got an email from someone in the TEDx Bath team asking if I’d be interested in taking part later that year when the pandemic was over (oh, the optimism).
In all honesty, I thought it was someone having a joke, but to be sure I did some research – and it appeared to be genuine. So I replied, we had a great exchange of emails, and I started working on my script.
Covid had other plans, and it was postponed, replanned, postponed and replanned again, and after many months it was tentatively scheduled for November 2021, with the theme of ‘interconnected’. My script and theme fit perfectly still, but needed some serious refinement.
Fast forward to September 2021 and it was all confirmed, full steam ahead with Covid contingencies and safety in place.
I had decided to go with ‘The Radical Idea that Trans People are People’, focusing on my own experiences, how we are dehumanised, the current moral panic and some simple principles on making our lives easier, that could also be applied to any minority community – as you’ll see when the Youtube is published – and I think it will *really* annoy a few people.
Anyway, by mid October my script was roughly where I had what I wanted to say, although on revision 15 at this point, but I needed help in refining it – which came in the form of a speaking and writing coach on the TEDx Team. John was fantastic, we had a long video chat, suggested a few things and tried some speaking tips, all of which helped immensely. We corresponded for a bit and honed the script to something a little shorter, and that I stood a chance of remembering.
My script was finalised 2 days before the date I had agreed to do a ‘pre recording’ in case of CV19. Not much time, but the magic of TV and editing would help with that!
The Pre-recording Session
So, early in November my wife and I trekked down to Chippenham for the weekend for the prerecord. I’d been practicing but was incredibly nervous and didn’t have anything remembered. The pre-recording session was down on one of the Bath Spa University campuses on the Saturday afternoon.
So, on the day I’m due to record it, stupid me decides to have two full caffiene coffees in the morning, which completely screwed with my ADHD meds and induced a full blown panic attack a few hours before I was due to do it.
A shower, getting ready and the drive to the campus helped with the worst of that, but I was incredibly nervous.
I was met by two of the team, and found out that the filming was all going to be done by the students at the Uni as part of their courses, in their full fledged TV studio.
Me. In a TV studio. Right. I hate how I look and sound at the best of times, so daunting doesnt start to cover it. The first run through was awful. The second was a lot better, following some great direction and suggestions from the team.
The third I finally started hitting my stride, and the difference was like night and day. Despite hating how I looked on screen, I was really enjoying myself even though I kept fluffing my script and forgetting what camera I was supposed to be looking into.
When I finished, my wife was talking to the director, so I wandered over with a huge grin. They both looked at me, and she said to him ‘You’ve created a monster’. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t joking, and I’m not sure I disagree either!
I’ll say at this point that the entire team were absolutely fantastic. Everyone accepted me for who I am, treated me with the utmost respect and were really friendly and incredibly supportive. The young people in the film crew were absolutely amazing, and I took the time to thank them all as best I could before I left.
The evening was spent with a huge meal and a bottle of wine, and we trekked off home the following day, spending some time at a National Trust country manor on the way back.
TEDx – The Live Event.
The couple of weeks between the pre-recording session and the event itself are a bit of a blur. Despite blocking as much time out as I could, I ended up with more meetings and less practice than I liked. As the day approached, I was getting more and more nervous.
My wife couldn’t come with me due to work commitments and she needed the car – so I was down to using the train. I do not travel well, and find public transport to be majorly anxiety inducing – but I had my train ticket booked and hotel booked for 3 nights to allow for prep and recovery.
I started down to Bath on the Wednesday, and I almost missed my train despite 45 minutes of contingency built into my travel plan. A late train to start, slow tube in London plus the main station being closed due to a fire evacuation did not make for a good start!
But I made it with 5 minutes to spare and settled in for the ride to Bath, which was actually quite relaxing. If it wasn’t so expensive and making connections wasn’t so stressful, I’d do this more. Got to Bath, checked in at the Hilton (yep!), laid in supplies and started practising for the following evening.
