Episode 117: Charlie Craggs, Poorna Bell and Tiffany Ford on Working with your Emotions
This episode features author and activist Charlie Craggs. Charlie is the founder of Nail Transphobia, an innovative pop-up nail salon that travels the country offering free manicures to the public, while offering people the chance to meet with a trans person, often for the first time. She is also the editor of To My Trans Sisters, an inspiring collection of letters from prominent trans women, illustrating the diversity of the trans experience.
Charlie talks about her journey towards self-acceptance, her ongoing difficulties around managing her mental health, and the pushback she received in the process of making DIY Trans Teens, a documentary due to be released on the BBC.
- Self-acceptance, especially when you come from a marginalised background, can be a radical act
- The importance of the Widening Participation Scheme, which opened the door towards higher education for Charlie
- The ability to hustle — which often comes out of struggle — as a superpower
- Having to live with anxiety, the power that comes from having repeatedly been at the edge, and the ups and downs of being in therapy
- Understanding the difference between advocacy and activism
We also hear from award-winning author and journalist Poorna Bell. Poorna, who is about to publish her third book Stronger, talks about trying to create a positive relationship with anger, and tells us about two of the most inspiring people she’s been following on social media.
Finally, we hear from Tiffany Ford, a cartoonist, illustrator and storyboard artist with an impressive portfolio working for the likes of Cartoon Network, Disney and the New York Times. She tells us about some dubious advice she got as an 11-year old, as well as some powerful advice she received from her dad.
Imriel Morgan 0:00
Welcome back to Wanna Be, the podcast that takes you from where you are now to where you want to be in 30 minutes or less. I’m Imriel Morgan, the founder of Content is Queen, a podcast agency and club for ambitious podcasters with phenomenal taste, high expectations and a desire to sound as good as I do right now. Thank you so much for taking the time to be here. Wanna Be’s focus is to help you take consistent action to build a successful life and create in the creative and entertainment industry. So, in this episode, my three brilliant guests are going to help you explore your anger, accept your strengths and limitations, and understand why not everything is for you. Let’s get into it!
I want to introduce you to Charlie Craggs, who is the award-winning author of To My Trans Sisters. She’s a trans activist and founder of Nail Transphobia, an organisation that exists to educate people on trans issues and make new allies, while also delivering glamorous manicures. Vogue has even referred to her as ‘the voice of a community’. Charlie is candid, honest and real about the role class and gender have played in shaping her identity today. The focus of this interview is to understand your strengths and accept your limitations. It is also going to help you feel far less alone if you’re struggling with depression and anxiety.
Who did you want to be before you became who you are today, and why?
Charlie Craggs 1:34
I would choose the me I am today, which is a very different me – different name, different passport, different looks. So I never ever thought I would actually get to be who I am today. And I think that’s the same for quite a lot of trans people. A lot of us really struggle with — trigger warning — suicide and stuff. The whole reason you transition is because you’re in such a dark place. It’s the last resort, but I really didn’t think I’d ever get to be trans, so I guess I sometimes I just catch myself. I’m like, ‘bloody hell, like you’re you’re living the dream that you had like as a child’. It came true sort of thing.
Yeah, this idea that you get to be something versus you just are. I’m guessing… How far are you on this journey now? How have you come to accept your identity and who you are and how that sits in the world? And in your own world?
I think the key word really is accept, and it’s what you said is that… because really being trans is just who you are. Though I just made a comment there about being a different person in a light-hearted way, I’m exactly the same person. Anyone who knows me will be like, ‘Charlie’s just as much a bitch as she as she was before!’ I am big, bolshie loudmouth, proud. I’ve just always been the same person, I’m just prettier now and have boobs. There’s no difference. And my name is different. But my name was my middle name before anyway. So really, I think the key word is like what you just said, it’s about accepting yourself. I’ve just got to a point of just accepting myself because I realised I couldn’t go on like that. I think I realised that I had taken away all the parts of myself that made me feminine, to try and kind of appease the people that were being mean to me, but also appease myself, because I was being mean to myself. But in taking away all the parts of me that made me feminine, I took away all the parts of me that made me, and I was literally just like a shell of a person. And I was like what everyone else wanted me to be.
