We talk to Matt Ellison, LGTBQ+ and transgender speaker.

23rd Jun 2023

Matt Ellison, LGTBQ+ and transgender speaker chats with Jane Farnham, Director of Great British Speakers.

We speak to inspirational transgender speaker Matt Ellison about his life experiences as a transgender male and how he now inspires others to become their true selves.

Matt Ellison, an exceptional and captivating inspirational transgender speaker, is in high demand for his ability to entertain and provoke thought. His personal journey as a trans man has captivated and inspired audiences from various sectors, both in the UK and internationally.

Drawing from his own experiences of undergoing a profound and transformative change, Matt provides valuable insights on change that resonate with individuals across all aspects of their personal and professional lives.

Matt’s story is one of immense courage and determination. After spending 39 years inhabiting a woman’s body, he embarked on his transition in 2013, supported by his friends and family. Finally able to embrace his true self, Matt’s physical transformation represents the culmination of years spent suppressing his authentic feelings.

Contact Great British Speakers today to book LGBTQ+ and transgender speaker Matt Ellison for your next event.

Here’s the full transcript of transgender speaker Matt Ellison’s chat with Jane Farnham of Great British Speakers:

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00:00:08:13 – 00:00:16:17
Jane Farnham
Hi, I’m Jane Farnham from Great British Speakers, and I’m here today chatting to the amazing transgender speaker, Matt Ellison. Matt, thanks so much for joining us.

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00:00:16:44 – 00:00:17:58

Matt Ellison

Thank you for inviting me.

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00:00:18:18 – 00:00:22:53
Jane Farnham
I’m really excited to chat to you and find out more about you. So tell me a little bit about your formative years.

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00:00:23:49 – 00:00:48:09

Matt Ellison

Yes. So as you’ve mentioned, I’m transgender, and so I was born physically female, but psychologically male, always male inside and life was really, really difficult. So it’s yeah, some people say to me, when when did you realize that you were trans? And it wasn’t that I realized I wanted to be a boy. It was actually that I realized I wasn’t a boy.

 

00:00:48:43 – 00:01:06:16

Matt Ellison

So I wanted various things and I couldn’t get what I wanted. And I was really, really young. There was a few things I said to my family and realized that this wasn’t going to be accepted. And I then made a decision at the age of five, which was not my earliest memory, that I wasn’t going to be able to act on this.

 

00:01:06:16 – 00:01:28:48

Matt Ellison

So basically my formative years consisted of me knowing that I wasn’t what I, what I thought I should have been or wanted to be. And yeah, a really, really young age. I couldn’t talk to anyone. I had no information, there was no internet, so I just had to struggle. I literally was, I wish that I had not been born and just doing what I could to survive, basically.

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00:01:29:18 – 00:01:38:36
Jane Farnham
So how did that feel? I mean, what were the feelings that you had that made, you know, that that was the case?

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00:01:39:14 – 00:02:00:16

Matt Ellison

I, gender is a really weird thing. It’s not something you can put your finger on. It’s just this innate feeling inside. So everything from my mannerisms that I, I remember at one point was a little bit older, my mom saying, do you even have to walk like a boy to me? And you know, the clothes you want to wear, the things you want to do, the people you want to hang out with.

 

00:02:01:12 – 00:02:21:57

Matt Ellison

Everything is just you’ve just got this feeling that people, if you’re born in the right gender and how you feel, you can’t appreciate because everything just matches. So it’s all good. And so, you know, you got this. It’s really difficult to actually describe, but you just know this is this innate feeling inside you and it’s.

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00:02:22:30 – 00:02:33:01
Jane Farnham
So that was sort of like so it was like a a slow process, was it quite gradual realization or it just…

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00:02:33:23 – 00:02:55:17

Matt Ellison

Yeah, you just I just, it was more like I say realizing, I think the thing is if you imagine if you take a really, really small child, three for example you know, you get very girly girls and very boyish boys etc. and they know they just, you know, it’s not nurture, they just are what they are. And so younger than that, you know, as a really tiny baby.

