Sunday 31st March 2019 is #TransDayofVisibility. DeafLGBTIQA is publishing this interview done by Abigail Gorman which was featured in issue 1 of EUDY’s magazine, OFC! and has permission from Samantha, thanks! If you are transgender and/or you would like to improve Deaf Rainbow UK’s website/work, please get in touch!
Samantha Pearsall: From bullying and depression to acceptance and love.
Hi Samantha, thanks for the time to talk to me. I’ve known you for a while, but our readers don’t. Would you like to fill them in on who you are?
No problems! Hi, I’m Samantha and I’m 31 years old. I was born in Middlesborough, a city in the North-East of England. I now live in Manchester, and I work as a Service Manager. Oh… and I was born as Richard.
Yes, that’s right. Samantha is a transgendered woman, and she has decided to share her story with us. So, where did it all start?
I remember when I was six years old, my parents took my brothers and I to our favourite toy store, TOYS R US, and told us we could go and take whatever we liked. Obviously we went crazy and ran up and down the aisles, looking at all kinds of toys! My brothers came back to our parents, clutching Action Men figures, and I came back holding a Little Mermaid and Belle from Beauty and the Beast figurines. My father told me nicely to put the toys away and to get something else. I didn’t understand why I was being told to put my toys away but my brothers weren’t. I refused to listen to him, and stood my ground. My mother took my father one side and had a quiet discussion. They came back to me and told me that I was allowed to take the figurines home, on one condition – I wasn’t allowed to take them to school with me – this confused me, but I agreed. That was the moment I realised I was slightly different, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it exactly was. I didn’t really understand what gender was at the time.
Wow. That must have been a confusing time for you.
It was, definitely. It wasn’t until I was eight years old that I began to realise why I was different. I realised I was a girl. You have to remember, this was Middlesborough in the 90s. Boys had to grow up to be strong, strapping footballing lads. If I came out with that, I would’ve been beaten to a pulp. So, I didn’t say anything. Instead, I would creep into the bathroom and wrap the towel around my wet head, because that was what all the girls did. I would also go into my mother’s closet and try on her clothes when she was away. I wanted to be a girl and doing that was the only time I actually felt normal.
But you didn’t come out at that time, did you?
No, I didn’t. I would get bullied at school for being too feminine. Every time there was a fancy dress event, I would jump at the chance to wear dresses! I would dance to the cheesiest pop music ever, and play with my Little Mermaid and Belle figurines. My brothers would be confused by how girly I was being. When I was eleven, I noticed that I was growing up in a very male dominated society, and I was supposed to behave in a certain way. So, I put my feelings aside and tried to be the person they all expected me to be and started playing football.
What was going through your head at the time?
Well, as the years went by, I became more skilled at hiding my feelings. I knew I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be, and it killed me. Whenever I climbed into the shower, I would hide my genitals so I wouldn’t be reminded that I was in the wrong body. It was a very stressful time for me, and playing football was actually a outlet for my frustration. Don’t get me wrong, I had fantastic childhood with my family but I also had to battle my demons.
Your demons? Can you tell me more?
You see, I would look at myself in the mirror and what I’d see didn’t match with how I felt. It was awful, and every time I looked in the mirror, I was being taunted. In my mind and heart, I was a woman, but what I saw in front of me was a chubby boy.
A chubby boy? That’s right! I remember the first time I met you. It was at Manchester Gay Pride! Your name was Richard, you were slightly overweight, living in Middlesborough and if I remember correctly, you were also gay?
Haha! That’s right. When I was twelve, I realised I had feelings for boys. As you can imagine, this only added to the confusion. I didn’t know if I was a girl or a gay boy. It was a nightmarish time for me, so I sought comfort in food and shopping. The pounds piled on me as I ate away my pain and the pounds piled up as I tried to hide my pain with nice clothes and hairstyles. Unfortunately this meant I ended up in debt. Like I said earlier on, this was Middlesborough, I couldn’t tell anyone I liked boys. My mother suspected though.. she approached me when I was sixteen and told me that if I wanted to came out, she would support me.
When did you come out? Why did you decide to come out as a gay man instead of a transgendered woman?
When I was seventeen, I realised that I couldn’t hide my feelings anymore. I became ill and suffered with depression because deep inside, I knew that I was a woman. No arguments. I was tired of hiding who I was. I just simply wanted to be myself. It was also at this point that my brother decided to come out as gay! I felt having two gay sons would be too much for my mother and father, let alone having a transgendered daughter! So… I kept my mouth quiet. I eventually came out as gay when I was eighteen, and they weren’t surprised.
What prompted the move to Manchester?
I was twenty-one when I decided to move to Manchester. I felt like I couldn’t be who I was in Middlesborough. As much as I loved it, it just wasn’t the place for me. So, I packed up my bags and moved to Manchester. I moved in with my best friend, Rusty. We would go out partying on Canal Street, I lost lots of weight, had a gorgeous apartment in a prime location and I enjoyed my job. Life was good, but I still hadn’t taken the step I wanted to so badly – coming out as a woman. I wanted to confide in Rusty, but I was scared of being rejected. So… I spoke to Rusty’s brother instead! I told him how I felt and he told me that it was my choice. As much as I appreciated him being understanding, I felt that statement wasn’t helpful at all! I spoke to Rusty, and interestingly enough, he struggled with it. He thought I was going through a phase. It stung a bit, but I left him be. As time went by, he would see how happy I was when I dressed up as a woman and realised that he had to put his views aside and support me. Looking back now, I realise that he found it difficult as he thought he would be losing me. He struggled to accept it because he didn’t want to face that happening.