But I wasn’t I wasn’t living. I was just literally… I was existing but I wasn’t alive. I was dead inside. And then just — another trigger warning — I was really suicidal. And then I was just like, I can’t do this anymore. So I kind of consciously decided to accept myself, especially for people living in marginalised bodies where we’re taught not to accept ourselves, because society doesn’t accept us and we internalise society’s shame. Accepting yourself in a marginalised body is the biggest act of self-love, but also of rebellion and of winning.
Yeah, it’s like that radical self care, isn’t it? People don’t want to see you be you, and they’re not ready for you. And even the people that say they want it or are ready for it aren’t always prepared for you to present in the ways that feel true and authentic to you. They want it packaged, or they want it shaped in a certain format, or they want it said in a certain tone.
Or diluted into a kind of a respectable, in their eyes, way of being a marginalised body.
With identity being this huge part of your life, right, and it’s shaping even the work you do till this day – being an activist, a trans activist – when you were growing up and thinking about like, well, what am I going to do for work, or, how will I earn money and the really practical parts of just existing in the world, what were you thinking about? What did you see as accessible and open to you in terms of things that you could do and create and manifest in this world?
I guess it’s two things, because I don’t know what I felt was accessible to me and open to me, because that was part of the question as I was growing up on a council state. I was the first person in my family to go to uni. I don’t if I would have gone to uni if it wasn’t for like a teacher put me forward for this Widening Participation Scheme. (Shout out to Jackie McManus if you’re listening!) Yeah, so I don’t know if it was because I felt it was open to me. But I was always very creatively inclined. I was always drawing when I was at home, I was always, always, always drawing, and I went to St. Martin’s and then I went to London College of Fashion for my degree. I didn’t even know I could get into uni, never mind getting into a really good one for art and stuff. And it is because of the Widening Participation Scheme for working class, underprivileged students.
I guess there’s something really interesting about how people who do come from marginalised backgrounds, racialised groups, all of that, that sense of duty does seem to exist, of paying it forward, opening doors and just having to be this kind of unofficial spokesperson in the spaces where others like you don’t exist. And it is this really strange complex because I think there is such a profound freedom that must exist — I don’t know it because I haven’t lived it — but I imagine that is like the most freeing feeling to just be like, I just create and this is not… I’m not creating because I’m black, I’m just creating and it is not a political piece, it’s not this profound view on gender and race, it’s nothing to do with that, I just really wanted to write this thing. Could you not then bring your creativity and your art into your self care? So it becomes more personal practice than work?
That’s exactly what I’m trying to do, yeah. Because I feel like for a long time — it might be because I’m working class and always been like, thinking of the next hustle and thinking how I can make some money — I’m always trying to think what arty stuff can I do to make money so I make much, but even just in terms of the set design of my nail salon, I’m able to do creative stuff in some ways. Even social media, when I’m making content, it’s still creative. But I’ve realised lately, going back to what you said, I need to start doing it from a place of not having to make money, so I guess not survival. Like it’s about just doing it for the fun and not thinking about how can I develop this drawing into like a series of drawings, which should then appear in the gallery, which will then I’ll have a book from and then I’ll make much? Like stop thinking! I don’t know, I feel like I need to unpack a lot of what I’ve kind of been conditioned to think, I guess, and just draw to just draw, like I did when I was seven.
I think people really downplay how massively… how big a scarcity mindset exists within the working classes of feeling like something is always going to be taken away from you, that kind of level of insecurity. So everything you do does need to pay off, it needs to make sense and being told that you can’t do art and you can’t do like… that’s not gonna make you money. I do also just massively believe that people who have nothing just generally are better able to cope. There’s probably some book that has debunked that myth, but I genuinely think that struggle creates a lot of opportunity and the ability to adapt quite quickly to really precarious situations because I don’t think had I not grown up poor and struggled to eat dinner sometimes or, you know, just had to deal with some real shenanigans of just being poor and black in Britain, in London at that, the most expensive city in the world, well one of them. I think that it creates a drive and an ambition to not only move away from it, but also it just makes you… the working hard then becomes almost like your default. And I don’t know if that’s like… I think it’s a strength for the most part. I definitely think, like you said, there’s definitely benefits to that. But then the cons are is that you drive yourself almost to burnout , because all you know to do is work and work and work, and I feel like that’s a failure of some system. I’m just not sure which system is to blame.
