Saturday, 14 February 2015

Interview with Samantha Collins

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Samantha Collins, a British a criminal lawyer, happy wife and mother. Hello Samantha!
Samantha: Hello, thank you for wanting to speak with me.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Samantha: Well, what is there to say. I'm in my mid forties, I've six children from two marriages. I'm with a loverly caring woman who I have been 2ith mow for fifteen years, I'm a lawyer and a lecturer in law, and oh I'm transsexual. Sorry, I don't really let that define me.
I'm a person, a parent and a partner first being trans to me is no real different to being blond or having blue eyes. It's a part of me but it's not ME. That said I transitioned a year ago, everything went fantastically, home life was superb work, was really supportive, and my friends and family were absolute rocks.
Monika: Recently you have been featured by the British media, setting a positive example of transition. Why did you decide to come out to the public?
Samantha: There was a lot of media coverage regarding a few reasonably high profile people coming out as trans. This was reported with, as is more often the case, with hype and sensationalism.
Samantha finally looking happy in her own skin.
Notwithstanding the coming out stories I felt there was still a message that was being missed. A lot of transition and coming out stories focused on the negative, on the hardship and suffering. Don't get me wrong I would never diminish that side of things as it is very real and affects almost everyone to one extent or another, but I wanted to show people that it's not always doom and gloom.
I wanted to reach out to the professional people who are fearful of coming out through the fear of losing everything that it can be OK, it can work out how you hope it will and life post transition doesn't have to be radically different.
Monika: What was your wife'’s reaction when she heard about your transgender status? 
Samantha: Initially shock, I think the first thing she did was run to the bathroom to throw up. Seriously, as she said in the paper, she was relieved. My absence from our marriage and family, my constant being away for nights on end, the skin care regime etc.
In her mind, all pointed to me having an affair, to there being another woman. Well I suppose there was to a certain degree. Her reaction knocked me a little as I had prepared myself with the prospect of potentially losing everything. She just said I am who I am and I'll never be able to change that.
Monika: And your children?
Samantha: They have all been just amazing. We have four, two girls and two boys. I also have twin boys from my first marriage who are eighteen now, so six in total and they have all been so understanding and supportive. My youngest had a few issues as did our eldest daughter who were convinced my partner and I would split. We gave them lots of reassurance and they accepted we are in this for the long haul.
As a family we discuss everything, we're quite old fashioned and have all our meals around the dinning room table. We have a forum daily to chat and discuss things. This allows us to address early any fears or doubts any of us have. The girls love the fact that I help them with their nails and hair and have someone who doesn't mind simple wandering around the clothing shops. The boys were concerned what they should call me.
I just said it's up to them. They knew when my name was changed and sometimes they call me Sam and sometimes dad. Being called dad is more of an issue for others as it is for any of us, let's face it I am and always will be. It dies turn some heads at times. All in all they are just happy that I'm more present and taking a more active part in their lives, more so than I think I ever did. My dysphoria and associated depression pulled me away from my family and it's just great to be back and to be with them all.
Samantha, her partner Stacy and their amazing
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the British society?
Samantha: Transgender people, not just women, are becoming ever more visible and as such being accepted more so than at any other time in our past. Laverne Cox, Janet Mock and Nikki Sinclair, to name just a few, have done wonders for bringing trans people into the public conscience.
More recently we have had a number of higher profile transgender women coming out publicly. Kelly Maloney and Stephanie Hurst have been so public about their transition, I think, this has really raised the profile of transgender people everywhere. It just seems that it's no longer an issue to be trans and be public.
Life is full of opportunities and I think we have for the most part been privileged by these, this is our time and society is for the most part accepting of that.
I work as a lawyer and a teacher, I have friends who have transitioned, and work as anything from lorry drivers to shop owners, operating theatre staff and police officers. I don't think, given the social acceptance and the legal protection we enjoy, that there is anything we can't be 100% accepted into. This year its my intention to stand for local government, certainly a prospect that would most definitely not have been available to me ever ten years ago. 
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Samantha: I had known from about the age of seven or eight but managed to keep it all hidden until it got to a point where I could simply go on no longer. I eventually transitioned at the age of 43. Stupidly, given the reception I received, the support and understanding, acceptance and encouragement shown to me the hardest point was coming out to my wife. I feared, as is often the case, that she would not accept me and I would, as a result, lose so much.
