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Photography by Lilly Shields

Kate O’Donnell is a transgender performer, activist and theatre maker. In 2016 she founded Trans Creative arts company with the tagline “telling our own stories”. In recent years it has grown into a vibrant hub for local, national and international trans artists to tell their stories and is now the largest trans arts festival in the UK. In 2017 Kate initiated Manchester's first trans arts festival Trans Vegas giving a platform to 300 trans voices.

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Born in Coventry in 1965, Kate moved to Manchester via Berlin in 1991. “A friend of mine lived in Manchester so I had a sofa to sleep on. The other option was London (where I had done my degree) but, having spent a year in Manchester in the mid 80's signing on, studying dance with Gestures at Shena Simon College and spending nights dancing at the PSV club in Hulme, I went for Manchester as I thought it would be cheaper and more fun. It's definitely been a lot of fun!”

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St Anne's Square - The city's emotional response to the 2017 Arena bombing

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Martin conquers Mount Kilimanjaro

Kate’s theatre work includes the award-winning 'Big Girl’s Blouse', acclaimed one woman show ‘You've Changed’, playing Feste in 'Twelfth Night' & Electra in 'Gypsy', both at the Royal Exchange. Kate has directed 'Transpose' at the Barbican two years running and regularly speaks on panels and made guest appearances on the Guilty Feminist podcast. In 2018 she was nominated for the Gay Times Arts and Culture Award.

Kate was a resident of India House on Whitworth Street in the early 1990s. “I had no idea what went on in India House before I moved in, but it couldn’t have been a better place for this budding drag queen to call home. I worked at The Green Room theatre/bar and, even though it was only a 5-minute walk from India House, I was often late as the rest of the time I was enjoying the delights of 90's Queer Manchester on my doorstep. I could literally get dragged up then totter off into the heart of the city - often on my own as I still didn't know many people in Manchester.

“One night I did a pub crawl from the Village to the Hacienda; in drag, swigging pints in the pool halls of Whitworth Street and finally arriving at my first Flesh night. I felt like Flesh was my Manchester coming-out ball - I danced on the scaffolding above DJ Paulette down in the gay traitor, met Paul Cons and Lucy Scher and a whole host of queer creatives who became my Manchester family".

What I loved about India House is that I didn't have to edit myself - popping out of the lift in full drag was no big deal as half of the residents were queer anyway.

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“Manchester has been my home for over half my life now and in those 30 years it's always let me do what I want - in fact it's encouraged me to be who I am: a gay man, a drag queen then sober and trans. It has a cheek about it that I love.

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“You have to take your hat off to Manchester, its spirit fuelled me to form Trans Creative with its annual Trans arts festival - Trans Vegas - giving a platform to trans artists and still the only trans arts festival in the UK. If you don't ask, you don’t get. 30 years on, as predicted, Manchester has been the place where I have had the most fun and, as I enter my 60's, I know there is more fun to be had!”

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Kate outside India House

THE SHOOT: Old Trafford football stadium

Season ticket holder Martin, a fanatical Manchester United Fan considers Old Trafford his second home

Related links:

Student reflection: Katie Jones

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Meeting Martin for the first time and learning about his incredible journey was wonderful. I was so excited to be photographing him for the Greater Mancunians project.

We started the photoshoot outside the Old Trafford stadium, next to the 'United Trinity' statue, where we had to tackle the intense winter sunlight to get the best image. We placed Martin in the shade of the statue so we could still capture the stadium behind him, we used a reflector to bounce light into the shaded  areas of the shot, this helped us pull out a few great images. We then moved into the stadium grabbing the opportunity to position Martin in-front of the team dug outs next to the pitch. Martin was easy to work with and open to suggestions and poses and was clearly enjoying experience of being pitch side in his beloved Old Trafford. We completed the shoot up in the disabled seating area, where we took the opportunity to photograph Martin against the backdrop of the stadium.

Photographing Martin in such an icon location was a fantastic opportunity for me to test my photography skills and build my confidence and communication skills, which will certainly help me in future projects. Being apart of the Greater Mancunians was just amazing and I would love to be considered for future shoots.

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Katie Jones, Martin & Katie O'Neill

The shoot

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