Every 29 hours a trans person is murdered. Only two weeks ago Mexican transgender escort Vanessa Santillan was tragically murdered by strangulation in a flat in Fulham. It's estimated that from more than 1.6 million homeless youth, 20-40% are trans. What is even more worrying is 41% of trans people are reported to have attempted suicide according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey - and some gut-wrenchingly succeed.
Because of rampant discrimination against transgender adults and youth, dealing with day-to-day life can be a struggle in itself, leading to many trans people experiencing unbearable insults, unfair treatment and, as we have seen, worse.
Nothing is solved without action, however, as Charlie Craggs, a trans activist-come-manicurist will tell you. The creative director and self-proclaimed council estate girl has seen her fair share of unlawful bullying and hate, but, under a firm assurance transphobia can be eradicated, is getting on with it and fighting for change.
Craggs's self-funded Nail Transphobia campaign spawned from a university project in her final year at London College of Fashion. She's travelling the country painting everyone's nails – female, male, trans, queer, you name it – in order to discuss all things trans with them, in a quest to educate the masses about any misconceptions they've been fed.
What sounds like a simple, engaging idea has generated a momentum of support for trans visibility – her pop-up salon has now been to London Pride, the Royal Academy of Art, and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Craggs has also been featured as one of ASOS's "Sheroes" and Nail Transphobia was shortlisted for the Natwest Creative Enterprise Award.
We caught up with Charlie a year after launching the campaign about living in the UK as a trans person today, overcoming negativity and her humanising project nailing transphobia one nail at a time.
Konbini: How old are you and where do you live?
Charlie Craggs: I’m 23 and I’m a Ladbroke Grove girl, born and raised.
K: Your campaign Nail Transphobia – could you give a little background on how the idea started, when, what happened and so on?
Charlie: Nail Transphobia is a charitable campaign that aims to tackle transphobia in the most fabulous way possible – through nail art, creating visible trans allies. It’s activism done fabulously. Essentially people get their nails done in the campaign’s custom design, take a nailfie (a nail selfie, duh) and upload it to social media with the hashtag #NailTransphobia to show their support for the Trans community.
The campaign actually started as my final major project for my degree a year ago. I was studying Creative Direction and we only had to come up with theoretical concepts for our final projects, but I was giving a talk at the Victoria & Albert Museum one day and I briefly mentioned my idea for the campaign and after my talk a guy from the audience who happened to be a curator at the museum came up to me to talk about my idea for the campaign and he said he’d love me to put on a Nail Transphobia event at the museum to launch my campaign.
This was amazing, but it also meant I literally had like a week to turn this little idea of mine (that I hadn’t even named at this point) into a fully conceived proper-actual-real-life-thing; from branding, to the website and social media, to designing the nails and ordering stock, to getting a team of fabulous nail ladies together and promoting the event. I went up like 2 dress sizes that week from all the comfort eating (love snickers) and I still haven’t dropped the dress sizes because it's been pretty non stop since. It’s so crazy to think a year ago this was just an idea for my coursework and now it's pretty much my life.
K: What are the ideas you're trying to provoke with Nail Transphobia?
Charlie: That trans people are just normal people. My events give me an opportunity to bond with someone that has probably never met or spoken to a trans person before and dispel any misconceptions, educate them on trans issues and hopefully inspire them to become a trans ally. I’m trying to humanise the issue and change hearts and minds two nails at a time.
K: What was it like growing up trans? How did you overcome any negativity?
Charlie: I have the most amazing parents who always accepted and loved me for who I am. But I went to a tough all boys school for 7 years, which broke me, I honestly don’t know how I didn’t kill myself looking back. But after surviving that, nothing phases me and I know I can cope with anything life has to throw at me. I think this is how I overcame my struggle, by finding positive in the negative; had I grown up a cisgender girl my life would have been easier, but my trials and tribulations have shaped me into who I am today; a strong, driven, boss and I wouldn’t want to be any other way and I genuinely mean that.
K: You are a trans activist too, what is it like living as a trans person in the UK today?