In the run up to coming out, you hear so many stories of people losing absolutely everything that you become conditioned to expect that. When I had come out to my wife, then of twelve years the rest was easy, work, family and friends have all been great. I only regret not telling my wife sooner and the years of enjoyment and clarity of being really myself that I missed out on. That said I have lived a vary varied and full life, so I have had a lot of experiences to draw on that I otherwise may not have had the benefit of.
Biggles the dog.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Samantha: At the time of my transition, apart from having read a couple of books, generally written by what appeared to be accepting but not overly understanding partner of women who have undergone transition.
YouTube was a fantastic resource and allowed me to tap into the experience and knowledge of others around the world who had gone through transition, the good and the bad.
My real role models, however, were some of the girls at a local support group I attended, girls who had transitioned, some recently, some decades ago, but all who were full of support, wise words, and a shoulder when needed.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Samantha: As a I said before, I think the hardest part was opening up to my wife, the person who I loved more than anyone else in the world and who I feared losing. Everything after that was a breeze.
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Samantha: Well, I think it's certainly going in that direction. The 2010 Equally Act placed being transgender on an equal footing as race, sex and disability as far as discrimination goes. This has greatly enhanced the protection afforded to transgender people not just in the workplace but in all areas and across society, from accessing appropriate health care to eroding issues in securing housing or public services.
Certainly in the UK we are so much more advanced than in other countries with respect to acknowledgement of transgender rights. It's by no means utopia and we still have a long way to be before there is no destination between a transgendered person and someone who isn't, I truly think society is quickly moving towards a position of inclusion and acceptance without question.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Samantha: We are seeing a lot more representation of trans people that is representative of the actual trans experience. Unfortunately the red tops and day time TV still has a tendency to want to sensationalise people's coming out and transition and rely far to much on cliché story and headlines.
There have been a number of fantastic dramatic representations in film recently including "Transparent" on Amazon and "Boy meets Girl". We have also had a transgender cast member featuring on TOWIE. Certainly the move away from the the old style representation of transgender people being either a joke character or some form of trickster is making the visibility of actual transgender people a lot easier.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Samantha: It's getting there, slowly. What struck me was the actual lack of inclusion and at times outright segregation within the LGBT communities. It does certainly seem as though the T was just added onto in order to give us somewhere to go.
Having myself tried in the past to integrate into some of of the local and not so local LGBT communities only to be met with at times outright prejudice I can see why a lot of trans people don't bother. As they tend to keep to somewhat closed groups and look within for support and direction. It's a shame but I don't really know that it will be relevant for much longer.
Samantha takes a casual approach
to fashion.
I think the way society is becoming more and more accepting every day, that need for specific groups will be negated. It's as unlawful to discriminate against someone because they are a foreign alien as it is discriminate someone on the grounds that they are either homosexual, lesbian or transgender. I just see we are all becoming so ingrained into society that the difference is becoming transparent.
That said there is now so much transparency and representation in both the media and within society that being trans is now not much more radical than having a tattoo or dying your hair blond. As such we don't, I think, necessarily need to be pursuing a cause as such, other than just trying to make the world in general a better place, to look collectively after our health and strive to ensure our planet survives for future generations. 
Monika: Is there anyone in the British transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the USA in the 60s and 70s for the gay activism?
Samantha: Certainly we are following on the shoulders of the giants such as Milk who fought for rights and inclusion before us. We are so lucky to be living in an age when human rights are pervasive throughout almost every facet of our lives that the need for those maverick activists operating even as recently as 90's is no longer as relevant as it once was.
I'm of the opinion that Paris Lees is as near to being like the old style activists as we have in the UK at the moment. Others operate more quietly seeking change and reform from within systems, parliament and business and do this without social, political or public recognition.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Samantha: I am certainly of the opinion that transgender people can make a difference in politics but not necessarily because they are transgender but because they have an interest in their local community or wider issues.
I am active in politics, I am standing as an independent candidate for my local area at this years' local elections. I am not standing because I am transgender I am standing despite being transgender. I have very strong emotions regarding a lot of local issues that affect my local community, my family and my friends. These are the same issues and concerns I had before I transitioned, only now I feel able to be more open and express these as a result of my true self being the one doing the campaigning.
