I am a trans woman who did not realise I was trans until I was 64. All my life I had known that I felt "wrong", but had not known what "right" was. It wasn't something that was talked about when I was a child. I just thought that everyone felt like that but managed to hide it better.
Because of that I spent my life trying to live up to the expectations put on to me. This continued throughout my life which resulted in my having severe depression, including contemplating suicide several times, and cost me several careers. The only reason I am still here is because of the support of my wife, Sue, and we have now been married for 31 years. Then in January 2019 a specific event caused a lightbulb moment.
I came out immediately, began hormone therapy, my mental health changed overnight, and since then I have had the happiest years of my life.
What made you decide to work with people experiencing domestic abuse?
After beginning my transition, and finally being in a good place, I decided I wanted to do something to support other people. Feminism was always something that I had felt strongly about, so began volunteering at a women’s centre (My Sisters’ House) and was placed on the domestic abuse team. I soon realised that this was an area that was important to me and I wanted to do more, and fairly quickly joined the staff, ending up taking a lot of the first contact telephone calls as well as doing some low-level support. While doing this I also began doing more supporting the LGBTQ+ community which lead me to see that while there were Domestic Abuse services available for women (though not enough), there were very few specifically in the LGBTQ+ field. I have, this month, begun my IDVA training through SafeLives so that I can help to redress this.
What keeps you going when the work gets tough?
Knowing that I am making a difference to women whose lives have been so affected by the situation they are living in. I am often told that I am giving a lot to these women, but to be honest I feel that I am as getting as least as much back, if not more, from the women I work with – both the staff I work with and the women we support. I am convinced that this has made my transition so much more successful, and this acceptance has made my progress so much faster than it might have been.
What is the biggest challenge and the biggest reward?
The biggest challenge I have is a personal one, as I have been having to do so much of my work over the phone. Face to face is much easier. My voice is fairly low and I can often be misgendered, though I do not allow it to affect me as I know it is totally unintentional. When people realise they are always apologetic, but I completely understand it. The biggest reward has been the acceptance I have already mentioned. It really has made my life so much fulfilling. It is the difference between living life in black and white having changed to full colour 4k UHD!
What are you most proud of so far?
This is a difficult one as I don't like feeling proud. I just feel that this is something I was obviously meant to do and just feels like what I should be doing. One thing I am proud of is being a visibly trans person who is showing that being trans is not all I am – it is just one part of me. We are just as real as anyone else, and happy to be living as our true selves.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering this career, what would it be?
If you are thinking about this – try volunteering for a local organisation and see what the reality is like. For those that the role fits, it is something that will make you frustrated, annoyed and emotional but above all it will allow you to change people's lives for the better and can provide an immense feeling of satisfaction.
Which barriers do transgender victims/survivors of domestic abuse experience?
Transphobia has unfortunately been on the increase over the past few years. A recent report suggests that two thirds of trans people will not come out at work because of the problems they will face. This can be mirrored in many aspects of their life and will result in them hiding away from society. They feel that they will not be welcomed, and the loud voice of social media can amplify this. There are still some women's centres that will not work with trans women, and trans men seem to have been completely ignored. Non-binary people also face barriers when they are not sure which service they are meant to engage with. There are very few LGBTQ+ domestic abuse services available – I heard recently that there are only four IDVAs who work specifically with LGBTQ+ clients. While national organisations are helpful, my work in a local women's centre has shown me that many people would much prefer to engage with a local service.
There can also be a lack of recognition that LGBTQ+ people, especially younger people who still live at home with their family, are subjected to DA by non-supportive family members. This is usually seen as transphobia or homophobia, but can also fit the definition of domestic abuse.
How can we work together to overcome these barriers?
We need to increase the number of local services that work specifically with trans (and other LGBTQ+) victims/survivors. Having IDVAs who understand the differences that can affect LGBTQ+ clients and knowing that there are services that they can either signpost clients to, or work with to jointly casework specific clients. Showing these clients that they are as important as everyone else by speaking up on their behalf or supporting them when they are able to speak for themselves.
How do you think people can best support those who may be vulnerable to multiple layers of discrimination and marginalisation to access support if they are experiencing domestic abuse?
Becoming more knowledgeable about differences in sexuality and gender and listening openly to the things that these clients say. We also need to set up more "for and led by" organisations that work specifically with LGBTQ+ clients to encourage more of those in, or recovering from, abusive relationships to reach out for support. Locally, I will shortly be leaving my current role to set up a local organisation that works in partnership with the Local Authority, Police and other organisations to support the LGBTQ+ community in the domestic abuse field. My aim is to show that this is possible and encourage others to do the same in their areas.
Caitlin’s nominator said “Cait is kind, and compassionate, and her dedication to helping those experiencing DA really shone through. Caitlin is a fantastic champion for the LGBTQ+ community, and volunteers for the CPS VAWG forum, sharing her knowledge on DSVA. I am delighted that Cait is now pursuing her IDVA accreditation with Safelives, in order that she can provide further support to those in need, and I am extremely grateful for her ongoing support of our work as a LA, in making our support services safe and inclusive spaces for all.”
Do you know a professional who has gone above and beyond to change the response to domestic abuse and keep survivors and their families safe? Nominate someone for Star of the Month by emailing email@example.com with ‘Star of the Month’ as the subject line.