For the third installment of the ‘Conversing with the All Stars’ series, I have chosen a friend of mine from Detroit in the United States, Samantha (Sammi) Rogers. Sammi is a transgender person who has done a lot to increase the visibility and sense of connectedness of transgender people in the USA. I thought that her take on life may be of interest to you and I am happy to present my discussion with her to you.
Daniella Argento (DA): What would you say are the biggest challenges you face on a daily basis?
Samantha Rogers (SR): Facing an uncertain future… (laughs). Life is a challenge on a daily basis, let alone when you throw in transitioning later in life. Certainly, there are financial advantages possible later in life but these are easily outweighed by the challenges presented by a lifetime of decisions based upon faulty criteria: marriage, kids, financial debts and obligations, relationships, work situations etc are all seriously impacted by my decision to transition. Dealing with each of these while trying not to worry, that quite honestly is the toughest part. I try to face each new day with an optimism and a willingness to accept the not knowing, the mystery. I try to live in the moment.
DA: You have recently been coming out to a number of friends and family, how has that gone?
SR: Coming out to friends, for me, and so far at least, has proven a great and humbling joy. I find myself surrounded by awesome and amazing people who have all, for the most part, taken my transition in stride and accepted and supported me totally. As I say, it is humbling. At the same time, I realize that the majority of my friends, being primarily actors, artists, musicians and so forth, are not typical of the general population in terms of sensibilities to matters like this. It is not always the case among transwomen to be as fortunate as I in this regard. I am well aware of my good fortune in this.
DA: What advice would you give people embarking on this side of the journey?
SR: The same advice that was given to me by those far wiser than myself: go slowly. Be certain. Do not do anything or take any step that you don’t absolutely have to do or take in order to remain sane and happy. You can always go further ahead, but going back is not so easy.
DA: What are your biggest fears as a trans person?
SR: Loneliness in old age. It is one thing to be trans when one is young and good looking, or at least good looking, or at least not awful to look at (laughs), but it is quite another to be old and wrinkled and alone. I suppose this holds true for all people, but the way society looks at us currently, old age, I think, is far more likely to find transwomen living in solitude and quite lonely.
DA: What are your biggest hopes for your self?
SR: Simply to be able to live as myself in an authentic manner, and be fortunate enough to have someone awesome with whom to share that happiness. But on a larger level, I hope to find a away to advance the cause of making transwomen a normal and accepted part of society, in whatever small way I can.
DA: What are your biggest hopes for the trans community?
SR: This is a great question, and my answer is twofold. On one level I wish with all my heart for a societal shift that will find a new world in which all transgender people are tolerated, accepted and supported throughout their lives.
DA: How easy is it to earn a living as a trans person?
SR: What a loaded question! (laughs) It differs for each of us, but for me, generally it has not been difficult. As far as the reactions of strangers, I like to say “my give a shit” is broken. But truly, I face fears of ridicule and rejection and physical violence the same as any other transwoman. I have the same fears. I guess one difference is maybe this: I have learned that every fear that once held me back has proven to be nothing once I found the courage to ignore that fear. So, it isn’t that I don’t have fear and insecurity, I do. But I simply choose to ignore those fears. And every time I do it gets easier the next time. I life lived in fear is no life at all.
DA: What advice can you give my readers who may want to look as fabulous as you do
SR: Well, first, thank you, but I reject the fabulous totally. I see myself when I drag my old bones out of bed in the morning (laughs). I think all any of us can do is try to make the best of what we have. Or change what we can. I hated my body so I resolved to lose weight. Over four years I shed 65 pounds. Now I exercise to maintain the way I look. Makeup and wardrobe are just a matter of time, practice, observation and taste. The more you observe what works on beautiful women, and practice to learn to apply the same techniques yourself, the better you will do.
DA: What do you do and how long does it take you to get ready?
SR: Skin care is so important and I pay for ignoring mine for so many years. Moisturize daily and never go go bed wearing makeup (well, at least not alone -laughs). Doing my makeup to go out all depends on where I’m going and the occasion. Rushing in the morning to get to my office the best I can usually manage is some skin toned moisturizer and a touch of eye liner and mascara. Going out to dinner usually takes me about 30-40 minutes now. And going to an important event can take me a couple of hours or more depending on many things like nails and epilating etc. But I’m doing better. Long ago I took four hours just to be able to walk out the door (laughs).
DA: Do you have a daily beauty regime?
SR: Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise!
DA: How would you describe your style?
SR: After being an actor for so long and moving in circles that included many older actresses, I reject the notion that we all have to look like Mrs Doubtfire as we get older. I hear girls talk often of “age appropriate” dressing. I would guess I am not a poster child for these ideas. I do not believe an older woman needs to look dowdy. I always imagine the older actresses I admire for their own sense of style. Sigourney Weaver, Jane Fonda etc and if I cannot see them wearing something and looking great then I don’t wear it either. I try to have a touch of sophistication about my style. Although I feel pretentious saying so. I am sure I sometimes fail, but that is what I shoot for. New York/Los Angeles/London rather than Peoria or Wichita, if you know what I mean?
DA: Where do you get your clothes and shoes?
SR: I shop for clothing anywhere. I have items I have paid top dollar for at high end department stores, and other pieces I have selected at outlet stores and even an occasional thrift shop. I buy some things online, too, since I’m always shopping on a budget. Shoes are my Waterloo. Virtually no brick and mortar stores carry my size so I shop online. Finding good well made shoes that are not all fetish like is tough. Long Tall Sally is an awesome store. Though they do not carry a huge selection, for the most part what they have are nice styles you can wear everyday without looking like a tramp. And they do also have great sales. I love Long Tall Sally!