Charlie: It’s not the best, but its also not the worst. A trans person is reportedly murdered every 29 hours somewhere in the world and though the majority of these murders happen outside of Europe, I was only just reading earlier today about a trans girl who was murdered in London recently, and what’s even scarier is that she was murdered in walking distance from where I live. Just because we have rights here and were not being murdered daily like in other countries it doesn’t mean we have it easy, not a day goes by that I am not stared at, laughed at or threatened for living my truth.
But a revolution is taking place - with increasing positive media representation aided by inspirational trans women like Laverne Cox living their truth visibly and with amazing campaigns (wink wink) pressing for change we are slowly but surely changing peoples perceptions and thus changing the world, making it a safer and happier place for us to navigate as trans people.
K: Do you think there needs to be a revolution for transphobia to be eradicated?
Charlie: The revolution is happening honey! In the last couple of years or so, so much has happened and we have achieved so much as a movement, most notably with Laverne Cox being the first transgender person to be featured on the cover of TIME magazine, which was actually the second best selling cover of theirs ever, second only to the Pope!
Laverne also became the first trans person to be nominated for an Emmy, then theres Andreja Pejic owning the runways, Carmen Carrera and the 50,000 signature strong petition to make her the first trans Victoria's Secret Angel, Janet Mock and her New York Times bestseller Redefining Realness and Paris Lees being voted the most influential LGBT person in the UK on The Independent's Pink List, just to name a few. Its such an exciting time to be trans right now but its also the scariest time because the trans murder epidemic is worsening drastically - its a real juxtaposition, that's why this moment in history is being dubbed the transgender tipping point. I just pray people get on the right side of history. That's what Nail Transphobia is all about.
K: Have you noticed a change in treatment of transgender people in the last year?
Charlie: Visibility and positive media representation definitely helps in changing public perception of trans people for the better, normalising our lives and humanising us but as I said, the number of trans murders is increasing every year, with 1,509 reported trans murders last year (emphasis on the word reported because most go unreported or the victims are mis-gendered as male) so it often feels like we take 2 steps forwards and one step back with regards to how we are treated by wider society, but even if we are taking a step back with every stride forward - at least we are still moving forward. Change is coming.
K: What do you think would need to happen for it to fully go away?
Charlie: These trailblazing, inspirational trans women like Laverne, Janet, Carmen, Andreja and Paris are creating new trans narratives, narratives that destroy the sensationalised exploitative ones moulded by the tabloids and Jerry Springer, these women are showing the world that trans women are successful, beautiful, intelligent, funny, compassionate, talented and strong and empowering other trans women to be so too.
The value of this positive media representation is not only priceless in changing the way trans people see themselves but also in changing the way the public see trans people and ending transphobia. But there is only so much we can do in the fight for equality, because the people who truly hold the power to ending transphobia are the transphobes themselves. Ultimately transphobia will only stop when they choose to stop being transphobic, but unfortunately some people consciously choose ignorance and are blissful in their ignorance, so all we can really do is pray that they all die.
K: What do you say to those who are disrespectful to you and other trans people?
Charlie: You're a tosser.
K: What does activism mean to you?
Charlie: I’ve tried to approach activism in a new way with my campaign. I was sick of basic bitches and ugly charities and really wanted to show how much more effective one can be by challenging conventional approaches to branding and marketing and being innovative and modern rather than relying on the same out dated techniques charities have used for decades. I hope the success of my campaign will inspire other charities and campaigners to challenge these conventions too and be innovative with their approach to activism so that they will be more effective. Does that make me sound bitchy? I mean it in a good way, I’m trying to help them.
K: What inspires you the most?
Charlie: Strong women.
K: Are there any other projects/campaigns you are a part of?
Charlie: I am starting a new facet of my campaign called 'Nans 4 Trans'. At the bottom of the estate I live on there’s a block for all the old people, kind of like an old people’s home and I’m going to start going in and doing their nails every week, its basically an extension of the original Nail Transphobia campaign so it works on the same premise with the same motives of tackling transphobia by creating trans allies but it also just gives me a chance to hang out with cute old ladies and drink tea and watch day time television which is my fave thing to do in the whole world. I just really love old ladies. And nails. And changing the world.
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