Karla O’Brien spoke at Inspirefest of her journey from ‘Baby of the Year’ to becoming the woman she always wanted to be. With spontaneous applause throughout, O’Brien was eventually cheered off the stage with the audience on its feet.
“Hi, my name is Karla. It wasn’t always, but it is now.” So began the gripping keynote at Inspirefest from transgender Karla O’Brien, a computer science student at UCD, which ended with the audience on its feet.
O’Brien joked her peak was 1994, when she won the ‘Johnson & Johnson Baby of the Year’ award, before a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome made her early years a little tricky.
“On one night I saw a trans woman; she wasn’t up on a pedestal or getting eggs thrown at her. She was just being. Laughing and joking like any other person.”
As the audience sat in silence, taking in every word from the stage, it heard that O’Brien was “more comfortable around women” in primary school, despite confusion that schoolboys were not generally so inclined. Then, come secondary school, things got a little tricky.
“Day one: I knew there was something different,” explained Karla, who thought Aspergers was the cause as she “didn’t even know the word transgender”.
Preferring to fit in than stand out, O’Brien started to pretend to be “someone I wasn’t”, listening to the same music, wearing the same clothes and liking the same sports as everyone else.
Party like it’s 2015
Despite performing well in school and getting into her first choice university course of computer science at UCD, O’Brien wasn’t happy – until 2015 came along.
Last year, a triple happening of Caitlyn Jenner coming out as transgender (“I’m thankful she started the conversation”), the marriage equality referendum in Ireland (“the majority of the country looking at something different and calling it equal”), and a trip to Germany changed everything.
Thinking Germany might be a progressive country, O’Brien decided to present herself as female, although she still wasn’t sure.
“On night one I saw a trans woman; she wasn’t up on a pedestal or getting eggs thrown at her. She was just being. Laughing and joking like any other person.”
A new world
Empowered, O’Brien became more comfortable, then, after being told that Berlin was the place where anybody can be anybody, she headed home to make a few tweaks and came back out as the person she “always wanted to be”.
“I don’t think ‘transitioning’ fully encompasses what I’ve gone through. I don’t feel I’ve changed as a person, just accepted the woman I wanted to be. The biggest change of all is that I’m happy. I wasn’t always, but I am now.”
Cue the standing ovation for Karla O’Brien.
Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM.