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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.

Hello, World!

Hello, World!

My name is Samara, and I'm a woman who was assigned male at birth (AMAB), which makes me transgender. As a woman, I use female pronouns (She/Her/Hers). If you've known me since before I began my transition, I no longer go by my old name or male pronouns (He/Him/His). It's more of an adjustment for some than others, but I promise, if you make it a point, you'll get used to it in no time.

This is my blog, and its not just a place for me to document my journey, but that is how it starts. I can't help but feel like now is the perfect time to be launching it, because in so many ways, I'm relaunching myself. I'm finally in a place where I'm ready and excited to share the story of my transition, and that feeling is incredibly freeing.

The story of how I came to realize I was trans actually isn't that interesting. But I do acknowledge that mine isn't the typical trans story most people see or read about today. As a society, we love youth, so we see a lot of stories about young trans kids who have been adamant about rejecting their birth sex as their gender identity since elementary school or younger. On the flip side, we also love a sensational story, so we hear about older folks who finally decide they're tired of hiding and come out as trans. I'm what you might call "boring-aged"—at least as far as trans stories go. 

Before I discovered my true self I was living convincingly as a confident, reasonably tough, alpha-type guy. I had created a pretty solid male persona to hide behind. Even I was sold—for 28 years. While I lived as a guy I had more than a few relationships with women, from casual to 'Welp, guess it's time to have kids!' and I would be surprised to learn that any of my former partners ever thought I might have walled off an entire identity's worth of myself. I've been told when I put my mind to something I commit 100%, and it seems like this was no different.

Starting in my mid-20s I began seeing a fantastic therapist (which I wholeheartedly recommend everyone at least try), who helped me grow in a ton of ways, both mentally and spiritually. With him I not only worked through issues, I expanded my mind and gained more compassion, optimism, and consciousness than I'd ever known. By early 2017 I was feeling exceptionally clear. I was capable, ambitious, sharp and strong-willed, but something was off. Even though I had gained so much and come so far, I wasn't happy. 

So I looked inward, and with compassion for myself—something I was not particularly familiar with—I allowed myself to bring out a truth that I had buried deep, deep down, locked inside an adamantium vault, and poured 100 tons of concrete over. Being a guy was ... wrong. In retrospect it's no wonder I was always uncomfortable, anxious, stressed, and frustrated. Who we are is our most fundamental layer. You can't stack fulfillment and happiness on top of a facade.

When I started opening up to the idea that who I was living as might not be the full me, the signs started piling up—some related to my interests, relationships, comforts, anxieties, etc., and others rooted in memories of my childhood. As I dug deeper, the pile of supporting evidence that I was actually not a man at all grew to become pretty overwhelming. Eventually the dozens of validations I had compiled while grappling with myself over whether or not such a jarring possibility could actually be real boiled down to the only thing that matters: I'm happy as a woman in a way I never experienced while living as a male. Being female fits.

"Jarring" is a good word for it. Staring at the idea of being trans was shocking, scary, and threatening. I didn't realize it at the time, but my initial reaction was complete denial and deep depression. I didn't want to be trans (does anyone at first?). Still, I knew it was true—because there were certain things I just couldn't bring myself to reverse, even though during some of my most exasperated moments I wanted to be able to just "go back" to passing as a guy for simplicity's sake. But my gender dysphoria had surfaced and was very real, and despite my inner conflict, the thought of wearing men's clothes was gross. I was dressing somewhat androgynously (a happy medium I labeled "andro-femme") at the time, but if an article was designed with men in mind, I wanted nothing to do with it. I never loved my boy name to begin with, but now the sound of it made me cringe. Even though it was normal at that point, I started to notice every time a person called me "Sir", or described me with male pronouns, and it got old fast. Subconsciously I already knew my truth, but subconscious knowledge is a far cry from self love.

I can't stress enough how important acceptance and active support are for people starting out on their transitions. If not for a few amazing angels I get to call my friends, I can't say whether or not I would have made it this far. At my darkest hours, enduring weeks feeling awkward, ugly, insecure and unconvinced that I would ever actually feel good about myself, the infamous "S" word was a persistent intruder to my thought stream. I am far from the only one that experiences suicidal thoughts while going through transition, and I count myself among the lucky ones for not having succumbed to it. Suicide is never invited. It's a parasite born from pain and an inability to see a way out. Allowed to exist for long enough in the soil of the mind, and nourished by self-deprecation and loneliness, it often sadly grows and takes over. I was resilient and I fought, yes—but it was the people closest to me whom I credit with tipping the scale in my favor. They countered the negativity and stayed by my side, refusing to let me fall away, even while I shut down and tried to isolate myself. But I am still here and stronger than ever for having endured that phase, and I will be forever grateful for the true support I got from them.

