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Maritime non-fiction / Memoir

Out and proud in an unusual maritime memoir

From Ship to Shore and a Whole Lot More, by Michelle Clarke

Landing page image: author and transgender maritime professional Michelle Clarke

from_ship_to_shore_and_a_whole_lot_more_cover_white_frame.jpgAfter being interviewed in the Nautilus Telegraph earlier this year, transgender maritime professional Michelle Clarke has now published her illustrated memoir about her life at sea and ashore.

It's an unusual book in many ways; not just because there are still relatively few people in the shipping industry talking publicly about transgender issues, but also because of the form the memoir takes. Clarke has chosen to tell her story in the third person, referring to her pre-transition self as 'Michael' and talking of 'his' childhood and life as a bisexual young man, and then in later years she speaks of the same person as Michelle.

This is useful from the perspective of the maritime community, as many Telegraph readers may remember Michael Clarke from his time as a cadet and officer in the 1970s on vessels such as the Atlantic City, Port Alberni City and New Westminster City. It wasn't all plain sailing for Michael, but there were plenty of japes too, and the seafaring memories in the book are mostly positive ones.

However, after a few years at sea, Michael had an accident onboard ship which had the unexpected effect of triggering symptoms of a previously-undiagnosed condition called Klinefelter Syndrome, and he discovered he was intersex. The rest of the book relates Michael/Michelle's dilemma over which gender to live as. She stayed as Michael while marrying Sue, coming ashore and starting a nautical charts business, before eventually realising that Michelle was her true self.

The post-seafaring part of the book is often rather a painful read, as the author has long had challenges with both her physical and mental health, but there's something of a happy ending as Clarke concludes that in 2021, she is now in a good place. Difficult as this book can sometimes be, it's important to have her story out there, and perhaps it will help other transgender seafarers to feel more confident about being 'out' in maritime, in the knowledge that others have paved the way.

From Ship to Shore and a Whole Lot More
By Michelle Clarke
Self-published, £14.50
ISBN: 978 19141 95273

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