 

00:02:55:17 – 00:03:16:19

Matt Ellison

It doesn’t matter what gender you are. And so, you know, I was born and I just, I probably didn’t even give it a second thought until I go, can I have an action man. And I don’t get it. Can I wear this camouflage trousers and I’m not allowed to. And then they put me in a dress and it’s like, okay, but all these boys, which is what I’m kind of looking at, wishing I was like I was able to do that.

 

00:03:16:19 – 00:03:19:17

Matt Ellison

So why is life not fair? Why can’t I do that?

 

00:03:20:49 – 00:03:32:58

Jane Farnham

So it’s really hard, as you say, as somebody who is comfortable and born in the right body to imagine this dramatic change. And you said there was simply no help for you at that stage either.

 

00:03:33:27 – 00:03:51:23

Matt Ellison

No, not at that age, because, I mean, it was one of those things, you know, when you have friends and you confide in them and then you might, you drift apart for whatever reason and then you think, oh, I wish I’d never told them that, because that was something really personal. And this was just so, so big for me.

 

00:03:51:23 – 00:04:11:43

Matt Ellison

It was huge. And there was no way I was telling a soul because it meant they could tell someone else or you didn’t know what was around the corner. And so yeah, that was just, I was just alone with absolutely no help whatsoever until the internet came along, which in some ways that actually made it harder as I’d already put my barriers up.

 

00:04:11:43 – 00:04:29:23

Matt Ellison

I’d already made my mind up. I was not going to act on this. And now I was actually learning and seeing what hormones, etc. could do and longing for it. So that was like a kick in the teeth, if you like, thinking that. But if I take testosterone, I could grow a beard. My voice would break, I’d get muscles.

 

00:04:29:23 – 00:04:37:31

Matt Ellison

My fat would redistribute, everything would be better. And yeah, I’ve already said, no, I can’t do it. So that was really hard.

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00:04:38:43 – 00:05:03:46
Jane Farnham
So going back then, how did, so because it was quite late in life that you actually transitioned. Yeah. So how did you cope? I mean, there’s so many questions I have for you. I don’t know where to start. The first thing I wanted to know is how. How did you cope then throughout your teens, in your twenties, and your early thirties, were you living as a man or were you living as a woman? At that stage?

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00:05:04:49 – 00:05:24:12

Matt Ellison

I was living as a tomboy, which saw me as female to male is lucky because it’s easier, people accept than boys. It’s almost celebrated, isn’t it? The GI Jane, the tough women. Whereas for a man to be feminine isn’t. And then they’re much more likely to get bullied. So I was quite lucky in that respect. So I just lived as a tomboy.

 

00:05:24:37 – 00:05:45:37

Matt Ellison

But this is where some of the things come up that people haven’t considered because what, I had several coping mechanisms in place and one of them was around the clothes that I, I felt comfortable in, or at least that I could survive in, and that felt the least uncomfortable. So I would dress very androgynous in jeans and a t-shirt.

 

00:05:46:01 – 00:06:07:37

Matt Ellison

But if you think that’s nice, clothes tend to get smarter, they get more gendered. So this meant that I wasn’t in a million years going to go put on smart women’s office clothes to go to work in an office so that hindered my career choices. So that meant that affected my everyday life most of my life, but also my income and my standard of living.

 

00:06:07:37 – 00:06:30:09

Matt Ellison

Just because I couldn’t wear the clothes, I felt comfortable then. So this is one of those things where people go, Wow, I never I never even considered that, there are so many different things that actually when you can’t be yourself, you’re stifled, you’re hindered. And this is where for organizations, I feel it’s so important and not just for me, but for the people around me or other minority groups as well.

 

00:06:30:23 – 00:06:59:22

Matt Ellison

Is that actually by the time people have sort of heard my story and heard how rubbish life can be, and then how amazing it is when I can actually be me and just, you know, I it’s like a weight off my shoulders. So I bounce out of bed in the morning now and I love my work, etc. So you’d much rather have Matt come to work for you than me before I was Matt because I’m going to be a better employee and my colleagues around me will work better because the team, the environment is, is going to be friendlier and nicer and easier.

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00:07:00:30 – 00:07:08:40
Jane Farnham
So go back then again, how did the people that you loved around you react? Your friends, your close friends and family when you eventually sort of tell them that?

