The Difficulties and Rewards of Gender Transition

Sabel Samone-Loreca is a youth outreach worker and a transgendered African-American woman. She talks to Tony Cox about her decision to leave the gender of her birth, as well as the broader changes that becoming a woman has brought to her life.

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TONY COX, host:

Now we're going to take a look at gender role from the point of view of a transgendered individual. Transgendered is a word used to describe folks who leave the gender of their birth or the traditional gender roles held by society. Joining me right now in studio is Sabel-Samone Locera. I think I'm pronouncing that right. Did I say it right?

Ms. SABEL-SAMONE LORECA (Youth Outreach Worker): Loreca.

COX: Loreca. Okay, I apologize for that. A youth outreach worker and a transgendered African-American. Sabel, welcome.

Ms. LORECA: Thank you.

COX: You know, one of the things - let's start with this - I'm not sure how many people really know, despite what I just read, what being transgendered actually is. Would you break it down for us?

Ms. LORECA: Okay. So transgender is basically a word that the government kind of came up with and we as a community kind of came up with that we accept being called. Transgender means a variety of different things. It means gay, lesbian, bisexual, pre-op transsexual, post-op transsexual, transvestite. It's a gamut of different communities under one umbrella. And so with that umbrella, it gives everybody an opportunity to express themselves.

COX: Now tell us a little bit about you and your - if I call it transformation, is that okay?

Ms. LORECA: Transition is a lot better.

COX: Transition is better, okay. Let's talk about your transition, how that came about, when it came about, and what the effect of it has been on your life so far.

Ms. LORECA: I guess, for the most part, my transition pretty much started in probably around '97. For me, I feel I've always been transgendered or transsexual. I kind of went through life not knowing what was going on with me. I was unable to understand the changes that I was going through or how I felt. And so I went through a lot of different emotional - how can I say- a lot of different emotional attitude changes and stuff like that.

When I moved to San Francisco, I got connected with a doctor there back in '97 due to my HIV status. I'm HIV positive, and hep-C positive. And so, in dealing with a lot of those issues, I kind of came to a point where I wanted to better my health. I kind of understood my disease that I was living with and how to better progress that and make things for me better.

One of the things I did was talk with a doctor and called my mom and just kind of got into a point of discussing what that all meant, what I had to go through to make my life that much happier. And in doing that, the doctor that I went to, first of all, didn't know anything about how to start that. So we got together and we kind of went on the Internet and looked up a lot of different information and just kind of went from there. When I first started, I kind of ended up on, like, maybe 13, 14 different types of pills for my transition, which was more than I should have been on.

COX: Really?

Ms. SAMONE-LORECA: And we kind of cut that down more and more as we learned more about the transition and how that worked for me.

COX: Let me jump in to ask this. You talked about emotional changes that you have had to go through with regard to this. Talk about the physical as well. Which is - I don't know, more difficult is the right word - which is the more challenging, the emotional or the physical?

Ms. SAMONE-LORECA: The emotional, for the most part, because it's like a battle inside your body that you're going through once you start taking hormonal treatment. And you really can't see it, but you can feel it. And you go through the stage of depression. You go through days of just not feeling - where you look in the mirror and you're just so ugly. You just don't like that person in the mirror because that's - mentally, you see that's not who you are.

COX: One of the things that we just heard from Jennifer Baumgardner was, in talking about bisexuality, that it is not so much about sex as it is about a state of mind, in her book, in her description. In terms of being a transgendered person, is it about a state of mind for you more so than a sexual change?

Ms. SAMONE-LORECA: It definitely is. I think it's more mental than it is on a physical level. A lot of people kind of want to choose your sex and say, well, what's between your legs makes a difference. And it's not really what's between your legs, it's what's in your mind. Basically, I've been effeminate all my life. I don't know any other way to put that other than, you know…

COX: We'll let's talk about your work.

Ms. SAMONE-LORECA: Okay.

COX: We'll talk about your work. Tell us exactly what you do.