So, when did Richard become Samantha?
Well, I was working in the Mental Health department in the Forensic Unit, and every day I would see clients whose lives had been turned upside down by stress, depression and what have you. I remember one particular night, I was doing my rounds, checking up on my clients. In every room I checked in on, I would find them sitting on the edge of their beds, with their heads in their hands. They were truly depressed and unhappy with their lives. I realised that if I didn’t seek help, I would be well on my way to actually sitting on that bed myself.
What did your parents say?
My family struggled with it. They found it hard to accept the fact that their son no longer wanted to be their son. I think my father found it more difficult than my mother did. He had a baby boy, built a bond with him throughout his childhood and now that little boy wants to be a woman? It was confusing for them, and they didn’t know who they could talk to. There wasn’t a service that could provide counselling to parents with children wanting to go through transition. My parents say that now they realise the emotions they were experiencing was grief, the child they brought up has suddenly died. However, with time, those feelings passed and they accepted my new identity. They were really supportive. Granted, they found it hard to accept but they’ve always been supportive of my transition. During my transition, I knew they wanted to see a glimpse of Richard, but I had to be true to myself. Richard was no more, and Samantha was here to stay. They finally accepted it and came with me to hospital appointments. They came with me to my operation because they knew it was a new start for me, and therefore it had to be a new start for them as well. They welcomed Samantha as Richard’s twin sister.
What happened next? You have a funny story, don’t you?
Haha! That’s right. I made an appointment with the gender clinic and told them I wanted to transition. I was sitting in the office when the doctor came in. He didn’t look at the notes, and just started talking about what a female-to male would entail. I was in shock. I had to correct him! At the time, I was outraged by their incompetency, but now I can look back and laugh, and feel flattered that he thought I was a female! They told me that I had to dress up a female for a year or so before I could have the operation. I had to experience life as a woman, and prepare myself mentally for it before going ahead with it. This came easily to me and I embraced it!
So… the operation came and went. How did you feel afterwards?
Oh… it was unbelievable. It was amazing. It was finally Day One of my new life as a woman. This was finally the day I had craved for my whole life. I never thought I’d get to this point, but there I was. A woman. It was… freedom. I was finally released and able to live life as the person I’ve always wanted to be. I wouldn’t have done it without the support and love I received from my family and friends. They gave me the courage to be the person I wanted to be – no, sorry. They gave me the courage to be the person I really was.
Awh, bless. I’m feeling a little bit emosh now. How do you think life may be different for trans kids in school right now?
Because of the Equality Act finally being put into place, trans children are now in the ‘Protected characteristics’ category. This means they are now given the freedom to the person they want to be. This is a positive step for every trans children in the UK. The children in the class don’t know any better. It’s up to society to lead the way by showing acceptance towards people who are in the ‘protected characteristics’ category.
For those who have no idea what being transgendered means, what do they need to understand?
Everyone needs to understand being transgendered is not a choice. A transgendered person has identified their body and mind isn’t compatible, and therefore has to change in order to feel comfortable within their body.
Would you agree that the trans movement is gaining momentum? Why do you think the reason for this is?
Yes, I agree. Our Facebook – DeafTransDivaWorld – is a perfect example why the Trans Movement is gaining momentum. Social media is a perfect platform for transgendered people all over the world to connect with each other. People are becoming politically savvy, using Facebook/Twitter as a way of keeping into touch with everyone to raise awareness and to push for social change all over the world.Transgendered celebrities are becoming more noticeable in the public eye now. Laverne Cox and Chaz Bono, who are LGBT advocates and gay rights activists, are speaking out about issues that affects the community. Stonewall’s campaign – Some people are Trans, get over it – is such a powerful message, and I think it has made an impact. Transgendered people belong to a small community, and if you add deafness to the mix, that community becomes much smaller. Deaf transgendered people are scattered all over the world, but DeafTransDivaWorld connects them and gives them the opportunity to share their experiences, ideas, information and enables them to build a strong and supportive network to help them throughout their transition.
Why do you think some people are uncomfortable? What’s your response to people who oppose the trans-friendly laws?
This is down to their attitude/culture/education/religion. Yes, everyone is entitled to their own views, opinions and beliefs. But you should also accept that everyone is different in their own way and once you accept that, society can move forward.
What are your words of advice to someone who is still confused about who they are?
Talk to someone you trust if you’re experiencing discomfort or uncertainty about your gender. The important thing is to talk to a person you trust, whether it be a teacher, parents or friends. Do not suffer in silence, this will only make the situation worse. Sometimes your parents will more supportive than you thought they would be. Coming out as Trans is never an easy decision. Sometimes it’s best to seek help from your doctor – they can refer you to the appropriate counselling service for Deaf such as for example: BSL Healthy Minds from SignHealth in the UK and/or seeing a gender specialist.