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00:07:08:56 – 00:07:26:01

Matt Ellison

And I think this is one of the big, big fears is how people will react. And just to add a point, as well as people go, but you find out who your friends are, but there’s actually a there’s a 93% reduction in suicide risk if for a trans person, if their parents are supportive. So that is not.

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00:07:26:04 – 00:07:29:38
Jane Farnham
Going to come onto a mental health issue as well. Talk me through it.

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00:07:29:52 – 00:07:53:49

Matt Ellison

So I was really scared, obviously. But in terms of your question, they were, everyone was just amazing. I could not have asked for a better response from everyone around me. And it’s not just the close friends. What about the people that see you changing the on the checkout person in your local supermarket or your favorite restaurant? The waiters in the UK, they’re not people you can sit and have a conversation with.

 

00:07:53:49 – 00:08:17:15

Matt Ellison

So it’s a really difficult choice. But everyone was just absolutely amazing. And in fact, the biggest response I got was that they were shocked but not surprised because I lived as a tomboy, which actually for some trans people that don’t do that, and particularly I can say because I think it’s is easier for a female to act more butch.

 

00:08:17:33 – 00:08:36:10

Matt Ellison

But for trans women very often, not always, obviously, but very often, they’ll hide these feelings. So they will almost go the opposite way and try to toughen themselves up and, you know, join the army or something like that. And so when they come out and say to their loved ones, that’s a shock, because they could not see that coming at all.

 

00:08:36:10 – 00:09:07:02

Matt Ellison

Almost the opposite for them then for the loved ones around them, they’re sort of thinking, Well, are you sure? Oh, is this. Yeah, but actually that person’s been living with this inside them for their entire life, even if they don’t know. And that’s another thing to point out, although it’s there. You’re born with this. Some trans people like myself just know that they wanted to be the opposite gender, whereas some people, they know something is up, but they haven’t figured it out yet and they tend to hit puberty, possibly think that they’re gay, and then realize, no, actually it’s something else.

 

00:09:07:13 – 00:09:17:38

Matt Ellison

But in hindsight they nine times, what, 99.999% of the time? That’s a yeah. In hindsight it was obvious that this is what the issue was.

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00:09:18:28 – 00:10:13:48
Jane Farnham
So the fact that you had support from your family and friends meant that, you know, your mental health was probably a lot better than some of the people in your position. You know, I’m going to ask you something quite contentious because obviously you were quite late transitioning. There’s a big debate and controversy at the moment around the age of people who transition, decide to transition may be slightly too young and then regret it at a later stage. I know this is a big, big debate at the moment, so I know that you inherently knew from the get go. Do you think that there is a case where some people are confused and they’re not quite, I mean, I know teenage years are confusing anyway, and younger years are confusing. What’s your thoughts on that? Bearing in mind that you transitioned quite late. Yeah, you always knew what you wanted.

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00:10:13:48 – 00:10:33:09

Matt Ellison

Again I think I’m in a lucky position. Not lucky that I had to wait that long, obviously. But given those circumstances, because people went, Oh, you must know, you’re old enough to know. Whereas now if you’re trans, you just are trans. And I think the issue comes from, there’s a really good endocrinologist, good Norman Spack, who explains this brilliantly.

 

00:10:33:34 – 00:11:00:16

Matt Ellison

But you do get some children that go through stages of cross-gender play or dressing, and it is just a phase, but it’s a bit like sexuality. Once hormones start kicking in that, that’s when that all figures itself out. So basically what he says is that by the time an individual reaches puberty, if they’re still saying, no, I’m in the wrong body, then it’s, they’re transgender.

 

00:11:01:01 – 00:11:22:06

Matt Ellison

And if you think about it in terms of medical transition and stuff like that, you can’t do anything physically until you get to puberty anyway. There’s nothing to change. So all you can do is let someone change their name and their identity. You can let them wear the clothes that they feel comfortable with, play with the toys, with the toys they want to play with, etc. They can go to school as that person.

