Charlie Martin Is Bringing Trans Visibility To Motor Racing

The British driver shares how transitioning in the world of racing gave her confidence on the tracks.

“It’s a completely intoxicating moment... and nothing comes close to that feeling,” Charlie Martin says of motor racing, as she drives past the paddocks, woods and manor houses that surround the village where she lives, south east of Birmingham.

The setting sun intermittently bursts through the window as we move, reflecting in the rear-vision mirror, and her blue eyes and blonde hair seem to flash with streams of light. I’m crouched in the back trying to stay out of sight of the GoPro recording, while our cameraperson, Didi, films Martin, 38, from the front seat.

“You’re just completely locked into what you’re doing, into pushing that car as fast as it will go without crashing,” she says driving her Mini at a more leisurely pace, along the British country roads. This cruising speed a far cry from the endurance racing Martin pursues now, and contests in hill climbs and circuit races in the past.

In 2012, Charlie Martin began living as a woman full time, documenting her gender reassignment on her YouTube channel and gaining hundreds of thousands of views for her videos.

For the more than 16,000 GoCharlie YouTube subscribers, she shares videos covering everything from ‘discovering your female voice’ to ‘opting out of children, and finding a sense of purpose’, while always documenting, or at least talking about, her passion for competing in motor sports.

“It was pretty terrifying... walking back into the racing paddock as me for the first time.”

It’s a passion that seemed in doubt for a while. Without any contemporary role models to look up to, there didn’t seem to be a place for Martin in racing after transitioning, but when she decided to continue pursuing her dream she had to navigate being accepted in the traditional and male dominated sport.

“It was pretty terrifying, if I’m honest. Walking back into the racing paddock as me for the first time.” But since that first day, Martin has only had one negative experience with a friend in the industry who no longer talks to her.

Instead, free to live as her true self, Martin says she has found a new confidence and a will to push herself harder and harder. “My performance just really changed in a matter of a year or two. And the results that I had, the trophies that I had, the podiums, everything just, it’s like two different careers.”

Despite her passion for motorsports, Martin is not from a racing family herself – it was spending weekends with a friend whose father competed in the sport that gave her the bug.

After finishing university with no money, Martin saved £1,500 working in a summer job, bought a Peugeot 205. She reconditioned the car herself, learning as she went along, and started hillclimbing at 23, her determinedness possibly born from necessity and tragedy – that same year, she lost her mother to cancer. A decade earlier, the disease had claimed her father’s life too.

Charlie Martin stands on the podium in France.
Nicolas Millet
Charlie Martin stands on the podium in France.

We’re back in the house, talking in her kitchen, Martin is an open book when I ask about various GoCharlie videos: the ones on feminisation surgeries, the ones about racing in Switzerland, and the ones about her family. This doesn’t change when I bring up ‘Sex after GRS – better or worse? Everything I’d hoped for...?’. This frank and truly open video about sex as a trans woman has over 220,000 streams, making it one of Martin’s most viewed uploads.

“The reason I made that video about what it’s like to make love after surgery is because at the time, I couldn’t really find any videos that gave me definitive answers to questions that I would love to have known answers to prior to having surgery,” she tells me. And the comment section below the vid seems to support that impulse with many trans people thanking her for the information and cisgender people applauding her honesty.

This openness is evident throughout filming. There are no off limit topics about her life, struggles and endeavours. In fact, the only time Martin closes down slightly is when we talk about the fact she was married before transitioning, and that is to protect her ex-wife, she says.

“One of the toughest parts of my transition was I ultimately had to choose between the person I was with or being me, really – that was incredibly hard”, she says before politely telling me she cannot say any more out of respect.

Charlie Martin poses with prize in front of car.
Charlie Martin
Charlie Martin poses with prize in front of car.

Martin says she knew she was trans from a young age but, as she grew into an adult, wasn’t sure if transition was right for her. Being interested in ‘boys’ things like motor racing, mechanics and sport was confusing without someone to look up to. “It’s one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about breaking down gender stereotypes, because people should just do what they want to do and what they’re good at,” she says.

Now a Stonewall Sports Champion and living confidently as a woman, Martin is raising transgender visibility in motorsports with initiatives like pride stickers at Silverstone for the British GT Championship in 2018 – and proudly being the representation for others that she would have liked for herself. Her current dream is to become the first transgender driver to compete in the oldest active endurance race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“Anything I can do that’s going to help LGBT visibility in sport all comes back to when I was unable to see anyone like me, I really didn’t see my vision growing up of what I could achieve in my life.”