Meet Sammi Valentine

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The transgender spectrum can be confusing - even for those who are part of it. Sammi, a transsexual in her twenties, picks her way through the minefield of gender dysphoria to give an insight into her world.

If the transgender world is confusing for those who live in it on a day-to-day basis, how much more bewildering must it be for an outsider trying to understand and appreciate the lifestyle? One of the most widely misunderstood and misinterpreted areas is how the 'labelling' works. Individuals are too often put into a bracket such as 'cross-dresser', 'transvestite', 'transsexual' and so on, and careless, mistaken labelling can be very upsetting.

Life is not that simple - something that all of us should be able to relate to on a daily basis! A transgender individual being labelled incorrectly can often take offence at a careless remark, even if it was an innocent mistake. I don't believe that anyone really needs to understand all aspects of the transgender spectrum, but I do think that people should be made aware of the basics - especially if you come into contact with such people because of environments or social circles you move in. Swinging a prime example!

Labels, labels...

When trying to explain the problem of labels to people outside the community, I have used an analogy of the labels, eg, CD, TV, and TS being the 'buttons', and then compared these 'buttons' to a 'slider' (by which I mean the device you'd have found on an old hi-fi system for volume, etc). This whole slider-range is what I call the 'Transgender Spectrum'. So, compare this slider to three buttons that, for argument's sake, set three different levels of sound. The depth and variety in volume you have with a slider in comparison to that of the three buttons is VAST, and this should demonstrate the problem of labelling individuals in the scene. Yes, CD, TV, TS, NON-OP, PRE-OP, POST OP (and the countless other categories and subcategories of labels) are all related, but all uniquely different. The truth is that we simply cannot be individually labelled or split into groups or stacked on shelves!

All about me

Anyway, I expect now you're totally confused. I will try and explain a little about myself, and how I fit on this slider thing! I was born a male in the 1980s. I truly wish I had been born a female, and personally I don't believe I was a million miles away from being born a girl. This may sound a bit nuts (bad pun alert) but I have always felt that there was something different about me.

I have a loving family and have been brought up well. I enjoyed school and always managed to be surrounded by a good group of friends - but underneath I always struggled to be happy with myself.Whether I was watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Blue Peter; camping with the Cub Scouts; drinking cider down a subway or dancing very badly to Cotton Eye Joe at a school disco, playing Sunday league football; sitting in college pretending to be asleep to bunk another 'media studies' lesson; working in a factory hoping one of the older lads wouldn't want me to go for a pint again so I could go home and Webcam on the internet - everything I did seemed to take me more effort to do than it really should. My friends all seemed happy - did they feel like I did in their minds? I was constantly pretending to fit into the role in society that I was born into according to my gender.

I look back through my life to present day - it's a bit like a jigsaw that I have been slowly piecing together. Tucked away in the depths of my mind, I can vividly recall voices commenting on my personality, my pheromones, and my physical frame.

Early pointers

I can remember trying my mum's clothes on when I could not have been more than seven years old - and I remember stealing my sister's clothes. I also remember people saying I smelt like a girl, and looking at the girls in high school, wishing that was me, I remember lying in bed, hating my skinny hairless frame. I remember being angry and I remember being confused. I remember getting blind drunk, pretending to be one of the lads, pulling girls to 'fit in' on nights out - and I remember, as the end of the night approached, running away or making excuses to get away from the aforementioned girls!

These recollections, of moments of my life involving my family, friends, school, college, work, and socialising, have helped me understand who I am - helped me put the jigsaw together. I believe in what I am doing and can see that the jigsaw is a lot closer to being completed than it ever has been. That's my opinion - and I have accepted that, no matter what I do to myself, I can never be one hundred per cent 'physically female', because I was born in a male body.

This is controversial to other transsexuals, who argue that after the final operation you are then a hundred per cent female - a complete woman. I disagree, and the only thing that would change my view on this would be some miraculous scientific advancement that meant a post-op transsexual could 'produce' a family (or have a physical chance of doing same).

The op - or not...

I myself do not wish to have the final operation. I'm comfortable with the thought of living life as a transsexual who has not had the final operation - a 'non-op transexual' on the slider scale. I have often sat and worried about growing old - as we all do.

Life and death are the biggest dreams and fears for most of humanity. However, I made the decision that I want to grow old being perceived as a woman, not a man. In comparison, other girls on a different part of the transgender spectrum simply feel they cannot live much longer without having the operation, and I can fully appreciate where they are coming from. On the other hand, the thought has never crossed some girls' minds and they are happy with what they do. And they are just as drained as everyone else dealing with the problems they encounter on their own journeys.Who am I to judge anyone on this spectrum, let alone to try to label people?

The whole aspect of turning into a woman - for me or anyone else - has a huge Achilles heel. The whole process relies, unfortunately, very heavily upon the root of all evil - money! This is probably going to sound selfish and greedy - maybe quite shallow - but most of my money over the past X number of years, for the near future and more than likely the rest of my life, is going to be spent on me, me and ... me! Spent on the things that will give me a chance to live a happy life, grow old peacefully and exist in the modern world as a woman. I am talking serious money here - thousands and thousands upon thousands of pounds - for facial surgery, my hair, breast implants, hormone therapy, speech therapy, hair-removal, shaving my Adam's apple.

These changes are all things that need my immediate attention, so that my physical appearance and how other people perceive me can be on a par with my mental sense of my gender and how my mind works. This costs a whole lot of money!

A lifetime's commitment

The journey so far has not been easy for me, and I can assure you that it's equally difficult for all of us, no matter where we find ourselves on the transgender spectrum. Just picture junction 18-14 on the M6 southbound around rush-hour - it speaks volumes! My advice for anyone who feels stuck on the transgender spectrum and is struggling to discover - or even accept - who he or she is, is quite ironic. My advice is to not seek specific advice or answers from people in the scene, because what is right for one person is not necessarily right for you.We are all individuals, and peer pressure can be a dangerous thing - especially when it involves big risks. I don't just mean risks such as changing your body permanently and your health - you must also consider your friends, family, wives, girlfriends, children and your working colleagues.

I have always been wary of advice from girls in a similar position to me - or, indeed, from girls who have been 'in my shoes' in the years gone by. I am relieved that I have dealt with things myself and have found answers myself. It's vital that decisions about the future, that can affect your life forever, must be yours and yours alone.

Admittedly, I have been pointed in the right direction to get the help that I have needed from people such as doctors, counsellors and beauticians etc. I am also fortunate enough to have some great friends that are trans, male and female.

Everybody needs friends and these people have listened to me, given me endless support, encouragement and, most importantly, a few strong words which were necessary when I have started to feel sorry for myself or begun to let little things drag me down (another bad pun alert!). The last thing anyone foundering on the transgender spectrum needs is people telling them who or what they are, and what they should or should not do. Only you know these answers.

Your own conclusions

It took me an extraordinarily long time to come to terms with who I am and where I'm heading - to understand myself and to begin to change my life.

I hope this has helped you understand a little more about the diversity of the transgender world - and a little bit more about me. To be quite honest, writing this article has been quite heavy for me, considering I am nine stone wet!

In the future I'd like to share my experiences and knowledge of pubs and clubs all around the UK. I would also love to answer any questions people might have for me about the scene or transgender issues in general - or for tips and advice.