My 2021

Chris Northwood
6 min readJan 1, 2022

2021 has been an intense year. I’ve gone through a lot of change and things are now going radically differently — for the better. But looking back on my 2020 reflections, there’s one line that rings as true now as it did a year ago.

I’m terrified of the hockey stick growth of the coronavirus and how the NHS is becoming overwhelmed

But, even with that there’s been a lot of positive things to take away. I’ve now had a full course of the Pfizer vaccine and a Moderna booster, and with regular lateral flow testing, seeing people in person remains an option and I’ve managed to avoid picking it up or spreading it. And with fewer cases translating into hospitalisations (although still sadly too many), I must have hope that the pandemic will continue to wane, and manage the anxiety I have about it to focus on what’s under my control.

Now let’s talk about the bigger changes in my life. That’s right, I got my laser eye surgery done! Then I got carried away and got even more lasers zapped at my face. It’s been a year of lasers. And oh yeah, I realised I was trans.

This time last year, I was wrapped in thought and self-reflection over my gender identity, but things started to come clear in my own head, and I started coming out to family and friends, and then eventually completely openly. The year has been a mixture of agonising waits: waiting for my appointment with an endocrinologist (private, of course, given the multi-year waiting times under the broken NHS GIC system), the slowness of laser hair removal on my face and growing my hair out, and an impatience to see myself further on the transition path then I am. But then I look at photos from a year ago and see how far I’ve come. So it’s good.

Christmas 2020 vs 2021

I’m excited to continue on my transition, and am grateful to be surrounded by such wonderfully supportive friends, family and colleagues, and to have found so many other trans people I can now count amongst my friends. No longer feeling ashamed or that I should bury my feelings about my gender whenever they occur is such a relief, and I can now fully embrace my inner self.

I normally talk about travel in this end of year blog post, and in addition to visiting family in Doncaster and Leeds, I did make a few trips inside the UK! I returned to the Edinburgh Fringe for what was an enjoyable, if muted compared to usual, experience, and went for a day-trip to the Lake District with friends.

I also attended a tech meet-up, in London, and combined that into an overnight stay with a friend who it was lovely to catch up with too! The big summer holiday though was one with family to the seaside — my parents booked a cottage in Sandsend near Whitby where I spent a few days with my family relaxing on the coast which was a pleasant getaway.

I am aware now that in future, travelling might not always be as easy as it has been in the past. For example, visiting Georgia was something I enjoyed, but seeing the full force of homophobia whilst I was there means that there are many countries now it’s simply not safe for me to travel to as a trans woman. But that is what it is.

Other significant events in my life this year was my increasing activism and involvement in politics. Some of this is related to my coming out, and feeling like the most productive thing to do is channeling the hate directed towards me and people like me from parts of the society (predominantly from voices in the media) into action. I’m proud of writing the BBC open letter I did earlier this year, and knowing that’s formed an active part of discourse inside the BBC. I’m also proud to have volunteered as a director for Trans Pride Manchester, where we’re looking to put on an event to celebrate trans lives in Manchester in 2022.

I’ve remained very active with the local Liberal Democrats. My own run in Manchester’s Piccadilly ward went worse than hoped (the plan was to maintain and build our second place, however I fell to 3rd behind the Greens), but I’ve since taken an active part as a core campaigner in the Ancoats & Beswick campaign. Our campaign here has very quickly accelerated from a May polling day to February, as a by-election has been called following a councillor resigning claiming racist bullying within Manchester Labour’s governing group. Seeing the full campaign machinery of the Lib Dems when a by-election is called is a sight to behold, and we were lucky to have already started ramping up for our May campaign when it was called, meaning we already had some momentum which is now just accelerating at a rapid rate. January will be intense.

My role at Culture Shift seems to have become increasingly intense over the course of the year, and even here now it feels like no escape from the increasing hostility towards trans people, and activism permeates my life. Although my colleagues are amazing, there has been continued push back against our mission of building a safe and happy world of study and work, where the right-wing culture war has decided that systems for reporting bullying, harassment and sexual assault are actually tools for suppressing free speech, and need to be shut down. The “debate” on academic freedom versus transphobia seeps into the work we do. Fortunately most people see through this argument but it can be grating fighting those battles. I’m very proud in what we do though, and that we’re now enabling 1000s of people a month to access support and report what’s happened to their employer or education institute.

It boggles the mind that people want to put up barriers to allowing victims and survivors to report and access support, in order to protect those abusers, and that they’re so brazen about it.

It also feels my role is becoming less technical. I’ve spent a fair bit of time now the company has grown getting better at data analysis and using Mixpanel to the best of its ability to help inform the product development, but my software engineering skills haven’t significantly grown, although I’ve had much more practice with my leadership ones to mostly good affect. I can’t believe it’ll be almost 3 years working with Culture Shift now — and almost two as an employee. That’s getting pretty close to the length of time I spent at BBC R&D, meaning I’ll almost have been away for as long as I was there.

I have literally no idea what 2022 will bring and I’m going to strap in for the ride. But I’m looking forward to it.



Chris Northwood

A technologist wanting to share knowledge and iterate towards a better world.