Tell us a bit about yourself and what your role in the transport industry involves?
Hi there! I’m Charley, I’m gender fluid and bisexual and my pronouns are she/her or they/them. I’m a life-long railway enthusiast and am now entering my sixth year within the industry, currently as an instructor signaller for London Underground. This is a fast-paced job that encompasses problem solving, quick decision making and an awful lot of tea to keep trains running to timetable and to minimise delays in the event of service disruption. As an instructor it’s also my role to train new signallers, as well as keeping up to date with the latest changes to best practice. Away from the day job, I’m a huge advocate for greater LGBTQ+ inclusivity within the transport industry, and have been campaigning for more since the day I ‘went public’ about my gender identity. Indeed… one of my projects might seem a little familiar. 😉
What impact do you feel your gender identity has on your job role?
I’m the first openly gender fluid person to signal for London Underground, so that’s obviously brought a few challenges with it in terms of educating colleagues. However, as I’m non-customer facing, my identity hasn’t hugely impacted the job itself – it’s just moving trains! But I started out working on the ticket barriers of King’s Cross St. Pancras Underground, and indeed it was during that time that I made my first tentative steps into the gender spectrum. What was really eye opening was seeing how people reacted – the majority didn’t care, a few would take issue, but the most important ones were those who could see someone like them working in a very prominent public-facing job. I’ll always remember the time that a customer came up to me and told me that my visibility had made them feel comfortable enough to explore their own gender identity in public. It really hit home how important visibility is, and why it’s so important that we continue to make sure that LGBTQ+ people really feel at home when using the transport network.
How, if at all, has working in the transport industry helped to shape your gender identity?
I think it’s fair to say that my career within the industry and my exploration of gender have gone hand in hand. Although I had inklings that my own gender identity was beyond the binary long before I joined the Underground, it wasn’t until I started on the front line that I seriously thought about ‘who’ I was. The exposure to all the different personalities of London – as well as meeting other Tube staff with non-binary identities – really opened my eyes, and was the encouragement I needed to be my true self. I’ve also been incredibly lucky to have a number of opportunities to further explore my gender, as well as to listen and learn from the experiences of others. In turn, these have also furthered the visibility of trans folk across TfL.
Tell us about a memorable moment in the industry that was influenced by your gender identity.
For anyone who knows me, this won’t come as a surprise… in 2018 I was asked to feature in The Bower of Bliss, an Art on the Underground commission on display at Southwark Tube station. It was supposed to be on display for 10 months but has now featured for over two years. It’s probably one of the proudest moments of my entire life, let alone my career, and I am so incredibly grateful to the artist, Linder, and the team at Art on the Underground for asking me to take part. The piece as a whole places women front and centre, and carries an important feminist message about challenging the use of women in advertising and to reclaim the idea from the male gaze. My inclusion in this piece as a trans person makes a really huge statement on TfL’s commitment to diversity (although I should make it super clear that there is zero tokenism in there!), and very much hammers home the message that ‘trans women are women’ (and, whilst we’re here, trans men are men and non-binary people are non-binary!).
If you had any advice for a new person joining the industry, or even with an interest in the industry, what would it be?
Be yourself! The industry has made incredible progress since I joined in January 2015. That’s not to say that there isn’t still further to go, because there absolutely is, but there’s never been a better time to join up and be yourself. I’d be lying if I said that it will all be plain sailing (there’s still far too many fossils around), but attitudes are changing and there’s a lot of people out there to support you. If you see something that can be changed for the better, push for it and it will happen. Don’t accept being anything other than your true self: transport is a space for everyone, and anyone who wants to be part of it is extremely welcome. Visibility is power: and power to you if you want to become one of us!
What do you think the biggest challenges to diversity are in the industry at the moment and how could this be changed?
The progress of the last few years has been fantastic, but I think it’s fair to say that things are now starting to stagnate. It’s become easy to unveil a rainbow on the side of a train and say that it’s enough once a year, but the reality is that inclusion and diversity are topics for every day – not just once a year. We need to take a step back and rethink how we talk about inclusivity and what we’re doing to make sure that everyone is being accepted and included. Visibility is absolutely important, but it needs to be backed up with action. Trainbows are no good if their values aren’t carried through to every aspect of an organisation. More generally, LGBTQ+ people, and particularly trans folk, are coming under increased scrutiny throughout society, and the railway is uniquely placed to challenge these attitudes and show that we are just like anyone else. But, this isn’t going to happen just with Trainbows: we need to take a holistic approach to the industry as a whole and step back and work together, rather than having multiple local initiatives that just get lost in the noise. This is very much the reason why I’ve created The Progress Train, and firmly believe that we can use it as a vehicle for change from the ground up.
Looking to the future, where would you like to see the industry in a year’s time?
It would be easy to say that I want to see 100% inclusion and acceptance wherever we go, but that’s not particularly feasible! Whilst that’s very much the aim, we’ve a long way to go until we get there. I’d like to see the conversations turn more inwards and become more personable, to promote LGBTQ+ voices and ideas rather than those of marketing departments and cis or straight folk. There’s some really easy ways to kickstart change, such as including pronouns on name badges, talking about gender identity within induction and customer service training sessions, and to eradicate the remaining gendered job roles that exist. Creating an environment where people are able to speak freely about their own experiences, and to challenge outdated and often needlessly gendered language in a constructive way must also be on the priority list.
And finally, what’s your favourite type of crisp?
I can never quite make my mind up between the classic Walker’s salt & vinegar or the iconic pickled onion Monster Munch… so both?
Bonus Question: do you believe in Progress?
Do you believe in Progress?
We’d love to feature YOU as our next person Up Front. Interested? Drop us an email at email@example.com and we’ll let you know more. Up Front is your chance to tell the world about your LGBTQ+ experiences within the transport industry. We look forward to hearing from you soon!