 

00:11:22:17 – 00:11:38:52

Matt Ellison

And if by any chance it is not right for them and they grow out of it, they will have done so before any medical intervention can happen. And even then, you know, for me, I think that’s the point that we should be able to. I think eventually in 50 years time, it’s a no brainer. We’ll look back and go, why do we do it differently?

 

00:11:39:37 – 00:11:45:07

Matt Ellison

Is that that’s when we can start hormones. But we’ve got blockers, which is a really controversial.

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00:11:46:24 – 00:11:47:36
Jane Farnham
I think that’s the issue at hand here. Yeah.

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00:11:48:10 – 00:11:49:10

Matt Ellison

But not just boys.

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00:11:49:10 – 00:11:54:21
Jane Farnham
You give medication to a young, to a child who might simply not have reached puberty and have those hormones.

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00:11:54:54 – 00:12:05:39

Matt Ellison

But we don’t give medication to anyone that hasn’t reached puberty because there’s nothing to change at that point. There’s nothing you can change. So it’s just clothes, which doesn’t help.

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00:12:05:52 – 00:12:07:48
Jane Farnham
Puberty blockers would be something.

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00:12:07:48 – 00:12:42:03

Matt Ellison

Puberty blockers happen at puberty, so that just delays puberty. And then if they decide when they reach 16 or 18 or whatever, the age is, oh, no, this isn’t right for me. Which, like I say, is not likely to happen, then they can come off blockers and not go through the normal puberty. The only, the only downside with that is fertility, because yes, a trans person is definitely trans, but at that age, are they old enough to make a decision to make themselves infertile, which that, going down that route would?

 

00:12:42:34 – 00:13:03:59

Matt Ellison

But yeah, the amount of harm that’s done by not treating I think is far, far, far, far greater. You know, I shouldn’t have to have scars across my chest because I went through the wrong puberty and I would be taller, my hands would be bigger, I wouldn’t have wide hips for trans women. Their voice wouldn’t break, when it does break you have to learn to talk in a higher pitched voice.

 

00:13:03:59 – 00:13:31:39

Matt Ellison

Or they can go through their life not passing on the phone and people kind of, you know, not understanding them and growing six foot five or something. So puberty blockers would stop all that. And I think the regret rate for trans people, it used to be anyway about 2%. And so we’re holding back 98% of people and making them go through a horrible life and have issues to deal with for, for the sake of 2% by saying we can’t treat.

 

00:13:31:39 – 00:13:55:42

Matt Ellison

We’ve got to make sure and I’m sure that actually a lot of that regret comes because people weren’t treated soon enough and society is so horrible to them that that’s what they regret, it’s not that they regret the transition, you know, if they don’t pass because they’ve gone through puberty and it’s amazing what hormones can do. People don’t realize that, they think they’ll always spot a trans person.

 

00:13:55:42 – 00:14:16:53

Matt Ellison

But there’s so many of us out there that have transitioned 100% successfully, pass as male or female, whichever way we are. But for those few that don’t, and then they get ridiculed and bullied, etc., and can’t get employment and just discriminated against, that’s why they regret. It’s not the transition. That’s what I think anyway.

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00:14:16:53 – 00:14:22:49
Jane Farnham
So but you just said that, you know, society was horrible. So that’s not your experience.

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00:14:22:55 – 00:14:26:47

Matt Ellison

It’s not my experience personally to the people around me.

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00:14:26:52 – 00:14:28:30
Jane Farnham
Matt, I know what you’re saying.

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00:14:29:52 – 00:15:02:29

Matt Ellison

It still is. You know, I see it online a lot and I see trans people that lost contact with their parents because of it. And I, one of the things I do is mentor trans people. And again, I’ve had it where people have transitioned socially before they’ve started hormones. And I say particularly, it’s particularly difficult for male to female and they go like they go on the bus and they just get tormented because they look like a man, but then because they haven’t started hormones yet, that will change physically because they can, you know, things can change.

 

00:15:03:01 – 00:15:24:30

Matt Ellison

But it’s it’s the people that don’t know you. I think it’s the thing is with with me is my interaction is with people that that know me and hopefully they like me and so they get oh, okay, well, you’re human. I know you’re human. But when they don’t know, it’s the it’s fear of the unknown. And people just don’t know enough about trans stuff.

