Samantha is a former Wildcat.
A project manager at Honeywell.
An advocate for those needing a voice.
And she’s a transgender person.
Chances are, you may have even met Samantha at some point, and not even guessed her journey.
“The reality is that there are trans individuals everywhere,” she observes. “They are probably in your life, whether you realize it or not. They may be working beside you, or they’re teachers in your kids’ schools, or they’re taking care of you at the grocery store. Trans people are everywhere, in every occupation in life. We make up somewhere around one percent of the population.”
You probably have heard of some famous trans individuals: American transgender surgery pioneer and entertainer Christine Jorgensen; tennis player Renée Richards; U.S. Olympian Caitlyn Jenner; model Caroline “Tula” Cossey; actress Laverne Coxx; and pop star Kim Petras, to name just a few. But despite the fact that many brave souls have stepped forward to present their stories to the world, coming out as trans can still be an emotionally wrenching experience. Especially when someone is young, and doesn’t yet have a way of expressing who they are.
“I’ve known in my heart that I’m a woman since I was seven years old,” Samantha says. “But even knowing it, I didn’t have a word to describe it. I didn’t have a way of explaining how I felt. It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I tried to explain it to my mom. I failed horribly and she told me, ‘No, boys don’t think that way. You’ll get over it.’ And she didn’t mean any harm by that. Today she still feels guilt that she didn’t know. But neither did I. I didn’t have the words to explain it to her.”
Born in New York, raised in the Phoenix area, Samantha tried very hard to fit in as a boy and grow into a life as a man that would be fulfilling. She attended UArizona, earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science, and played trumpet all four years in the Pride of Arizona marching band. She also worked at Ritz Camera in the Tucson Mall before landing a job with Honeywell and moving back to the Valley of the Sun.
“I wanted to be married,” she reflects. “I wanted a wife. I wanted to have kids. And I did my best to push the other feelings down. I thought that I could ignore it. Part of the guilt I feel in my transition is losing my wife of 13 years in this process. I wish I could have had the words or the strength to tell her earlier on. But I thought I could beat it. That’s the environment I was in, where transitioning didn’t seem like a viable option.”
Samantha, living as a man, had a wife, four children, and a good job, but she was completely miserable. “The pain, what they call gender dysphoria — the incongruence of body and mind — got to the point where I couldn’t even function,” she reveals. “I was so depressed that I couldn’t get out of bed on the weekends. I could barely make it into work. I had no interests. I was just a lump, because I was so broken. It was so hard to have to live that life. And the stark reality is, I had a plan to end my life because it hurt too much to go on. I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon three times. The third time I did, I had every intention of not hiking back out of it. At the time, it seemed easier just to not go on than have to explain to my family, my kids, my job, everyone in my life that this is who I was.”
Coming out as transgender about three years ago and starting the transition was very difficult, despite meeting with acceptance from her immediate family. She says that her parents were accepting, but she recalls her mother saying, “‘You have to tell your sister. I have to have someone I can talk to about this.’ That’s fair. I agreed with her. So, the very next day, after work I drove to Tucson and met up with my sister. We went to this little sushi shop, had a nice dinner, and then I told her in the car. The first thing she said to me was that she always wanted a sister. There were still some growing pains with her, but she’s been extremely supportive and I’m thankful to have her in my life.”
Her parents and her sister even backed her up when another family member disinvited her from a wedding because she refused to dress as a man.
Of the life-changing conversation with her wife, Samantha says, “I wanted her. I was so in love with her. That was a real love, no matter what my identity was. Coming out to her was probably the most difficult thing in my entire life. It’s not easy to tell someone you’ve known for such a long time that you’ve been struggling for so long with this.”
Her marriage didn’t survive the transition, but she says her relationship with her children is better than ever. “I can finally be the parent that I needed to be for them. I’m free of what held me back for so long. What my life is today is immeasurably better than I ever could have imagined. When you’re racked with depression and you can’t even get out of bed, you can’t be a good parent. But now, the experiences I have with my kids, and being able to play with them all summer, help them with their homework, do LEGOs with them, help them build computers and learn programming — it’s everything I ever wanted out of life. It’s such a beautiful gift to be able to be here.”
Samantha has shared that gift with others by speaking to a church group, and the student organization GSA. “Basically it’s a club at middle schools and high schools across the world where LGBT students and their friends can come together and have a safe place to talk about topics,” she notes.
She also was the cover model for Curl: The Magazine for Curly-Haired Women, and related her story. And on a regular basis she hosts an online live trans TV show called Trans IRL. “We talk to trans individuals and trans allies about their experiences and their journeys and share hope and understanding,” she says.
For all the progress the world has made in transgender issues, Samantha shares that there is still is a long way to go. “It’s a volatile environment right now, where trans rights are still under so much attack.
“I’ve been denied health care because I’m trans. It’s a life-and-death situation that many of us face. It’s already scary enough to go to the ER in today’s world, but can you imagine being violently ill and going to the emergency department and the doctor won’t treat you because you happen to be transgender? That’s what this current government rollback is trying to accomplish; it would allow doctors the right to withhold treatment from a patient because they’re trans.”
Samantha believes that being visible will counteract prejudice by allowing everyone to see how much she is just like them. A dedicated runner and hiker (who says she loves to visit Mount Lemmon, and finish off with a stop at the Cookie Cabin), she may pass you on a trail. A gardener and computer programmer, you may run into her picking up plants at the nursery. Or you may see her at a transgender advocacy forum.
“It’s really hard to hate a person that you’ve sat down across a table from and had a conversation with,” she concludes. “It’s really hard to hate a person whose story you’ve read and you can see the humanity in them. I can’t tell you how many people who have heard my story, or the story of other trans individuals, and reached out to me and said, ‘I just never really understood until I knew somebody who was transgender.’ And every ally that’s out there is one more vote against having our rights taken from us. It’s really changing hearts and minds, one person at a time.”