Monday 27 April 2015

Interview with Emma Martin

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Emma Martin, a British IT consultant, clinical psychotherapist, and transgender activist. Hello Emma!
Emma: Hi Monika. Thank you for inviting me.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Emma: What can I say? Well, I’ve been married to the love of my life Linda for 37 years, spent most of my working life in IT with various companies ending up as an IT Manager for a major food manufacturer, then got a bit fed up with IT and trained as a psychotherapist and hypnotherapist. Now, retired, I consider myself to be a full-time writer. I’m also teaching myself 3D graphics design. As to hobbies, we have two retired greyhounds that will soon be the stars of a series of children’s stories I’m writing.
Monika: You hit the headlines in 2008 when the British media covered your story. You had to annul your marriage to your wife Linda so you could be legally recognized as a woman after gender reassignment surgery. How did the whole case finish?
Emma: Crazy situation. After we’d annulled the marriage and set up a civil partnership, the government decided in 2014 to allow same sex marriages. We converted our CP back into a Marriage on December 10th, 2014 (the 37th anniversary of our original marriage), so I guess we’re now back where we started.

Sid, Me, and Blue.

Monika: Has the British law now changed?
Emma: Yes. Finally, the government has revised the rules on gender recognition and marriage, so a couple in our position wouldn’t have to go through the farce we did. They can now remain married. 
Monika: Have you had any other encounters with the media?
Emma: Yes, lots... I’ve appeared in a number of TV programs, newspapers and magazine articles and radio programs. I felt early on that trans people were not getting good press and that it was partly our own fault. It seemed that the wrong people were putting themselves forward; just after notoriety and ‘fame’.
I wanted to show the world that the vast majority of us are just ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. The first thing Lin and I did was a 4-minute film for Channel 4’s series called ‘My Millennium’ about people’s wishes for the new century. Channel 4 liked it so much that it was shown at the 1999 Transgender Film Festival in London.
I’ve even been ‘doorstepped’ once. The doorbell rang one day and there were the Daily Mail and BBC TV both wanting interviews. I turned them down but the Mail went ahead anyway, using bits from old interviews I’d done for others. That apart, most media encounters have been very positive.
Monika: You were a qualified Clinical Psychotherapist and specialized in Gender Incongruence for over 10 years. What were the most common problems that you helped others to solve?
Emma: As far as gender identity is concerned it was very much a counseling role, helping people make sure they were taking the path that was right for them. Making sure they knew the problems they’d come up against and giving them help in facing their difficulties.
I also spoke with parents, siblings, partners, and friends if they wanted me, to explain gender identity in a non-technical way that they could understand. I wrote a ‘Guide to Gender Incongruence’ especially for non-trans people which I’m intending to make available as a free download on Amazon. I’d trained with the NACHP and became their spokesperson on Gender Identity issues and had a couple of articles published in counseling magazines. But it wasn’t just trans people I worked with, I also used hypnosis to help people stop smoking and with phobias and had many non-trans clients.
Monika: Why Gender Incongruence rather than the more normally used terms?
Emma: I coined the phrase Gender Incongruence as I felt it was a more accurate description of the condition than the alternatives Gender Dysphoria and Gender Identity Disorder, and also a more acceptable terminology to trans people.

Through the Corinth Canal.

Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in British society?
Emma: There’s no comparison to ten years ago, and most of that is down to some brilliant activists … but there’s still a long way to go. Most problems nowadays seem to come from the ‘Feminist camp’. Even the press are, on the whole, acting more responsibly.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Emma: I grew up in the 1950s and things were very different then. I couldn’t just say to my Mum and Dad, ‘Hey they got it wrong when they said I was a boy’. So I fought against it. I went to an all-boys school and hated it. In the 1970’s I plucked up the courage to see my GP about how I felt and ended up being misdiagnosed and given some weird totally non-ethical therapy that really screwed me up. The psychs at that time clearly had no idea about the condition.
It took until September 1998 before I was finally able to admit the truth to myself again. Even then I got no help from my then GP. I went private and within 2 years I had completed the transition with surgery in Belgium. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford facial feminization surgery, which would have been nice, but did manage to obtain speech therapy, which helped my voice tremendously.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Emma: Not exactly role models, but there were a number of others in and around Cambridge who were going through a transition at the same time as me. I think we gave each other the courage and drive to succeed.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Emma: I admire everyone who is willing to face the difficulties involved in the transition. There are so many who have shown a positive image for trans people and it would be unfair to name just one or two.

On stage at the 1999 Transgender Film Festival.

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Emma: No-brainer. Telling Linda was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I knew that I couldn’t continue to live as I was but having to put Linda through such a traumatic time was horrible. At least I had a light at the end of my tunnel; for her, there was no light. I felt so guilty about what I had to do, but once I’d faced the truth there was no turning back.
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Emma: I think it already is. Like most things, it will take a long time for recognition of the condition to spread throughout the world, but we’re on the way. It certainly seems to be the ‘in-thing’ in the Film and TV industry at the moment.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Emma: To be totally honest, not much, but there have been a few. ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, is my personal favorite and an excellent depiction of a horrific true story. At long last film and TV companies are beginning to use trans actors and this is a gigantic step forward. 
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Emma: We have done pretty well so far, but in truth, I think it’s wrong to include either trans or intersex people within the umbrella group. LBG is about sexual preference, T and I are about one’s true gender. It has nothing to do with sexual preference.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Emma: Not in the strict sense of the word, but I have worked with various groups and founded ‘Sanctity’ a group fighting for the right of trans people and their spouses to remain married. I believe trans women and trans men can make huge differences in virtually every sphere of life, not just politics. I’m too old now to enter the political arena although I have been asked at a local level. I’ve also worked with Women’s Groups, Local Councils, the Probation Service, and the Police. I was asked to write a scenario for the Police Firearms Unit and Hostage Negotiators involving diversity issues, which I was more than happy to do.

Enjoying an Ice Cream with Linda in Arizona.

I also played the part of the hostage taker, waving a gun at police marksmen, cursing and swearing, and making life as difficult as I could for them. That was great fun.
I have been fascinated by the number of trans women who work in the IT industry and when I contacted Professor Simon Barron-Cohen of Cambridge University on the subject we inaugurated a project that ended with me being accredited as co-writer on an article published in an American science journal, on some rather controversial things we’d discovered about the connection between autism and trans men.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Emma: Day to day I’m just a scruff in Jeans and a top, but I do enjoy making the best of myself when I go out. I like clothes that are a bit ‘out of the ordinary’ and match my artistic style.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Emma: I think I’ve probably covered that already. Without Lin in my life, there would be no life. She is everything to me.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Emma: During my transition, I kept a diary of everything that happened, even including the weird dreams I had. That may become a book or perhaps even a film? At last year’s London Screenwriters Festival, I was told by a Hollywood Producer ‘You must write your story’ as a screenplay. Watch this space.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Emma: Apart from living a normal life I love writing. I have four TV pilot comedy/drama scripts written, have started a series of children’s books, and am working on a novel ‘The Box of Stolen Lives’, and of course the memoir/screenplay mentioned above.

Husky sledding in Sweden.

Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Emma: If it’s right then it’s right … but be absolutely sure that this is what you need rather than what you want. Search out a GP that will treat you as a human being rather than an oddity. Get counselling and take your time. Once we start we all want to rush through transition, but in retrospect it’s important to take time and do it properly. I would warn people to avoid purchasing hormones etc. over the web.
Monika: Emma, thank you for the interview! 
Emma: It’s been an absolute pleasure.

All the photos: courtesy of Emma Martin.
© 2015 - Monika Kowalska

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