 

00:15:25:01 – 00:15:55:21

Matt Ellison

And I want to say you mentioned about people regretting, that’s almost like a plane crash. You know, if there’s a plane crash, we hear about it, but we don’t hear about the millions and millions of planes that never crash or car crashes that do crash. Because, you know, and this is like that. So for us, because we’re able to come out, transition, get all, get our treatment and then, you know, develop in the new identity, that our new identity and we disappear back into society.

 

00:15:55:44 – 00:16:06:03

Matt Ellison

People don’t realize how many of us there are and how successfully we can transition because you only hear about the bad cases which are very few, very, very few.

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00:16:06:03 – 00:16:27:54
Jane Farnham
Good point, well made. Now, you mentioned earlier about the things that we would never consider, you know, clothing or how much it could potentially help your career back. So are there any other examples that you know people who are living in the, the bodies they were born in quite happily would never consider?

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00:16:28:39 – 00:16:59:25

Matt Ellison

Yeah, that’s the biggest one for me in terms of remembering what’s for my talk is the clothes. But this things things like toys. So again I wasn’t allowed an action man and I asked for it and things like that. And people, I think one of the things and this goes for transition, the amount of time it takes medically as well, which is where we need to forward things, is how stifling life can be when, when things that other people take for granted can’t happen for you.

 

00:16:59:45 – 00:17:19:37

Matt Ellison

So for me, you know, you may have heard of Ericsson’s life stages, which is where, as we go through certain ages, things that happened to us, like if we have a trauma that affects us psychologically as we go forward. I’ve done a little bit of counseling training so I know that there is stuff in that. So imagine how important is playing, it’s how we learned to interact with our peers.

 

00:17:19:37 – 00:17:45:55

Matt Ellison

We get coordinated and, you know, imagine a tiger in the wild going and hunting. That’s how they learn to feed themselves. Playing is, is a really, really important part for any living animal. And yet I wasn’t allowed the toys that I wanted. And so psychologically, you know, it may not affect everyone because we all react differently, but that could have a massive impact on someone going forward because they just, you know, all that development.

 

00:17:46:10 – 00:18:14:15

Matt Ellison

And the same for me, people, people go, oh, okay, well, we’re going to have you know, you’re going to go get treatment. But the waiting list at the moment can be up to five years to even get a first appointment. And this is like I say, this is something to really consider is at the age of 18, 19, 20, you are at a really, really important point in your life where you should be going out and finding your career path, finding who your peers are, you know, what groups of people do you fit in well with, etc., etc..

 

00:18:14:38 – 00:18:37:49

Matt Ellison

And yet your life is all consuming with transition because you don’t know when you might have to have time off for surgery. You know, you’re worried. You know, what if I start hormones and start looking like the gender I want to be, but then my next appointment, they say, no, you’re not ready for surgery or you can’t have it. There’s all these fears and things and it overtakes your entire life for possibly ten years or more.

 

00:18:38:18 – 00:18:56:52

Matt Ellison

When you should actually just be finding your feet in the world. And that can be really psychologically damaging as well. And this is why it’s so important to just let people be themselves, because we will be happier, like I said earlier, and that’s better for us and it’s better for the world around us as well.

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00:18:57:50 – 00:19:16:17
Jane Farnham
So, yes, speaking is something that you started to do more and more of over the last five years. And you spoke that you also do mentoring, which is great. It’s such a positive, inspirational story that you have. Why do you think it’s important for companies and organizations to hear it and stories like yours?

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00:19:16:35 – 00:19:35:38

Matt Ellison

Yeah, Good. Great question. I, I think that people like, as I said earlier, is still a really very misunderstood topic. And the comments that I get are always, wow, are not considered this or not considered that. I’ve learnt so much even down to I’ve learnt more in that half hour than I’ve learned in my 30 previous years on the planet, which is like, wow.

 

00:19:35:58 – 00:19:56:36

Matt Ellison

And it just shows me that people don’t, you know, even people asking questions. They don’t know what questions to ask because they don’t know what they don’t know. It’s just there’s so much still to be learnt. And I don’t feel that you can you know, you can’t have empathy for something that you can’t understand. And it’s one thing to go in and do a bit of training and say, which, you know, that works.