I had an incredibly nice surprise in my case too. Chocolate, which is always welcome – and a lovely teddy bear in trans colors, decorated in blue, pink and white ribbons. With a lovely note of support and encouragement from my wife.
I’m not crying, you are.
The Big Day (& Night)
As expected, I didn’t sleep well – but things were slowly coming together. I spent the day going over my script, again and again and again. And again. Then some more. Messages of support were trickling in from friends, and I had an unexpected phone call from someone I’d met just a couple of weeks prior, wishing me luck.
I didn’t feel ready, but had done as much as I could, and I had tons of support. I’d allowed myself a few hours to relax and get ready, decided on a last minute change of outfit and off I went to get the bus to the venue.
One short ride, and there I was.
I was met at the door, given a quick tour of the stage, which was actually in the Bath School of Art and Bath School of Design. It was a fantastic space, a former furniture factory repurposed for higher education, light, open and welcoming.
The crew doing the filming & livestreaming were the same young people who had done the pre recording, so I already knew Anna (not her real name) who was doing the floor management, so I was made really welcome. Met some of the other speakers, got chatting and was taken to the green room to get ready.
Then back down to the stage to get mic’d up and briefed. I must have looked worried, because everyone kept asking if I was ok. I mean everyone.
I kept saying I was, but honestly – I was terrified.
I kept going over the first line of my script, on the reasoning that If I got that right, the rest would come. Sarah was first up, and there were technical issues and gremlins. She soldiered on talking about BLM, Sara Everard and gender based violence, oppression, inclusion and shared humanity, and did really well.
Prior to her going on we had been chatting, and we seemed to have struck up a bit of a rapport. She wasn’t the only one – all the women there (all cisgender), made a point of talking to me and making sure I was alright. We supported each other, and it was one of those rare moments where I felt like I belonged.
Cue imposter syndrome, and doubt over my chosen subject. Thanks a bunch, anxiety.
Anyway, Sarah finished and she looked crestfallen. I asked if I could give her a hug, and assured her she had done brilliantly despite the technical issues.
Then it was my turn. I’m ready for my close up, Mr DeMille.
It all gets a bit foggy and surreal at this point. I remember the radio mic not working, and almost dropping the hand mic in my nerves. I looked up at this sea of expectant faces, some friendly, some serious, all intent on what I was going to say.
Me. How the hell did I get here again?
I took a deep breath.
The first line came out, and it just happened. I talked, and talked. I saw lots of nodding in agreement. Some anger at what trans people have to endure. Some sorrow in what I had personally been through so far. Mostly compassion and empathy, and some tears. But they listened to every word.
And then it was over. I think there was a lot of applause, but I was utterly overwhelmed at that point. I exited, stage left (yes, really), got to the security desk as Anna walked over to me – and burst into tears. I dashed for a quiet spot, anxiety and adrenaline finally bubbling over, Anna in tow making sure I was ok.
I was stunned. I’d done it. My phone was buzzing with messages from my wife, Steph, Julie and others.
It took a few minutes to compose myself, with much encouragement from Anna. Feeling more settled, I started to head back to find Tania, one of the other speakers coming to check on whether I was ok. We chatted, and headed back to watch the next speaker, but was still feeling massively overwhelmed and needed to decompress.
I wasn’t the only one. I found Sarah, and we chatted while I had my mic removed. Sarah had been crying during my talk, so we both went back to the green room for a bit, where we had a lovely chat in the quiet, finding we were both neurodiverse (hey, we always seem to find each other!) and in tune on basically everything we spoke about, before wandering back to watch the rest of the speakers from the safety of the gallery.
Then it was back down for a quick Q&A, which I think I totally flubbed but seemed to manage ok, and it was done.
Believe it or not, this is where I think it gets really interesting.
We got to spend a half-hour mingling with the crowd, chatting. I had a queue.