I totally agree, I totally agree. But just in case anyone’s listening to this and it’s kind of being like, ‘that’s me, that’s how I feel’, the massive pro is that — just to end on a positive on this bit — is that you know, we’re talking about them posh kids being able to rely on daddy’s money. Daddy’s money can’t buy hustle. You can’t buy hustle. You learn hustle when you’re growing up, and you can’t buy that. So we have something that they won’t ever have and their daddy’s big money can’t buy. And I see so much in everything I do now, because I’m not struggling now, I’m doing all right for myself, but I still have and I’m so proud of the hustle that I have, in the same way I did those industry projects.
I remember when I was doing one industry project and it was like all the other people doing it at my uni, which was a really rich uni, it was like they all had so much money to just throw at it and they would just hire all the best equipment and stuff, and I filmed on my Blackberry. And I won in the end! It’s just a hustle that like — Okay, this is maybe a bit not PG13 — But I remember the winner was the person who had to get the most views and likes and comments on YouTube. And I was like, how can I get the most likes on YouTube? So bitch, I’m obviously trans. So I sent [laughs]… it was at the time of Tumblr and I just sent my film to loads of trans porn Tumblrs!
I’m so dead.
And they blew up and I won! A posh person would never think of that. Would they? They’d never think of that!
I didn’t see that coming, so I appreciate it.
On a Wednesday afternoon!
[Laughing]. That’s brilliant, though!
There’s definitely a massive pro, and that’s our superpower, and we can’t forget that or lose that, we need to be proud of ourselves and nurture that.
We’ll return to Charlie’s story in just a moment. I’m really excited for you to hear from this UK-based change maker who is an awesome award-winning journalist that I have followed for ages. I just love how honest and vulnerable she is with her audience, please get to know Poorna Bell.
Poorna Bell 11:06
I’m Poorna Bell. I am an author and a journalist. I’ve been a journalist for about 16 to 17 years, and I’ve published two books, and I’m about to publish my third book which looks at redefining mental and physical strength for women. And it’s called Stronger.
One of the things I’m currently working on improving right now… So, like every single person on this planet, living through a pandemic, is that there is a lot of time for self-reflection and improvements, because our way of life has just changed. And one of the things that I’ve noticed that lockdowns do to people, and also just the general landscape, is that it makes people really, really angry. So everything gets channeled into how we communicate online. So let’s say that’s social media and also the WhatsApp conversations that we have with our friends and family. And I’ve noticed that there is this rising sense of anger and very quick, quick irritation, that’s just swirling around there in the ether, right?
My thing that I want to improve on is not about shutting anger down, because I think especially as as a woman, you know, I’ve been so conditioned around the belief that anger isn’t a righteous thing, or it’s not a good emotion. I do feel that anger is a very righteous emotion, it can be wielded to do amazing things, but it’s about how I connect to it, how I release it in the right way so it doesn’t hurt other people, but also when I’m confronted with someone else’s anger, how I then react and deal with that. So that’s my big improvement that I’m trying to work on.
So I would actually like to go a bit off-piste and suggest two people, and these are people who are quite active on social media and and they’re very vocal in two different areas. And the first person is the writer and fashion consultant, Aja Barber. She talks a lot around sustainability and fashion and ethics, and I have just learned so much from her. I think that her tone of voice is one that is so wise and knowledgeable, but also fair, and it really fits in with with what I think my ethics are. And I think that she is just a picture of, you know, grace, and how much she gives and tries to improve the world that we live in.
