Wednesday 1 January 2014

Interview with Samantha Valentine

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Samantha Valentine, a British transgender activist, model, actress, and member of TEAM TG. Hello Samantha! 
Samantha: Hi Monika, It's a pleasure and an honor to do this interview. Thank you for asking me to do this.
Monika: Together with Lisa Heart, you are involved in the TEAM TG project. Could you say a few words about it?
Samantha: Well, I heard about Team TG on the Sparkle 2013 website where they were looking for volunteers to help handing out leaflets and modeling with KITT. The website itself helps anyone who is trans to find the right website for them relating to trans issues. I think this is important, especially, in the early days of transitioning. It can be a jungle and you can get lost quite easily. So something like this is a great idea.
Team TG goes to transgender events to promote itself. Having KITT certainly helps to bring attention to us and then people ask about team TG, it's all good.
Monika: How do you find modeling and acting?
Samantha: I find modeling fantastic. I did a little bit of it before (for exhibitions mainly). I joined Team TG, and considering I'm nearly 46, it's good that someone my age can still do modeling. However, outside of the trans community, I would be considered too old to do it.
As for acting, I haven't really done much of it but I’m still hoping to get on a reality show on Channel 4 very soon. Plus I have people putting the word around for me with the TV people, so there should be more soon (I hope).
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Samantha: Yes I'm working with another trans woman (Anna May Booth) and together we're starting up a transgender support group. It's in the last stages of development. It has always been a passion of mine to start one up as I love to help people, especially people in the trans community. It should be up and running in early 2014.
In addition, I'm a member of the hate crime sub-group where I live, and I hope my input will help make a difference to all minorities where I live. I believe we should all be able to live in peace without harassment or bigotry.
Monika: In the last days you fell prey to transphobic jokes when you appeared in one of the episodes of Emmerdale, a popular soap in the UK? Was it a bitter experience? 
Samantha: Yes, it was but it certainly didn't start out like that. I was very much at home on the set of Emmerdale and there was no problem with me being there, but once the transphobic remark was made, it made me feel sick. I was certainly in shock from it as that soap has done very positive stories around gay and lesbian issues in the past and I thought they were going to start doing the same thing with transgender issues now, but I was clearly wrong.

Taken along with KITT at Manchester Pride 2013
for Team TG.

It was very upsetting for me, and it made me angry. It seems if you are gay you are treated as everyone else but if you are transgendered, you are treated as a joke. Even the apology was complete lies. They said they knew nothing of the story before it was filmed. I find that very hard to believe as they always check that everything is OK before filming to avoid situations like the one they ended up in.
So they intended to be transphobic all along but they didn't think I would do anything about this, plus the fact they asked for a transgendered woman for the role too. After it's all done with, I'm still upset by it now and how they intended to hurt me on national TV.
Monika: What is your view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Samantha: I feel America is way ahead of us in TV shows. TV Shows like "Orange is the New Black" have put transgender actors and actresses in the limelight, which can only be a good thing.
For too long cis generated actors and actresses were playing trans people. It took someone to take a chance and say let's put in a trans woman in the role of a trans woman.
Films, on the other hand, still have a long way to go as they put loads of money into it and won't take the chance. The Dallas Buyers Club is a prime example of this. The trans woman in this film (played by Jared Leto) is another cismale playing a trans woman.
However, the role of the woman is very weak and pathetic, as she dies from AIDS in the film. Considering this is a true story but the trans woman isn't; she was just written into the story so why was she made out to be weak? Why not make her a strong person? We need more positive role models out there, especially in the media.
I read a book recently called "Aphrodite Calling". It was an adult literature book but the main character was a trans woman. It was well written and the role of the trans woman was a positive and a very strong one too. The author wasn't even trans but portrayed the woman as a strong independent person, which is all we want to be seen as.
Newspapers in the UK are still very transphobic. The Lucy Meadow's incident will always be there when I think about how newspapers treat us but I'm lucky. I have a friend, who works for The Sun, who did the story on what happened to me on the Emmerdale set.
She also did an article for a national magazine called Chat about my story of how I transitioned. She has always supported people in the trans community, and I see her as an ally. We definitely need more journalists like her in British media. Again we have a long way to go but with more and more people like my friend, we are slowly moving forward. 

The story that was done about her life and put in Chat magazine.

Monika: At the time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Samantha: I was a massive fan of Caroline Cossey (aka Tula), she is still to me a massive role model. I read her book "My Story". It inspired me a lot. Some of the things she did I would still love to do (being a page 3 model and a Bond girl). She did so much for us and is a very beautiful woman. She went through so much, and all she wanted was to be accepted and left in peace, something all trans women can relate to. I would love to meet her one day and chat with her.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Samantha: I think the hardest thing was who was going to accept me and who wasn't. It was a big fear of mine that I would end up doing it alone. I did lose some friends (not really friends then I suppose) but I did gain some new friends who accepted me for who I was and treated me that way.
The other thing that was hard for me was back in 1995 my mother died from breast cancer. On her death bed, she said to me "you can tell me anything I won't judge you." I knew she knew about me but I was just too scared to tell her. Three days later she died. I still regret that to this day not telling her when I had the chance. It's one of my few regrets but as I said I have good friends today some in the trans community and most outside of it.