DA: Have you ever had problems with getting clothing?
SR: Shoes! But the internet is your friend.
DA: Have you ever had any negative experiences when out shopping?
SR: No, never. I have been very fortunate in this regard. The only time I ever encountered a difficulty was on one occasion when presenting as male and wanting to try on a dress. But I consider that a minor problem and it was only once.
DA: Do you shop en femme or not?
SR: I present as female about 70% of the time now, and even when I am not, my drab is hardly drab anymore, but more the kind of androgynous look most women wear daily. So, yes, almost all my shopping is now while presently as myself (female)
DA: Do you consider yourself to be a transgender person?
SR: I am transgender, yes.
DA: What does that term mean to you?
SR: To me, and to many now, transgender is a blanket term applying equally to cross dressers and to what we have always called transexuals. I like the inclusiveness of the term as I am extremely egalitarian in my approach to all transwomen. I know it is popular for some transitioning women to distance themselves from crossdressers and especially those who are physically challenged when it comes to passing. Without judging anyone, that is simply not my way. I try to embrace and support all girls, CD and TS, passable and not passable at all. I want us all to advance together. After all, all girls are beautiful. Look in their eyes and you will know what I mean.
DA: When did you start identifying this way and why?
SR: I have always known, since I was 8 or 9 years old. The problem was accepting it.
DA: What was your first time out like?
SR: I was so ready. Unlike many, I started hormone replacement therapy three years before I ever set foot outside dressed. My first time out was eye opening. The first epiphany was that I was apparently not as ungainly and unattractive as I thought. But the biggest memory for me, was in regard to music. I have always lived for music. It is my passion. But in my attempt to convince the world that I was male, I had never allowed myself to dance. It seems so silly now, but somehow I equated dancing with being feminine and so I had avoided it. My first time out a dear dear friend literally dragged me onto the dance floor. It was a moment I will never forget and a watershed moment for me as a person. It dawned on my suddenly, standing their in my dress and makeup on that dance floor, that I never needed to pretend again. It suddenly became clear to me that I could stand up, as though shedding a sixty pound back pack, drop all the learned behaviors and defence mechanisms of a lifetime lived in fear, and simply be. I was free and unencumbered by the attempts of others to condition me to be someone I never was. I will never forget that moment. And I danced and danced and danced. That moment, and that joy, that is what carries me through every single day.
DA: How would you rate Detroit for trans* people?
SR: Detroit is awesome. I am not a native but I have lived in this old rust bucket long enough to have become a homey. I love this town. Yes, there are prettier places (laughs). And yes, there are cities with more TG people than here. But Detroit has something special. We have a community. The girls here are in this together and support each other, mostly free of the petty jealousies that divide our community in other places. A handful of extremely friendly venues serve a local community and because we all hang out in the same place so often a real family is created where everyone knows each other and watches out for one another. I love my city and I love my girlfriends here.
DA: What are your personal dreams and aspirations? How does being trans help or hinder you?
SR: I always thought my life was a book in two chapters. Now I find myself in an unexpected third chapter with no idea of what ending is in store. There is a power in that mystery. I am not sure exactly how, but my desire is to somehow move the ball down the field in terms of making life easier and better for all TG people.
DA: You are heavily involved in organising social gatherings for trans people in Detroit. How and why did this start?
SR: You mean our Detroit TG Invasions? These started by accident. My friend Donna and I had visited an event in Erie, Pennsylvania. Some girls we met liked what they heard about our scene and wanted to visit. Word got around locally that some out of town girls were coming and many local girls turned up to welcome them. It was a great party. It was such fun we decided to do it again a few months later. It got bigger. Now it has grown into a quarterly party with girls coming in from all over. Last July we had girls visiting from Dallas, Atlanta, NYC, Philadelphia, Chicago, Indianapolis, Toronto, St. Louis and many othger places. Each event has grown in attendance.
DA: Please tell us a bit more about these events: what are the goals, what are the challenges, how many do you have, what do they involve etc?
SR:When I first started going out I made a point to visit many of the large events across the country. I went to SCC in Atlanta, Keystone in Pennsylvania, The Erie Gala, Wildside etc. I loved them all. But it bothered me that girls in Detroit and the rest of the Midwest had to travel so far to attend these events. I have always had a tough pride in my town and thought Detroit was a good place, centrally located with a strong community, in which to start our own Midwestern event. The Midwest has been lacking its own big event and I hope this will serve that need. I love the big annual events but if you miss one you must wait a year for another. Detroit Invasions occur four times a year in January, April, July and November. Miss one and you only need to wait three months for another. And we finally have a website now which makes things so much easier. Each event brings new ideas and new girls. The best part, for me, is the events are strictly social ( no classes or seminars) and totally egalitarian (all girls are welcome) and very much about just having fun. It is a ton of work putting these together, and I am so busy during events playing hostess and making sure everyone is involved and having fun that I hardly get to relax and enjoy myself. But every so often, I will pause and look around and see 100 girls or more laughing, smiling, dancing, and generally being as happy as they can be…. and it makes me smile and laugh and it fills my heart with joy. It makes it all worthwhile.
DA: Thank you very much for sharing a little about yourself. Now go and get back to that real job of yours.