If that sounds dark to you, it's all the more reason to be open-minded and unconditionally loving to anyone exploring who they are, what they're into, or how they express themsleves. It could mean the difference between life and death for someone you love.

 

If you're reading this and experiencing thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. If you feel more comfortable speaking to someone in the trans community, call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860 (US) or 1-877-330-6366 (Canada).

It never hurts to talk to someone.

 

I began my medical transition on January 4th, 2018—being prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT) by my endocrinologist, whom I was referred to by my therapist. HRT for male-to-female (MTF) trans people consists of two components: a testosterone blocker and an estrogen supplement. HRT is a godsend for a lot of trans people, and for me, it's been an amazing experience. Witnessing first-hand the changes it brings is easily the most exciting and affirming experience of my life. Observing its effects objectively, as someone fascinated by science, is mind-blowing.

I go into HRT more deeply in my post about transition, but here's a short list of what hormones alone are capable of for MTF (male-to-female) trans people over time:

  • Softening skin
  • Reducing and thinning body hair
  • Reducing or eliminating muscle mass (because not going to the gym for 10 years isn't always enough apparently)
  • Redistributing body fat (hello, curves!)
  • Softening facial features and rounding the face
  • Hairline regrowth
  • Breast development
  • Altering sexual attraction triggers (for me, emotional connection is a much bigger factor now)
  • Changes in emotional triggers and responses (if you tell me a sad story about a dog I will cry. You've been warned)
  • Changes in empathy and brain chemistry (all women are stunning goddess unicorns. End of speech)

Beyond the physical changes I've started to experience, the positive effects of allowing myself to live authentically as a woman have been shocking. While living as a guy I had crippling social anxiety. I dreaded meeting new people—especially men, who were threatening because I was always unconsciously worried they would detect that I wasn't quite "manly" if I stopped monitoring every nuance of my behavior. Now I'm making friends like mad, while reconnecting with old ones. My confidence is up, and so is my empathy. I find myself so much more present-minded now. And my relationships are flourishing. I feel closer and more open to the people I love in life, because for the first time, there's no wall between us; no manufactured persona. Several of my friends and family members have mentioned to me that I seem warmer and more relatable, and you know what? I feel it too.

So much negativity gone, so much positivity and optimism in its place. I was always perplexed that, contrary to what I’d heard from many people about themselves, I could never envision my future. It was strange. Like a big blank dark spot in my mind. But as soon as I accepted myself and stopped suppressing who I was, that changed too. Now I get glimpses of my life at different stages. Who knows if any of them will manifest, but the fact that they exist in my mind says a lot to me.

The intellectual in me still sometimes doesn’t understand every aspect of this experience, but I feel sorry for the individual that lives his or her entire life through a purely scientific lens. In some ways I pity my younger self, but more than anything else I feel compassion for her. I feel sad that this earlier version of myself felt so completely unlovable at such a young age that she created and played a character in order to better conform to society’s expectations.

One of the countless things I’ve learned on this extraordinary journey is the value of intuition; of sometimes actually not thinking. I am so grateful that I was able to rise above the noise that had become such a familiar layer of my reality in order to finally allow myself to evolve.

To my friends and family who have known me for decades, I'm still the same person. Just a way more authentic version of myself who admittedly happens to look, dress, sound, move and identify entirely differently from what you're used to. Okay that's a lot. But if you think about it, all that is really just surface stuff anyway. What we lock onto about a person is (hopefully) deeper; it's their values, their passions, their humor, their vision and ambitions, the way their mind works, their worldview. It's a person's spirit that we fall in love with and feel a connection to. Who I am at my most fundamental hasn't changed at all. My spirit fought its way out from my mind's suffocating lockdown, and now I'm just freely, proudly, me.

Hey, it's not like anyone ever accused me of being outspoken before, right?

 

Right? 

What it Means to Be Trans (or: WTF is Going On??)

What it Means to Be Trans (or: WTF is Going On??)