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The 'Sam' in Samplings

Samara Ballen is a writer, tech enthusiast, animal welfare advocate, environmentalist, and LGBT+ ally from Brooklyn, NY. Beyond  her true passions, she loves fashion and beauty, science, world travel, and hanging out with her rescue pit bull, Allie. Also other cool stuff.

Friendly and open-minded, but vocal and unapologetic, and a totally serious human, Samara started Samplings to provide a window into the lives, challenges, and realities of trans and gender-nonconforming people by publishing honest and engaging original content. 

She also hates writing about herself, which might have been evidenced by the sheer sterility of this bio, had it not obviously been authored by a completely separate and highly regarded individual of notable literary accomplishments, as proven by their exclusive use of the third-person.

Share your thoughts openly in the comments or on social media, as long as love and compassion guide your words. Read and share freely.

Gender Diaries: Part 1 - The Sex Filter

Gender Diaries: Part 1 - The Sex Filter

Right around the time Samplings popped into my head I began talking to friends about wanting to eventually do a miniseries on some of the more interesting differences between the binary genders (that's male and female, if you're new here). If you've read my early introspective pieces you may recall that I mentioned two sides of myself that have been experiencing the wild ride of my transition from male to female. On the one hand, there's li'l old me—the girl going through it and experiencing everything first hand. On the other, there's the perspective I call The Scientist. She's basically my intellectual side, but what's cool about her is she sees the world through a 3rd-person lens.

That means while first-person me is dealing with feelings, relationships, tasks, dreams, and just generally living life, this other part of me gets to sit back in a recliner with a glass of rosé and make objective observations about the stuff I experience.

When you read my writing you're essentially hearing from me with commentary and suggestions from The Scientist and all the other unique parts of me. I collect all of their independent submissions, filter them down, edit them up, and tie all of it together into a cohesive piece signed off by yours truly. See, I'm really a one-woman publishing company with a bunch of employees all of whom just happen to be different versions of myself. (By the way can anyone recommend a good HR manager? Email me like ASAP.)

Anyway for this little piece I thought it might be fun to pass the keyboard to my high-brow sociopath sociologist counterpart for a fun look at one key difference in the way men and women see the world. Depending on how it goes maybe I'll give her a little time every once in awhile. Well, I've done my job. You've been warned. Continue at your own risk.

For anyone unfamiliar with my background, I have something most women don't. Ew, no! Not that you pervs. Geez.

What I have is experience living as both a man and a woman. Well, I was never really a guy. My piece, Raw, shares my gut-wrenching revelation that my mind and spirit have always been female—installed into a male body like a beautiful clean copy of macOS hacked onto a Dell... yuck. But I did spend quite some time thinking I was one, doing my best to fit the paradigm, and yes, having male biology, which for the purpose of this piece means testosterone.

Testosterone is a hell of a drug, ladies and gents. For one, when you have male levels of T coursing through your veins pretty much everything is about sex. Sorry guys, but it is. Even if you're a mature, respectful, intelligent guy who's genuinely more concerned with getting to know a romantic interest than immediately fucking them, your thinking machine is predominantly basing your selection of said romantic interest on your physical attraction to them.

I know in part because I lived as exactly that type guy and it changes nothing. I was absolutely fine dating a girl for weeks or more without more than a peck on the cheek in terms of physical contact if the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual connection was powerful. And my strongest, longest and deepest relationships began exactly that way. I'm not saying guys don't care about anything other than sex. Not at all. Douchebag guys don't, sure. But this is not an attack on men or an attempt to group their majority into that category. There are plenty of lovely men out there that care very much about more than just physical attractiveness. Even those for whom physical attractiveness alone isn't necessarily enough to trigger sexual attraction.

What I am saying is that it's all about priorities. Physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual. What's your order? What do you notice first? What drives you most to want to bring another human being into your life? For guys that first one is pretty much pay-to-play. The others are often important too! But they don't get much of a chance to show off if you don't hit the mark in the physical category. Any one of them may make or break a potential relationship trajectory for any person of any gender, but in my experience both as a guy on T and looking back as a girl with no T (and with more than cis female-target estrogen levels)—and then cross-referencing my personal experiment with the observed MOs of dozens of guys around me—yeah that's pretty much how the math shakes out.

Disclaimer: before transition my T levels were totally within target range for cis males—not high, not low. Average.

I didn't even realize how sex-driven I was as a guy until I purged testosterone from my body and opened my eyes anew, free from its shockingly effective blinders. And it makes total sense from an objective scientific standpoint, too. Just like my predominantly female body can now experience estrogen-induced period symptoms, a hormonally male body will be subject to the incredibly potent effects of testosterone. As mammals our primary instinct is to reproduce. Reproduction from a male perspective means, quite literally, spreading one’s seed. And since like all other Earthly organisms our biology is tuned into the laws of probability, men want to do that a lot. Like as much as physically possible. And since physical attractiveness is our biology's way of telling us who makes for a desirable mate, our code basically reads like this:

{IF hormone_value(is_male) = true AND target_condition(is_hot) = true THEN next_step = pursue_sex}

In English, a very rough source code for the sex filter through which most testosterone-driven humans unwittingly see the world. It's the sort of thing you only realize was there once it's not anymore. So here I am, your Friendly Neighborhood Trans Girl, to give you the exclusive first-hand report of its existence.

For good measure, let's introduce a control into the experiment. Take a person who previously experienced reality like I just described, remove testosterone, introduce estrogen, and leave all else equal (hint: we're using me). Now send them back into the exact same world. Hell, don't even change their sexual orientation. What happens?

For one, don't kid yourself and assume major changes are caused by a reduction in general physical attraction or libido. If Cara Delevingne was standing naked in front of me and wanted to play my clothes would disintegrate from my neutron star-temperature body before you could blink. The difference is that if I was walking down the street and happened to find myself in conversation with Cara Delevingne (or any person I found physically attractive), my mind wouldn't immediately go to sex. In fact it might not ever go there depending on my glimpse of the person's sub-surface qualities, the situation, and how our overall encounter goes.

Instead what I’ve found is that at first I actually don’t want anything at all from people I meet randomly, regardless of their attractiveness. If our encounter deepens and I find myself intrigued by who they are, how they act and what they say, the first thing I’ll notice myself wanting is more time with them. This was an incredible phenomenon when I first noticed the change because from my former male perspective I had never thought of myself as a primarily sex-driven person in terms of what motivated how I navigated encounters with people I was interested in. I was always a sexual person and I still am, but back in Male Hormone Land I probably would’ve described myself similarly to how I know I am now.

The way my encounters typically go and new relationships tend to develop now back this up. When I’m speaking to new women in any situation as my female self, the energy between the other person and me is relaxed and the conversation is mutually casual. I see it in my own explicit behavior too. Regardless of how physically attractive I find the other person, I easily move on from the exchange when it naturally fades out. There’s no urgency or nagging desire to hang onto it like there was when I was being secretly controlled by sexual interest.

And just to be thorough, transitioning my body and biochemistry to female has increased  how physically attractive I find the average woman. Weird, huh? But in a way, if you think about it, you kind of knew this already, didn't you?

There are a million and one differences between men and women, and how society treats the different genders across the spectrum. Check back soon for another installment in this fun little exposé.

Behold my maleness, brethren! For I have bedded a wench.
— Every straight guy, ever
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