 

00:19:56:36 – 00:20:18:21

Matt Ellison

And something I was positive and every type of training and just say, well, you need to do this and use these pronouns. But actually for me what I find works is, is hearing that lived experience. And by the time they’ve heard the half hour and they’ve heard my story and seen the changes and understand it, it makes people go, Wow, okay, I get this now, how can I help?

 

00:20:18:21 – 00:20:28:06

Matt Ellison

How can I be a better ally? What can I do? And it’s very carrot and less stick and it just, people it’s not hard work for people to then help because they want to.

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00:20:28:46 – 00:20:33:00
Jane Farnham
And would you say that awareness is one of the key takeaways from your speeches?

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00:20:34:03 – 00:20:59:58

Matt Ellison

It is. It is. But I’ve got, a there’s one of the biggest things that I actually find that people take away and comment on is I’ve got this little metaphor with a little frog, and it’s all about the little frogs. I won’t go into too much detail because people should just listen to the talk. But it, what it does is it demonstrates how you can be a better ally and how to start difficult conversations.

 

00:20:59:58 – 00:21:23:02

Matt Ellison

That’s one I get asked a lot is we want to educate ourselves, we want to know more. But we don’t know enough. And I’m scared that we’ll say the wrong thing and upset people. And this metaphor shows that actually you don’t need to know everything to start those conversations. And so, you know, it enables you to start the conversation and say the right things without upsetting people, how not to say the wrong things.

 

00:21:24:16 – 00:21:28:08

Matt Ellison

And many, many, many different things. It’s all about the little frog.

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00:21:29:00 – 00:21:37:12
Jane Farnham
Oh, well, I think that little frog is very powerful. Yeah. Finally then, that. Tell me, what gives you the biggest buzz about speaking?

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00:21:37:24 – 00:21:40:01

Matt Ellison

Oh, I just love it.

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00:21:40:01 – 00:21:43:49
Jane Farnham
I can literally get the passion that’s captured.

 

00:21:44:07 – 00:22:11:43

Matt Ellison

I love speaking. Anyway, I’m really shy, actually, in social spaces might actually be because of my background, but even since I was at school, English oral,l the teacher says, you know, you could sign up to a talk on any topic. I have absolutely loved it. So it’s just it’s an area as a career that I love anyway, But I never thought I would be in the position where I say I’m lucky to have the story that I have is like, Did I just say that I’m lucky?

 

00:22:11:43 – 00:22:34:22

Matt Ellison

Because for 40 years I didn’t want to be alive, But now I can share this amazing journey that has shaped me into the person that I am today. And I’m very happy with who I am today. And I can share that with people. And then the feedback that I get from people afterwards means I’m doing something I love and I’m doing good for the world and that, you know, and I get paid for it.

 

00:22:34:33 – 00:22:46:40

Matt Ellison

So what better position could I be in compared to how I was at the beginning of my life? It’s just fantastic. Well, opportunities from people like yourselves as well, that that, you know, put me out there. So thank you.

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00:22:47:07 – 00:23:33:45
Jane Farnham
Well, it’s been absolutely lovely talking to you. The positivity is just goes off the screen as I’m talking. And I’m so glad that you experiences, you know, as upsetting as it was and the confusing it was during so many years. It turned out to be something that you can move forward with and actually, you know, be happy and content and also telling the story in such a positive way.
Thank you so much for joining us today and a delight. And now if you’d like to book transgender speaker Matt to speak your organization then simply contact myself or Steve at Great British Speakers on 01753439289 or you can email bookings at bookings@greatbritishtalent.com. Matt thank you once again thank you.

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Here at Great British Speakers, our Environmental and Sustainability Speakers can offer personalised keynotes to inspire your employees and/or audience. They share their expertise on the topic to help you create long-lasting, eco-friendly changes, whether ... read more
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The Best Anti Bullying Speakers for the workplace organisations at Great British Speakers
Anti Bullying speakers are at the forefront of raising awareness of bullying. Bullying has always been – and sadly, continues to be – present in our daily lives. Once confined to the immaturity of the ... read more
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