Trans HS2 crane operator opens up about her ‘validating’ return to work post-transition

This is an image of a trans woman and HS2 worker, Kat, sitting inside a truck. She is wearing an orange hi-vis jacket and helmet. The door of the cab is open and she has one hand on the steering wheel.

PinkNews meets mobile crane operator Katrina, to find out more about the exhaustion she experienced living a ‘double life’ as a closeted trans woman in construction, and the support she received when she returned to an HS2 job site post-transition.

Growing up, Kat wanted to be a lot of different things – a pilot, then a police officer, and even a forensic scientist, thanks to the TV show CSI. She eventually did become a police officer and served for three and a half years, but now Cat finds herself in an industry she never thought she’d be in.

“I never imagined I’d actually end up working in construction, and to be in it as long as I have been,” she tells PinkNews.

Kat works as a mobile crane operator for HS2 contractor Ainscough, and one of the things she loves about the job is the variety. She’s not only lifting things on building sites, she’s helped to stage a train crash for a BBC series and recently worked on erecting the stage for a Harry Styles concert.

This is an image of Kat, a trans woman and HS2 worker, sitting in a studio. She is wearing a dark blue zip up jacket. Her hair is in a ponytail and she is wearing glasses. Her hands are folded on her knees and she is smiling.
Kat left the construction industry in 2021 to transition, but ended up back in the industry in 2023. (HS2)

It was the variation in the job that found Kat working at the Long Itchington Wood Tunnel site as part of the UK’s HS2 high-speed rail project in 2021.

After questioning her gender identity in her youth, Kat confronted it again during a bought of depression and while experiencing PTSD from her time as a police officer.

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“If you think you’re trans, then you probably are,” she explains. “I think this is what’s going on.”

Kat began doing her own research and through support from charity organisations like Gendered Intelligence and her local LGBTQ+ centre, she slowly began to come to terms with her identity.

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“I was pretty much living two lives”

HS2 worker Katrina

As Kat was figuring out and embracing her authentic identity, she was still heading off to the HS2 job site every morning. The construction industry remains a largely cis-het, male-dominated environment, and Kat admits that navigating the accompanying “lads mentality” while still in the closet was difficult.

Kat began to grow her hair out and change her appearance, and over time she began to wonder if her colleagues at work were beginning to take notice.

“I just reached a point where it was it was an all-or-nothing point for me,” she confesses. “I was pretty much living two lives.”

As she puts it, she was her “before” self at work, but Kat at home and socially. This double life was quite emotionally draining on her.

“I was like, one leg out and the rest of my body in,” she says.

“You spend a third of your day working, or at least a third of your day working. And if you’re hiding away who you really are, it’s a hassle, it’s taxing, it’s trouble.”

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For many trans people early in their transition, rather than coming out to their work, they leave their job entirely. Aside from facing personal questions, many have to face being dead-named, as oftentimes the processes for changing a name at work can be bogged down by red tape and delays.

Like many trans people, Kat initially left her HS2 job as part of the ‘Clean Slate’ phenomenon

Many trans people see their transition as an opportunity to find new work and be ‘re-introduced’ to the world, with in the trans community referring to this to as the “Clean Slate” phenomenon

Kat followed this trend, leaving her HS2 job when beginning her transition and taking up work as a lorry driver. However, she soon missed the variety and creativity of operating a crane.

“I am a natural problem solver,” she notes. “So in reality, I think I just missed that job.”

When Kat returned to crane operation, she knew that there was the possibility of her returning to the same HS2 project at Long Itchinton. Initially, she actively tried to avoid being placed there.

She admits: “I had put off – really, really hard put off – trying to go back to that site because so many people there knew me from before.”

However, due to the need for her skills, she was required on the tunnel project, returning this time as Kat. Naturally, she arrived nervous about the reaction she would receive from her former colleagues.

This is an image of 6 people on an HS2 construction site, including trans woman Kat. They are all wearing hard hats and orange hi-vis jackets.
When Kat returned to HS2’s Long Itchington Wood Tunnel site she was shocked by the support she received from her colleagues. (HS2)

“When I got there I was very sort of, ‘I’m not quite ready for this,’ but we’re going to go and do it anyway, because why not?” she recalls.

As she entered the turnstiles on her fast day back, she was greeted by a familiar face; a crane manager named Alan, who welcomed her back and handed her a name badge that read ‘Katrina’.

“It was so validating,” she says of the welcome given by Alan, who she describes as “a bit gruff but is very supportive to everyone.”

She adds: “There was no change in his demeanour.”

Since returning HS2’s Long Itchington Wood Tunnel project, Kat hasn’t encountered any issues with other people on the jobs – something she says she was “shockingly” surprised to find.

As one of the largest infrastructure projects undertaken in the UK’s history, employing thousands of people, it’s vital that HS2 is committed to inclusion and a creating safe working place for all of its employees, as well as suppliers and contractors like Kat.

After Kat’s return, HS2 produced a video telling her story to demonstrate its belief that anyone can succeed and be accepted for their authentic self.

“We’re so proud to work alongside talented colleagues like Katrina,” says Juliette Dowling, co-chair of Onboard, HS2’s employee network for LGBTQ+ and allies.

“The construction industry is crying out for more skilled workers to join the fold, and we’d encourage anyone, of any gender identity, sexuality or background to explore the opportunities available.”

Since the video’s release, Kat says that she’s seen amazing support from other workers on the site. She does have to confront the occasional impolite question but for the most part, everyone has been quite supportive.

“They just treat me the way that they treated me before – maybe a little bit better,” she says. 

After receiving resources and help through charities and her LGBTQ+ centre, Kat is committed to paying it forward and now volunteers to support young trans people.

When it comes to advice, Kat says it’s about finding support, so that you don’t have to go it alone.

“I think ultimately it’s reaching out and finding the people that are going to support you,” she concludes. 

“You’ll find support in the most surprising places.”

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