Local Transgender Activist Raises Awareness About Transitioning

By Chip Alfred
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 12 | Posted Apr. 27, 2011

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Photo by ryan strand

Jayden Sampson remembers the exact moment he said goodbye to the woman he once was. It was a bright, sunny day in May 2002, and the then-35-year-old was riding in the funeral procession for her grandfather, who was a firefighter and World War II veteran. Sampson recalls the tear she shed as the car passed by a local firehouse and every fireman stood at attention. At the memorial service, she listened to family members’ stories of her grandfather’s wartime heroism—none of which she had heard before.

Sampson says he decided to transition from female to male “at the point they released the doves. I remember thinking, ‘my grandfather lived a very courageous life. I wonder if I’m living as courageous and authentic a life.’”

There were only two things standing in the way of his transition. The first was the fear of no longer being able to sing with the Anna Crusis Women’s Choir, where she had been a member for seven years. The second had much more serious implications. “I was now aware that I might be perceived as dangerous and threatening,” Sampson says. “I was going to present to the world as an African-American man.”

But Sampson knew what he had to do. “I always felt a more masculine energy in my life,” he says. So he began taking testosterone. His voice became deeper and he started to grow facial hair. A few years later he underwent “top surgery”—a total mastectomy. He describes the process of transitioning as both exhilarating and sobering. “There was an inner smile and confidence in being able to present as a man, which matched what I had always wanted. It was sobering because I was not socialized as a man and now had the challenge of defining what it meant to be a man.”

There was also another critical challenge facing Sampson, who identifies as bisexual: whether or not to have “bottom surgery.”

Phalloplasty, one of the bottom surgery options, involves constructing a penis. Most phalloplasty procedures require multiple surgeries and can leave large areas of scarring. Erotic sensation may be diminished, and problems with urination—like leakage—can occur. It’s also costly, running anywhere between $50,000 and $150,000, and is typically not covered by health insurance.

Metoidioplasty, a less expensive option—roughly $2,000 to $20,000, depending on the surgeon and how many surgical procedures are performed—involves creating a small phallus from the clitoris. The operating time for a metoidioplasty is about three to five hours, but the procedure may include additional surgeries, such as a vaginectomy, testicular implants or a hysterectomy. The resulting penis is very small, not even large enough for sexual penetration, and the risks are similar to phalloplasty.

Sampson chose not to have either procedure. “How a person identifies doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the physical equipment they’re working with,” says the now 43-year-old. “For some people, the choice is transition or die. They are not going to make it until they present as their chosen gender. I transitioned because I wanted to bring together my male and female energies.”

Growing up in Evanston, Ill., Sampson was a self-described nerdy kid who excelled in debate. He says “homophobia came into play” early in his life. “Everyone on the basketball team was a lesbian. You did not want to have that label in high school.” Even though the label was appropriate, Sampson “didn’t want to deal with the high school angst,” and thus shied away from the sport.

Sampson, who had come out of the closet the first week of college, attended the University of Chicago where he got involved in LGBT issues and joined an African-American sorority. He then earned a law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Sampson moved to Philadelphia in 1992 to work as a public defender. After four years of feeling like he wasn’t making a difference, he left the job. Over time, he got involved in local LGBT causes, serving on the boards of the Attic Youth Center and Mazzoni Center, the city’s LGBT health center. At the Attic, he focuses on mentoring LGBT youth. “They all need my help, but I’m especially interested in trans youth because they are the most at risk.”

According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), 59 percent of transgender youth report being harassed and bullied in school, and 23 percent were victims of physical assault. “The Attic is the safe haven,” Sampson says.

Health care for trans adults is also a major concern for Sampson. Trans people can be denied health care due to anti-transgender bias. Some simply can’t afford treatment or don’t know the best ways to navigate the health-care system. Sampson also serves on the planning committee for the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference (PTHC), which addresses physical, mental and spiritual health needs of transgender people and how to develop grassroots organizations to support their community.

“People are thirsty for knowledge about what they’re doing to their bodies,” Sampson says about PTHC. “Let’s face it. We are willing and voluntary guinea pigs. We have no information about the long-term effects of taking testosterone or estrogen.”

Besides training health-care providers how to treat transgender patients, PTHC helps educate religious leaders about welcoming trans members to their congregations. “Just like many churches struggled to welcome gays and lesbians, many churches reject trans men and trans women,” Sampson explains. “Many trans people who were involved in their spiritual communities before they transitioned find they’re not welcomed as a trans person and lose their spiritual connection.”

Another challenge within the trans community is the two distinct and polar opposite factions. There are those who prefer to “go stealth” or “pass” as their chosen gender, never acknowledging their past life. And there are those who are out and trans fighting for equal rights. “Being stealth isn’t going to lead to better health care or help end discrimination against trans people,” Sampson insists.