Ms. SAMONE-LORECA: Well, right now, I work for a children's hospital. I'm a case manager for transgender teens between the ages of 13 and 24. We assist them in helping them with mental, medical, as well as support. We help them transition as far as getting their name changed through DMV, getting their name changed through the court order transition, helping them get support from other organizations such as Minority AIDS Project, (unintelligible) other organizations that we work with.

We have a group called the Consortium, which is now called the TSPN, it's Transgender Service Provider Network. And basically, it's a group of transwomen that get together. We come together at a table and we just kind of basically talk about the issues that are going on in our community to better help our youth.

COX: Now, you said transwomen. That's a term that's new to me. Does that mean that people who were formerly men transitioned to become women? Is that…

Ms. SAMONE-LORECA: That's correct. Male to female - transwomen.

COX: Now, when you're talking about dealing with transgendered young people, youth, because their bodies are still developing both mentality and physically, how difficult a process is it to try to advise them about how to go about this transition while they're still forming as people?

Ms. SAMONE-LORECA: Most of our transyouth come in knowing who they are. They know they are ready for this transition. They know that things are different with their body, and it's a matter of finding the right medical provider that will help them with that. Overall, most trans folks go through more of a rejection from parents and friends because they feel it's just a phase, or that their child is either gay or a lesbian and they're just going through this process and it's going to eventually run out. But it doesn't. It's not about - again, it's not about their sex. It's about how they feel mentally.

COX: I read in Los Angeles, in the newspaper as we - we're going to bring our conversation to a close around this. There was a sportswriter here for the L.A. Times named Mike Penner who wrote an article about a month ago in which he said, I'm Mike Penner. But by the end of the article he said, I'm going to become Christine Daniels and that he had been - he was transgendered sportswriter. That's how he self-described himself.

The question, though, is this. He said that in order to make that transition complete there was some legal as well as medical steps that you had to go through and that he had to wait an entire year before he was approved or would be approved to make the transition. Is that something that you had to experience, and others, too?

Ms. SAMONE-LORECA: Some do, some don't. With African-American youth as well as different other communities, we tend to transition on our own, so to speak. We don't wait. There's more - and you hear a lot of that more in your European cultures, the white culture, because of the fact most of the white generation wait, they go to work, they have their lives, they get their career, and they go on into deciding that this is the time for me to do this, I've gotten everything out of place.

With young trans, when you're starting young and you're either transitioning or you're out at home being 13 and 14 and 15, you sometimes tend to get put out of your home, or kicked out, and you're on the street. So you end up with groups of other transwomen or other transguys, and you kind of transition with that. And so, for a lot of African-American transyouth, we end up transitioning on our own and not the legal way. Under the Harry Benjamin program, there you're supposed to have at least one year of therapy, go through a year of living in womanhood.

COX: Right.

Ms. SAMONE-LORECA: And so that is one process. But for most transyouth, they tend to transition way before that time.

COX: Here's my final question. I've enjoyed you're coming in and I appreciate your candor in sharing your very personal story. We have less than a minute. Now that you have made the transition, do you feel a sense of relief?

Ms. SAMONE-LORECA: The best way to put that is, my mother said it to me about a year ago, she said: Since this transition, you have become one of my favorites. You know, your attitude, your wellbeing, your life has changed so much and I am very so much proud of my daughter. And that made me feel that much happier. As a whole, I'm a very happy person, more so happier than I was before.

COX: I see you smiling when you talk about this, so you must really be happy. I do appreciate you coming in, Sabel. Sabel Samone is a youth outreach worker in Los Angeles who joined us at our West Coast studios. Thank you again for coming in.

Ms. SAMONE-LORECA: Thank you. I just - if I could just add one more thing.

COX: Really quickly.

Ms. SAMONE-LORECA: This month, as of June 1st, 2nd and 3rd, will be our Trans-Unity Pride Weekend. And so if anyone is in the area, you can go on to LAGBT and go to transunity.org.

COX: All right. Thank you again.

Ms. SAMONE-LOCERA: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: Next on NEWS & NOTES, helping kids and teens who find traditional gender roles just don't fit, and Ornette is one staff member's favorite this week.

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