Race Driver Charlie Martin: I’m Not Going to Hide

By: Charlie Martin, Race Driver and Athlete Ally Ambassador

When I look back on my career so far, I never thought I’d get to the point I’m at right now as a trans woman. It didn’t even seem remotely possible. I grew up in a time before YouTube & v-loggers, when the trans community simply wasn’t visible and the idea of being my true self seemed so abstract that it could only exist in my dreams. I came out to my mum & friends at age 10, but then quickly backtracked as I was scared of what lay ahead. My adolescence was spent being pulled in two different directions; it seemed implausible to me that I could be accepted as female whilst also having such stereotypically masculine interests & ambitions.

My dream of becoming a fighter pilot morphed into a love of fast cars. I never had the opportunity to go karting in my teens, so it wasn’t until the year I finished my degree that I started racing. I had no money or experience, but was determined to make it happen. I had a vision of what I wanted to achieve, so I worked hard to save money for my first race car.

While I had some modest successes over those first 5 years, I can see now why I was held back: my ambition & self belief were fundamentally limited. I’d spent my whole life to that point living in denial. I didn’t know who I really was, and there was no way I was ever going to reach my full potential in that kind of mental state. In 2011, things got really bad. I had a complete breakdown to the point of almost ending my life. I realized there was only one way forward, no matter how scared I was.

charlie martin

I gave up racing because there was no way I could see it working. Motorsport has to be the most testosterone-fueled environment out there, and there’s no LGBT visibility. Terrified as I was, though, I knew I had to go back — racing is in my blood and it means everything to me. I remember shaking with fear walking back onto the track, and I’ll never forget the support I had that day from a small handful of friends. If they hadn’t have been there for me, I’d have left the sport forever.

Since then, everything has changed. It was a gradual process and it sure was hard for that first year, but as my confidence grew, I started to take control of my life. I went off to race in France for 3 years where no one knew me, and I was able to reinvent myself. I came out after the first year, but by then nobody really cared. I’d made so many new friends and my driving and results reflected my happiness. Having conquered my greatest fear and won, anything now seemed possible. I’m now in the first year of a 3 year plan to make history and become the first trans racer to drive in the 24 hours of Le Mans – the oldest & greatest race in the world. If I tried telling my former self 10 years ago that I’d be here today, I’d have said it would be impossible.

Like so many LGBT athletes, I worried about the impact my identity could have on my career. Motorsport is tough and requires a big budget. My parents died when I was young and I never came from money, so I’ve worked hard and fought for everything I have. Coming out officially in 2018 felt like Russian Roulette, but it was a risk I had to take. I’m proud of who I am and I’m not going to hide. It’s only right that I align myself with brands who stand with me for who I am. I also think this is an incredibly powerful message to promote with a partner, and it’s really breaking new ground in motorsport.

Personally, I see a huge opportunity in motorsport to create awareness and positive change. There is so much to be done to show how inclusive the sport can be. It wasn’t always easy for me and I have experienced discrimination, but despite this, it always feels like a huge family and I’ve had incredible support. The bottom line is that I’m a driver in a sport where there is no segregation based on gender — we all race together and I want to be measured by my results on track.

Using my profile & visibility effectively is something I care deeply about. I don’t want anyone to grow up limiting their vision of the future because they are unable to see themselves living their dream. Whether you want to be a driver, an engineer, or you are purely a fan – we should all be able to be who we want to in the sport we love.

I couldn’t be more excited right now about working with Athlete Ally. It’s a great feeling to be part of such a diverse network of athletes. I know that our partnership will help spread the message that we all have the right to enjoy and participate in sport at any level while being our authentic selves!

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