And the second person is Tally. So Tally is a podcaster, a personal trainer, and you can also find her on Instagram, and she also does a podcast called Train Happy. And Tally is one of these people who, for me, she represents talking about intuitive fitness. So fitness is a really big thing for me – how you can move your body in a way that fundamentally is about joy, and it’s about the movement that that joy gives you? And one of the things I’m very interested in at the moment is how so much of our rhetoric, you know, our current rhetoric around fitness just divorces us from from that initial joy. And I think that she has so much to teach us, she makes me question things in a way that really is right for me, and I think that she is someone who continues to inspire in this space.
I love Aja Barber too. Also, can I just say I really haven’t thought about anger much at all. I often just ignore it or repress it. So that’s some food for thought for me. For more wisdom and gems like this follow Poorna Bell on Twitter and Instagram @PoornaBell where you’ll also find details on her books and articles. Now back to our wonderful guest, Charlie Craggs.
I’ve been doing therapy for the last three months and it’s been eye opening, to say the least. And there was something… it was also a combination of doing therapy and then finding Rupaul’s Masterclass, which I always had access to. The reason I bring it up is because there was something in his masterclass around people having this innate energy, and if you’re still and quiet, you can tap into it and you can find yours. So I was like, this sounds like ridiculous, but let me try and tap into it. And all I got from it was like pure nervousness and anxiety. Yeah, it was very intense. And I was like, well, I know that I’m naturally nervous, and I know that I’m naturally anxious. It’s not really going anywhere. So how do I not see this as like, ‘oh no, I’m a nervous and anxious person’? But instead, how do I turn this? This is my superpower, the fact that my brain doesn’t switch off the fact that I’m always thinking and constantly switching. So I’m curious to know, what is your energy? Do you know what it is? And how have you used it to energise and turbo up your career and life?
Oh my god! I wish I could have a prepared a really Miss World answer to this question.
Do you know what though, again, it kind of links back to whether it’s being a working class, or different kind of intersecting identities and growing up like you are, it’s… I’m a very, very anxious person, I didn’t realise. I’ve always known I had depression, but I never knew I had… I’m in therapy as well as the moment, and he’s like, ‘you have such high anxiety’. And I’m like, ‘really? I’m not nervous’. And he’s like, ‘No, your anxiety is so high that you just are anxious all the time that you don’t realise that’s what’s normal’, and I’m like, ‘Oh, great!’. It just become so normal that my default is anxious. So I can get really, really anxious, but to me just being anxious is my default. That’s one of my superpowers. being anxious.
I would say, I feel like this has been the kind of motif running through this of like, dark clouds of silver linings. So my superpower comes from a dark place of just having reached the edge. I have reached the edge before, like I’ve been on the edge of suicide before. Even recently, even kind of now. I lost my best friend not long ago in Grenfell, so I am a mess. I will do things that other people won’t do, because I really do not care. And so it kind of came from a dark place. But it’s one of the best things about my life. And it transcends into my work because I’ll do things and I’ll say things that other people won’t do or say because I don’t care. I really don’t care.
That’s a fantastic superpower. I’m really trying to get to these levels, to be honest, because shame is the thing that stops us from doing everything. It’s like shame and fear. I really want to get to that because I think, of the people I’ve spoken to who take the most… who have had made the biggest strides in their careers, but also just made the boldest moves and made decisions that just no one else would. And it always, always pays off because it just feels authentic, and it’s always true. So people connect with that authenticity, whether they like you or not, it’s just like, it’s hard to look away from that, because I guess people are attracted to the things that are deficient within themselves as well. So there’s also that idea of like, ‘Oh my God, look at this person who’s doing… I would never do that’. I could never do that. But never really going in would it mean like well, why wouldn’t you? Why couldn’t you? What’s stopping you? Yeah, that’s fantastic. That’s a great superpower. I was gonna ask about your work to date. What is the title that you feel best embodies your work and what you do for the world?
I’d definitely say activist because I’ve been doing activism for… and when I say activism, I don’t mean advocacy. I think there’s a lot of…
What’s the difference?