One of her standard pics.

Monika: The majority of transgender ladies undergo GRS in Thailand. You chose a clinic in the UK. Was it a good choice?
Samantha: Absolutely, I went to Brighton for my GRS. It wasn't my original choice (it was Charring Cross in London) but I'm glad I changed my mind. The hospital staff was wonderful and I was treated like royalty. I had my own room with a view of the ocean and the food was the best I’ve had in a hospital.
The surgeon who did the GRS (Mr. Thomas) did an absolutely fantastic job on me. The day I had to leave I was crying as I didn't want to go. It was one of the best choices I made, and I would recommend it to other trans women going for GRS. 
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in British society?
Samantha: I know a lot of the trans community from around the UK. I think there's a lot of strong trans women in the UK (I'm proud to include myself in that). I consider trans women up there the strongest of all women. In the UK we have trans women in politics, in media, some are journalists some do modeling or are trying to get on television/films. We certainly have a lot of transgender role models in the UK.
It's important we have women in positions like these to show everyone that we're just as good as anyone else in these positions, but there's still a lot of prejudice aimed towards us so we still have a long way to go but as long as we do not stop fighting we will eventually win this war.
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 don't really do politics. I grew up in a home where they were heavily involved in it (mainly the Labour party). I always found it boring but my friend Anna May Booth is standing for it, so I'll help her with her campaign.
I think it's important that trans people are involved in politics to make sure that we have a voice whether in parliament or in local politics, I do see a future where there will be a lot more of us standing in elections whether local or national.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Samantha: I think having love is very important but not the be-all and end-all. I would love to meet a man but most men are intimidated by me, which at times makes me sad.
I can't help being a strong person why men find that hard to accept I don't know. I was once asked what love means to me. I said when I’ve had a shit day and I've taken an absolute pile of abuse, I get home, my man is waiting for me and I tell him everything that's happened to me, and he just holds me and tells me that everything is going to be alright and I believe him, that's love to me.
I have a black-white cat called Purdey who I love to pieces. She is the only love in my life at the minute, but I'm always on the lookout for any man willing to show his love for me.

One of many costumes she wears for special
occasions (this was her Halloween costume).

Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Samantha: I love fashion especially the autumn and winter fashions, mainly dark colors: black, red, purple, or a mix of them all.
I love the 50s retro look pencil skirts or dresses, seamed stockings, stilettos, and fascinators. I don't do jeans or trousers. I'm more at home showing my legs off. I have a mantra- "I have a life to live for and I have legs to die for" lol.
Monika: You have a fantastic figure. What is the secret of your diet?
Samantha: Awwwww thank you, Monika, it's very hard work. I work out every day, plus I'm careful what I eat (don't snack that does more damage to your diet).
I do like chocolate (like most of us, girls), but I have to be strict on myself. I eat smaller portions, plus I eat off smaller plates (it really works), but in the end, it comes down to willpower.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Samantha: I'm 50/50 about them it depends on how they treat the participants. I took part in one a couple of years ago (a big mistake my fault really). It was at Sparkle (a transgender event in Manchester). It was called Tranny of the Year (I still cringe at the fact I took part in it). The people that were helping out in the back were very derogatory towards us. I couldn't understand why this was happening at an event like this.
Fortunately, there was a protest about the name of the contest, and they immediately changed it but I wouldn't enter that contest again. 
I think trans women should be able to take part in ordinary beauty pageants. We shouldn't have to have ones especially for us, as Jenna Talackova recently took part in Miss Universe, and in the UK a trans woman called Jackie Green entered Miss UK. I'm all for this and I hope it inspires many more women to do the same.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Samantha: I really want to do a book in the near future. I have had stories done on me before in national magazines. For 20 years I was an alcoholic (mainly because I couldn't face up to being transgender and drinking helped to subside the feminine feelings). By the end of my drinking, I lost everything (including my life) and I ended up homeless. I attempted suicide three times, and I got sober in a homeless hostel where they held an AA meeting.
I got out of there, got home, and started to transition. I'm over 7 years sober and I haven't picked up a drink once in that time (I'm very proud to say that). People have said to me that my story is inspiring and I should write a book, so I can inspire others.
Monika: Having transitioned yourself, what would you recommend to all transgender women struggling with gender dysphoria?
Samantha: Be true to yourself, it's important to transition. I won't lie, it's a very tough journey. Talk to people, talk to friends and family (some will be OK, some won't). Look online for support groups but don't do this alone.
But all the pain you will face yourself. This is what makes you a strong person. You could become such a person, and you could go on to inspire the next generation of trans people. I have been there, so have most trans women. There is nothing in life that’s worth doing that is easy. 
Read books on other trans women who have also done the same ("My Story" by Caroline Cossey was my favorite book). You will eventually look back and laugh at how it was for you in the early days. Just be strong, be proud and hold your head up high, you have every right to live your life as you choose.
Monika: Samantha, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Samantha Valentine.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog