“Omg as if! Acting like I’m Beyoncé or something.” I’m emailing with Charlie Craggs , a 25-year-old British transgender activist and current rising star. She’s responding to my excitement about doing a story on her, and for all her accolades-creating the Nail Transphobia project, filming a reality docu-series with HuffPo called New Activists, profiles in publications from The Guardian to Vogue, a recent book launch-Charlie remains humble. And hilarious.
Her Nail Transphobia campaign is what started it all. Nail kit in tow, with the goal of using “nails as a catalyst for conversation,” Charlie travels “around the U.K. to galleries, museums, festivals and schools/colleges, basically just public spaces,” and sets up a pop-up manicure booth. Charlie does strangers’ nails for free and answers any questions they have about what it’s like to be trans, hoping to shed light on her experiences one manicure at a time. She wants the campaign to be “accessible to everyone,” hence her preference to set up shop in public. “If I was throwing private events in private spaces,” she maintains, “mostly just LGBTQ people, feminists and progressive people would come.” All the proceeds from her line of nail decals, available on the NailTransphobia Etsy page, help fund Charlie’s Angels, her “free self-defense classes for trans and non-binary femmes.”
Violence against members of the trans community has increased in recent years. According to The Independent, a U.K.-based publication, hate crimes against members of the trans community saw a “sickening 170 percent rise” as of summer 2016. When Charlie holds discussions via Nail Transphobia, she wants to bring about social and political change; with her self-defense classes, she’s trying to save lives. “I’ve painted the nails of people of all different races, religions, sexualities and genders, from 5-year-olds to 85-year-olds,” she explains. She’s bringing her campaign to the U.S., and her goal for 2018 is to “do more international events and take my message further.”
Her book, To My Trans Sisters, is out now. As an editor, Charlie collected nearly 100 letters from trans women-a sort of “‘What we wish we knew,’ from how to deal with that five o’clock shadow to how to deal with transphobia,” she tells me. The letters are penned by figures from “80-year-old tech pioneer Lynn Conway, [whose] inventions changed the way the world works to America’s Next Top Model’s Isis King, who changed the way the world sees us as trans people. I like to call it an ‘encyclopedia of trans excellence.'” In her typical, hilariously brash style, she jokes, “It’s a really good book, you should definitely buy it . . . and I’m not just saying that because I wrote it and the royalties will be paying for my boob job. JK, Miss Thing!” Miss Thing being me. She zigzags effortlessly between cheeky humor and unfaltering passion.
To My Trans Sisters is available at: amazon.com
Reflecting on her hopes for the future of trans representation in the media, Charlie notes that “positive representation of trans people in the media is so important; it helps the public to understand trans people, but also helps trans people to understand themselves and see their potential.” We have movies and television shows such as Tangerine, Transparent and Orange is the New Black, but we still have a long way to go. “For so long,” Charlie continues, “the only time you’d see us in the media was when we were being mocked or when we’re being killed, and this has a damaging effect on both the public’s perception of us and our perceptions of our own selves as trans people. But we are more than punch lines and punching bags.”
I ask Charlie how she feels about being in the spotlight, and she retorts, “It’s about fucking time. I have a lot to say.” And she doesn’t take her new platform lightly, recognizing that social media has made it easier to spread her message-“anyone anywhere in the world can make a post about something they feel passionately about, and it has the potential to go viral and be seen by millions of people”-but has also led to slacktivism, people pretending to care about a cause while putting in a minimal amount of effort; a few retweets here and there bookended with a pat on the back.
But how can we become allies to those in the trans community? Charlie states that “it’s pretty much common sense, and just a case of treating us like anyone else . . . People think there’s all these new rules when dealing with trans people, and that they have to walk on eggshells, but all you have to do is treat us the way you’d treat anyone else; you (hopefully) wouldn’t ask any other stranger about their genitals or what surgery they’ve had, you (hopefully) wouldn’t listen to your friends and family make bigoted comments about any other marginalized group. It’s really that simple.” Speak up when you hear ignorant comments, and intervene if you see someone being harassed in public. Silence condones hate.
Her burgeoning fame does have some strange drawbacks. Charlie tells me that there’s an odd conspiracy theory out there, scribed by a deranged, transphobic author, that she is actually Twilight actress Kristen Stewart. Yep. The anonymous author believes an Illuminati-esque group farms out gorgeous celebs to pose as trans people to normalize male attraction to trans women. “It’s scary,” Charlie admits, “but also flattering . . . Just to confirm, though, I’m not Kristen Stewart. If I was,” she jokes, “I wouldn’t be doing this interview because I’d be too busy sucking Robert Pattinson’s dick.”
My final question entails what’s next on the docket for Charlie Craggs. “Girl, a rest hopefully,” she quips. “I’m exhausted!”