Advocacy is when you advocate for some things, you can advocate for something by just being a supporter of it, talking about it. It’s basically supporting a cause or whatever and being vocal about your support and stuff. But I mean, the word in activism is active. I’m active. I have been out there traveling around the country with my… I’ll just explain for people: I have a pop-up nail salon, called Nail Transphobia, and I travel around the country with my pop-up nail salon and a squad of trans nail techs, offering the public free manicures for the chance to have a chat with trans persons as a way of the public getting to meet a trans person. And I’ve been doing this for seven years. So seven years ago, we were in a very different place, culturally, around the conversation around trans people. So people were a lot more ignorant, and a lot more mean as well.
I get angry when I get painted as a social media influencer or, sorry, a social media activist. And there’s nothing wrong – social media activism is amazing, because we’re all on social media, so why not? But at the same time, I’ve been traveling around doing the hard work. I’ve been doing activism before I had Instagram. So I’m not a social media activist. And the influencer stuff I’ve been doing for what, like the last two years, three years? So I’ve been doing activism for over double that. I mean, it’s a platform to promote my activism and promote my events that I’m doing in real life and promote my book or whatever. I’m so much more than… and there’s, like I said, this is no shade to anyone who does social media activism. It is so important because like I said, we are all just on our phones all the time. But I’m much more than that. And I get very angry when people say that I’m just an Instagram influencer, a hashtag influencer!
I had been aware of you and your work for a while and Nail Transphobia in particular. So yeah, I don’t think I was under any illusions that you were just doing Instagram activism.
Thank you. It kind of stems into like this… Because I think there’s a lot of people getting really angry for some reason, I think it’s really redundant and I just want to make it clear that I’m not angry at social media influencers. But I think when people are lumping me in with them, it’s because… there’s this move against it, for some reason, at the moment. People are really anti identity politics and social media influencers. It’s like, do you know what? Calm down, they’re doing more than you’re doing. I mean, it’s still so important and yeah, maybe it’s just an Instagram post, but how many people follow them? How many people are reading that? That’s really important. Would you see it different if these people were putting leaflets in people’s doors or talking on a megaphone? We live in a social media world. Why shouldn’t activism be social media as well? So I think the reason that there is a pushback against this and why I get lumped in with it sometimes is because people are just like… I think it kind of comes down to also… it’s quite misogynistic.
That’s an interesting take actually.
I feel like there’s a big correlation between female…. It’s almost like how people make fun of Instagram models. And it’s always about female ones, it’s never about the men on Instagram. It’s the same sort of thing. It’s like, people just being really overly hard on Instagram influencers. And it’s like, well, Kim Kardashian, has how many people following her? So if she posts something, and that many people read it, I mean, say what you want to say about her, but she still had millions of people read what she posted, so…
Exactly. I have no beef with it. I’m curious to know what you’re working on getting better at right now.
I guess I’m just trying to get better at being better, because I’m just… I think it’s important, because we just mentioned Instagram, to talk about like, reality, because on Instagram, you would think my life’s great and stuff. Or even just… never mind socially, but just like work-wise I’m doing good and stuff. But I’m a mess! And I think it’s really important that if I say that… I just think it’s really important that we kind of all work towards de-stigmatising stuff to do with mental health. I’m not even gonna lie: I’m a mess. So I’m in therapy as well at the moment. And yeah, I just really want to try and fix my life a bit, because I’ve achieved a lot of things that I never thought I’d get to achieve, and that I’m so proud of, but I’ve not enjoyed a single thing. I’ve not enjoyed any of it. And that’s why I need to clearly see the cause is coming from within the house. I need to fix what’s going on inside of me that just means I can’t enjoy any of this.
Yeah, that resonated so much.
Yeah. So I just really… I want to fix myself a bit this year.
Have you found anything that’s working, or started to work?
Ok, never mind!