I feel that, certainly in my local area both the trans’ and the wider LGBT community is provided for reasonably well. There are support groups, drop in centres and comparatively easy access to mental health and medical resources if required. What is of concern is still the lack of or limiting of central funding and preventative outreach, both financed and provided for at a wider, more national level. These are areas that I will actively be lobbying for, not because I am transgender, but because they are needed both locally and at a national level.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Samantha: I love cloths, shoes, make-up, hair, accessories…. I'm a girl what more can I say. There are no particular designers that I follow or prefer, I am more of a high street kind of shopper. I work in a professional sphere, so I have to abide to convention with regards to a dark formal suite with modest accoutrements.
In my private life I tend to be quite casual, jeans, tank with a flannel shirt, that kind of thing. Strangely my fashion hasn’t really changed that much, apart from maybe my choice of colours, and textures are more feminine than they were. That said I do tend to wear skirts more now than I ever have done LOL.
Southern England. "I find great peace in the open
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Samantha: I am only human. Love, affection and tenderness is very important to me. I am very fortunate to have not only a very loving partner, who I have been with now for nearly fifteen years, but also the support of all my children, my extended family and a really great group of friends. I don’t know that I would have had the strength to get through the massive depression I had before coming out without them behind me, supporting me and giving me encouragement when needed.
Likewise when faced with the fear of beginning my social transition they supported me, provided me with a crutch when needed and bought me back on track when I felt like I was getting lost or out of depth. Now a year and a bit in, although less often now they are still providing that encouragement and support. I feel for those who are isolated when they transition, who maybe have lost that special intimate person, they can share their inner most thoughts and feelings with. I cannot begin to imagine how hard it must be for people facing this in that position.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Samantha: Strangely, yes I have. I have written a book before regarding my professional field, a text regarding my area of law. My memoirs I think will remain, certainly for the foreseeable future, personal to me and my family.
However, I do get approached by a lot of people just starting transition or before seeking guidance and help in the practicalities of it all. I think this mainly stems from my confident external demeanour, I speak publicly a lot and don't mind facing down anything. As such I spend a lot of time telling people how I did it, what I did, what worked and didn't and give out advice quite readily on what I think people could do to make their situation easier.
Being a lawyer I am always looking for a way to reach a solution to a problem. Being quite practical I can use these skills not only in my transition but in helping others as well. My fear is always of being patronising and telling people things they are not willing or prepared to hear. Transition is a very personal thing and individual to every girl who goes through it.
That said it's great to see that light go on behind someone's eyes when you give that little gem, that little thing that makes all the difference. With this all in mind, I am very much thinking of writing not my memoirs as such but more of just a record of what I did, how I did it and why, what failed, what nearly worked and what I feel I could have done better. Hopefully this will serve useful to those contemplating coming out or string their transition, a sort of self help guide as it were. Lets face it, you wouldn't try and fly plane without having at least a couple of flying lessons, right.
Samantha and Stacy married for 13 years and
going strong.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Samantha: As I said before, I am standing in the local elections for my community this May as an independent candidate. My campaigning starts in earnest within the next few weeks. I have my book idea that I am hoping to get penned this year if time permits.
I also have a website that I am developing that will have content very much along the same lines and I am still trying to build my practice and develop the teaching side of my career. So yes I have a few projects that I am currently playing with, that will, I am sure, keep me busy for a while.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Samantha: Don't. That's it, don't. I did, it nearly killed me. Thankfully I am still here to write this. There were times when that very nearly was not the case. It's hard, it is very hard. It is probably the hardest thing that anyone can ever imagine having to deal with. 
But please do not suffer in silence. Help is readily at hand if not from your GP from local or national support groups. People are so fundamentally understating, society is accepting. With the right approach there is no reason why anyone should lose out or suffer. Everyone has the right to be happy and live a content and fulfilled life. If you have questions about your gender identity get them answered. If you are unable to find that answer totally from within, get expert help in having that answer sought. If you know the answer and want to push forward do so.
Far too many people get old and reflect on their deathbed of the lives they did not lead, of the things they didn't do and thoughts of what it would have been like if only they had. You only get one chance at this life, live it the way you NEED to and not how others may tell you to.
Monika: Samantha, thank you for the interview!
Samantha: You are very welcome. xx 

All the photos: courtesy of Samantha Collins.
Done on 14 February 2015
© 2015 - Monika 

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