Saturday, 14 February 2015

Interview with Samantha Collins


Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Samantha Collins, a British 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 lovely 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 difference 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, 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 skincare 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 was 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 dining 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 simply wandering around the clothing shops. The boys were concerned about 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 to 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
children.

Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in 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 it's 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 a 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 very 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 accepted but not overly understanding partners 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 a 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 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 acknowledgment 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 sensationalize people's coming out and transition and rely far too 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 old-style representation of transgender people being either a joke character or some form of a 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 tried in the past to integrate into some 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, the need for specific groups will be negated. It's as unlawful to discriminate against someone because they are a foreign alien as it is to discriminate against 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 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 the '90s 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.

END OF PART 1

 
All the photos: courtesy of Samantha Collins.
© 2015 - Monika Kowalska

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