Seriously. What the hell?
They’re all worth recounting, and I’m only sorry they were so brief because they’re all memorable. And I got hugged, a lot.
The first was a beautician, who was dressed fantastically and absolutely gushed about what I had talked about. Turns out she had a couple of trans clients, starting talking about one and misgendering her. She looked at me in horror, as the import of what I’d been talking about sank in, and what she’d inadvertently done. But she did exactly the right thing, apologised, corrected herself and got it right from that point on, without me saying a word.
The second really sticks with me, and made the whole thing worthwhile. A chap from the audience thanked me and apologised that he couldn’t stay longer to talk, but desperately wanted me to know what I had talked about had hit him very hard. It turns out his friend had transitioned ten years prior, and as a result he had distanced himself. He wanted me to know that he felt so sorry about that, and vowed to contact that friend to apologise as soon as he got home.
Then there was someone from the student union, who wanted to know if I’d come down again to talk to the students some more. We exchanged details and will hopefully be setting something up soon, followed by a nice chap I had a brief chat with, who told me just how important what I had said was.
Then the Bath Spa Uni TEDx student reps. We had a lovely chat, talking about the importance of support and visibility, how their generation was handling things and thanking me for coming. Apparently they really pushed for some trans representation, they all had trans and non-binary friends, and found my talk incredibly powerful. They want me to come back again.
Then the entire student film crew came over. Yep, all of them. I was a bit blown away, if I’m honest. They told me how moved they were, how they tried to support their trans friends, how great it was to see me up there saying something so important. Yes, I was crying again, but it didn’t matter. Several told me that they openly cried, both at the pre-recording session and during the event.
I thanked each and every one of them for everything they had done, and how they support their trans friends. They were all angry about how things are going for us.
The kids are alright. They really are the future, we just need to get out of the way.
Many people I spoke to used words like role model, and told me that I was incredibly good at this. I still can’t quite believe it.
Geoff, the lovely guy who was one of the leads in the TEDx Bath team, offered to drive me back to the hotel. We had a fantastic chat on the way back, where he told me the exact same thing as many others had – I was good at this, should really do it more, and my talk was fantastic.
The event was split over two nights, so I got to be in the audience and actually enjoy the experience!
Weirdly, while out for a walk during the day – I’m certain I heard the words ‘Trans Talks’ a couple of times, from different groups of people – one old couple, and a group of who I assume to be students. I discounted it as my mind playing tricks on me, but..well, you’ll see.
I arrived and was immediately met by one of the student event crew volunteers. Spent some time chatting to the other speakers, taking photos and had lots of people coming up to me to tell me just how powerful my talk was the previous night.
One of those was Ewandro, a speaker that night who also runs the company KUDO, who were doing the translation services I mentioned at the start. He’s a really lovely guy, so engaging, and he had congratulated me the previous night on my talk.
But what he told me next absolutely floored me.
It turns out that several of the interpreters doing the online translations had cried so much during my talk that they had trouble doing the translations. I still can’t quite believe it.
I chatted with some of the audience too, some who had been there last night, and some that hadn’t.
Then I settled in for the talks, which were just as enlightening. Three really stuck with me – Andy, the ICU doctor from the NHS and his experiences, Ewandro with how interpreting has been developed and is done, and Eddie Ilic, of Eddie’s Street Cuts – who by all accounts is a bit of a local hero.
I chatted with everyone afterwards, had a really interesting discussion with Andy about trans people’s experiences in the NHS, and how the whole service is tainted by how the GICs treat us. One thing surprised me though – I mentioned the new pilots and how they’re helping, but a solution 10 years too late. And he said, paraphrasing ‘it’s amazing they got implemented that quickly, it takes the NHS 10 years on average to make any significant change’. That shocked me, and I think in some respects we need to stop judging the whole NHS service by the dehumanising actions of the GICs – because these folks on the front line of other services are really doing their best to treat everyone as best they can, and as equally as they can.
And Eddie. I was moved by the similarities in his story, about his struggle to find who he was and being derailed by substance abuse. It resonated. We chatted afterwards, and it was the first thing he said to me about mine – different paths, but similar problems in finding yourself and caring about yourself. I got a huge hug (he’s a buff guy too!) and really quite lovely.
Remember that ‘nice chap I had a brief chat with’ I mentioned earlier? Turns out that was the Pro Vice Chancellor of the University. Whoops.
We had a much longer chat this time, and I thanked him for the opportunity and platform – one that we are so rarely given the opportunity to access. We ended up having a brief discussion about my theory that being transgender had originally been an evolutionary safeguard, something Ive seen no research or exploration of. That floored him a bit, but he agreed it might well have been. I might do a bit on that in another article.
I also met several other University professors, all of whom were very complimentary and supportive.
And we rounded off the evening with a trip to a nearby pub.
I’m a bit wary of pubs as a trans woman, and honestly – Ive only been in one since starting my transition, but I was well supported and felt safe, so why not? I needed to relax and a glass of wine would do the trick.
I walked down to the pub (which as it turns out, was directly opposite the HQ of Lovehoney, the online adult store!) with Keisha, who is the performance artist who MC’d the two nights of talks with limericks and poems of each speaker.
We were the first in the pub, so we grabbed drinked, settled into a nearby nest of tables and started chatting about racial and gender injustice, growing up in such environments and just how badly this government is treating everyone that isnt straight, white, abled and cisgender. Before I knew it though, it was full of the TEDx Team and volunteers, all laughing and joking.
There were only a couple of us speakers there, so the first thing I did was thank everybody properly for the opportunity, efforts and the support provided – which often went beyond what was required. One of the volunteers was a lovely guy called Robby (again, not his real name), who had gone out of his way to make sure my wife could access the livestream and help her with any technical issues. I cannot thank the whole team highly enough to be honest.
One thing James told me (he ran the pre recording session among other things), was that the verbal feedback they had received about my talk was phenomenal. Apparently it had really started a buzz in conversation across the Uni and Bath in general, and loads of people were talking about it. So those ‘trans talks’ comments I’d overheard during the day but dismissed as a figment of my imagination? Nope, all real.
Things soon dropped into smaller conversations around the two tables, with Robby and myself at the centre of the group with all the girls. The topics ranged across everything, and I ended up being asked several questions about being transgender – inevitable really, and I was included in all the ‘girl talk’ without thought. Everyone treated me as the woman I am, with no exceptions. They really showed how it should be done, and just how easy it is to treat us as people.
I shared a cab back to the hotel with Keisha and Robby, and fell into bed.
I’m still a bit stunned.
I sat in the hotel writing most of this while it’s still somewhat fresh, finished it when I got home, and I’ve left loads out. I’m absolutely exhausted – I rushed home on Saturday to head straight out to help with an event with my local Pride.
It was an absolutely incredible experience, and honestly – I’d love to do it again. The TEDx Bath team, all of them from the students to the organisers, were absolutely phenomenal. I was treated with nothing but respect and dignity, incredibly well supported, and for the first time I felt like I was a part of humanity.
The juxtaposition and dichotomy between how decent people treat us, versus the institutional indifference and hatred, and the outright vilification of the press is stark, but it gives me hope for the future.
Because people see it, and more people than we think support us. More people than we think see us.
Most really don’t know what they can do to change the current situation. Hopefully I helped in some small way, by showing how they can treat us better, building ground level social change instead of institutional change.
Hearts and Minds.
I never started out expecting this, all I wanted to do was make people more aware about people like me, to foster better understanding and hopefully improve our lives a little. Hopefully I represented my community in a good light, using the platform I had the opportunity to access to best effect.
Whatever else happens, I’ve tried my best, and I’ll never forget the experience.
…..a sneaky note from all the team – we are all so proud of you!