Statistics from another survey by NGLTF and NCTE reveal a startling picture of transgender discrimination. Ninety-seven percent of trans people experience harassment or mistreatment on the job. Nineteen percent have experienced homelessness. Eleven percent have faced eviction and 26 percent were forced to seek temporary shelter.

“Discrimination within the trans community is multilayered,” says Sampson, adding that he is thankful for the love and support of his family. “Unlike some of my trans sisters and brothers, my family has been very supportive.” But, he says, “people of color who are trans may experience a double dose of discrimination. I made my choice to live an authentic life and at times that’s not easy to do. We live in a society in which people make assumptions based on what they see.”

Which is exactly why he stresses the importance of not being defined by sexual orientation. “Judge me by my work ethic. Judge me by what I do. Pay attention to people’s character because at the end of the day, that’s what matters.”

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Comments 1 - 12 of 12
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1. Sonam Ben said... on Apr 28, 2011 at 08:08PM

“Thanks for this story featuring this beautiful transgendered man's life. I strive to survive as an FTM that is older and may not be perceived of as male yet at this point in my transition, it's essential to me and scary to keep trying to be myself with my male and female self. being super short. old fat and worried about losing a job doesn't help, but still I move on and it's nice to keep the momentum by feeling some courage from a good news story like this.
Sonam Ben”

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2. FTMjoe said... on Apr 28, 2011 at 08:37PM

“I too love this article! Not only because it is about an inspiring FTM, who's activism and dedication to this community is without a doubt amazing, but also because he is one of my best friends. I am honored to have known Jayden for the past 8 years, and to have the chance to speak with him almost everyday about all kinds of issues: life, love, politics, transgender issues, etc.,”

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3. FTM Jayden said... on Apr 28, 2011 at 09:30PM

“Sonam Ben, I am really happy that you found this article supportive for you as you strive to survive as an FTM. Perhaps you will join us at the philly trans health conference where you can feel free to be yourself and be surrounded by other FTMs who share your struggle.”

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4. GK said... on Apr 28, 2011 at 11:30PM

“"Sampson says he decided to transition from male to female"

Female to male, that is.”

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5. Genderqueerz Rae said... on Apr 29, 2011 at 10:38AM

“Thanks so much for sharing Jayden and increasing trans visibility in the media (in an authentic, meaningful, and helpful way) - awesome article!!!! :)”

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6. jason said... on Apr 29, 2011 at 07:04PM

“great article. would have been even better without the 3 paragraphs focusing on genital surgery. can people please just get over always wanting to announce to the world what's in our pants?!”

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7. Jayden said... on May 3, 2011 at 07:32AM

“Genderqueerz Rae, thanks for the positive feedback!”

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8. Jayden said... on May 3, 2011 at 07:39AM

“Jason, thank you for your support and please know that it was my choice to discuss the surgical options. I wanted to educate cis folks and reach out to some trans folks who may be far away from a major city and just not know much about these options. Cis folks may not understand our challenges and at the same time I also do not want to contribute toward the objectification of our community but that balance is at times hard to strike.”

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9. TMichele said... on May 3, 2011 at 08:21AM

“Jayden is an special person--known him for 20 years and the thing that has always stood out in my mind and heart is his honesty and courage to be and become the best person, friend and professional that he could be. He is an inspiration for anyone who cares to take the time to see!”

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10. Anonymous said... on May 11, 2011 at 07:03AM

“Thank you going into detail about the genital surgery. This is a necesssary part of reporting. And yes, people do want to know everything, it helps them to understand!”

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11. Jamillah said... on May 12, 2011 at 04:15PM

“Rarely is it mentioned in print that a small group of Doctors declassified this nonsense as a "mental illness" in the mid 1970's .Fast forward to the future ,and "health Professionals,"are giving out drugs and cutting off healthy body parts. Even Sampson admits, that they are being used as" guinea pigs." It is sad that drug companies ,and health professionals are taking advantage of these sad people ,who hate the person that they were born as. Even after all of the drugs and surgery , Sampson continues to be confused sexually. Nothing natural about !!
No disrespect,but I feel sad that our whole society is expected to go around calling mutilated women, men,and vice versa. We live in a sick society !!”

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12. Jayden said... on Jun 1, 2011 at 04:37PM

“Jamillah, I think you would feel disrespected if people did not refer to you as Mrs. or Ms. With regard to your reference to the "mental illness" the DSM IV TR refers to it as "Gender Identity Disorder" but because most trans people are not slackers and do not want to take adavantage of the system, we do not go around asking to be considered "mental ill" so we can get disability. As to my statement regarding "guinea pigs," you took that out of context. What I stated was that we do not know/nor are there enough studies to know what the long term effects of taking hormones will be on our bodies. With regard to the drug companies and health profressionals taking advantage of trans people, this is not the case at all. There is simply not enough profit for this to occur and there is a lack of research. With regard to sexual orientation there is no confusion at all. The sickness of our society comes from those who are intolerant, greedy, self rightous, and lack critical thinking skills.”


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