I’m doing therapy. I don’t know if I find it that helpful, if I’m honest. And again, I think it’s really important we’re honest. I don’t want to just be like, ‘yeah, I’m gonna fix myself’. I want to be honest, and then act like therapy’s working, if it’s not…No, it’s not working for me. But, do you know what, maybe I just need to find another therapist. It’s not a case of just giving up… So I’m going to maybe find another therapist, try some antidepressants again, maybe. I don’t know. I think it’s really hard as well, because a lot of things I’m trying to fix about my life, I can’t fix because of lockdown. I really want to make new friends and stuff. I’m very lonely, if I’m honest. I’m a very, very lonely person, but I can’t get out and make friends or I can’t go and see the friends I do have and develop those relationships because we have to stay in. So it’s a really hard time. But I think if we could all be talking about that, it makes it a bit easier to cope because you know that you’re not the only other person going through it. It’s kind of sadistic, isn’t it, to be a bit happier because, you know, other people are sad as well?
I do want to talk about some wins. I wasn’t going to ask, but I felt like because we’ve talked about the lower moments and the darker moments. So what what are you proud of? What’s your proudest moment, from the last 12 months?
I filmed a documentary for BBC, which I’m really, really, really proud of.
It’s called DIY Trans Teens. So that’s really exciting.
It’s also really scary because I’ve had so much abuse for it already, and it’s not even out. People online, there’s hate groups like the feminists who hate trans women, but also there’s LGB people who hate the T. It’s so stupid! But they’ve all ganged up and collectively tried to get the BBC to cancel it. It’s just madness. So I’m kind of bracing myself. I’m really proud of it, but also really scared of how… I just have no clue how much backlash I’m going to get. But it should be really good. It just kind of just breaks down all the kind of narratives in the media, Basically it just brings true facts because it’s not even biased. It’s not trans positive. It’s literally just the facts, because it’s BBC, they were really on at me.
Basically the commissioner was like, ‘you have to include this, you have to include this’. Stuff I don’t even want to include, but to give the really… kind of just the facts. Like it’s factual. It’s not like a propaganda piece. And I think it will do great for just helping the public to understand everything that’s going on right now with trans, especially with trans teenagers, but just trans issues in general. Because we’re one percent of the population and there’s an article every second day about something to do with trans stuff. There’s just so much talk about it and a lot of it is wrong. So hopefully we’ll just unpack a lot of the concerns.
This was was brilliant! Thank you so much Charlie.
What can I say about Charlie right now? We had the best time recording. But as you heard, life is not all rosy, and that’s okay sometimes. You can support and follow Charlie’s work on Twitter and Instagram @Charlie_Craggs, and keep an eye out for her BBC documentary called DIY Trans Teens. Before we wrap up the show, here’s Tiffany Ford, a cartoonist, illustrator and storyboard artist. Tiffany is a divine human. Her experience includes the Cartoon Network, Disney and the New York Times. She has some unexpected advice to share with you today. Take it away, Tiffany.
Tiffany Ford 25:39
The worst advice I ever got was to shave my underarms when I was a little, when I was like 11. I wasn’t ready to do it and I didn’t know how to do it. And yeah, and I just did it. Because some some girls in my school were just talking about it. And they were like, you know, ‘you should do it’. And my dad was like, ‘please do not! Your hair is curly. Your hair is sensitive, our family is prone to boils. Don’t do that!’ I was like, ‘whatever, live your life’. I’ve seen Beyonce and she looks amazing. So I went for it. And like, yeah, that was bad.
The best advice I ever received is to say what you want. To say it. My dad told me one time – if you can conceive it, then you can believe it, and then you can achieve it. That’s what he used to say. And I know that that’s very corny, but for a kid, that helped me remember that advice. The power in just hearing your voice say: I want this thing. I’m going to do this thing. I’m going to be this. I’m going to have that. There’s a lot of power in that, you know? Then you kind of start your journey on the road again. That was probably one of the best advices I ever got.
That’s a wrap. Thank you so much for listening to the end. I hope this half an hour has been a calming and joyful part of your day. I’d like to encourage you to think about one person who needs a little joy and calm and share this episode with them right now.
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This is a Content is Queen production hosted by me Imriel Morgan, edited by Amber Miller and Joseph Perry. Sound design by Amber Miller. Music and sound effects are from Epidemic Sound.