Transgender Awareness Week - Interview with "Samira Hills"

Interview with "Samira Hills"

“Samira Hills”, from the UK, has started her transition when she was thirteen and she has always been strongly supported by her family and friends. Through her journey, the music helped her a lot. Music and dancing are her biggest passions. It is not by chance that “Samira Hills” today is an amazing pop musician and many of her songs are about trans issues. She is great, you should check it out!

UNSA Vienna: What does being transgender mean? What does it mean for you?

Samira HillsBeing transgender is when someone’s gender identity does not match the gender they were thought to be at birth. But what does it mean to me? That is a really interesting question because I guess: firstly, gender identity can mean lots of different things to lots of different people, I think. I am not really someone that is a big fan of labels and for that reason being transgender to me just almost feels like liberation and just authenticity and who you are as a person. Of course, there are biological definitions, but to me it is just a man who feels trapped in a woman’s body or a woman who feels trapped in a man’s body.

UNSA Vienna: How many years have you been “free”?

Samira Hills: It is been four years and I am nineteen now.

UNSA Vienna: How and when did you realise that you were transgender?

Samira HillsLet’s start from the beginning, I guess. I always knew that I was different. That is quite a cliché thing to say, I guess but it is true. Especially when it came to my gender. I always wanted to play with Barbie dolls and I was always fighting with the girls in my year over, you know, who was going to get to wear what dress that day. I was always obsessed with my mum’s make-up and clothing: the dresses, the skirts. I remember one particular skirt that I always used to nick from her wardrobe. By the way I am talking, like, from the age of three. I was so young. But it wasn’t until I was thirteen, I want to say, I met a trans person. They were f to m, transitioning from female to male. Until that point when I was thirteen and I met this person, I honestly did not know what a transgender person meant, I did not know what it was. I guess that I must have heard the term but I definitely did not associate it with anything. So when I met this person it was almost like “Wow! Maybe this thing - and when I say “thing” (“thing” being transitioning) I mean that with no malice. I mean it with great respect - this thing that this person is doing could be, if you will, the solution to all of these, what at the time were strange feelings I have been having for the past, well like ten years. And so, yeah I was about thirteen and it was thanks to this friend I made. But it still took me some time to accept that this might be the path, not the one I would want to take but the one I have to take. Because transitioning really is survival: it is something that I feel I have to do in order to be happy. So yeah, after meeting this person, it still to me a while to A) accept it and B) take pride in it. It is very hard to do that when society can sometimes be very convincing of the idea that it is not okay to transition, if that makes sense. 

UNSA Vienna: Were you educated about it in school or not at all?

Samira HillsI do not remember ever a teacher mentioning a trans person, which I am glad you asked because I feel strongly that it should be…in conversation at school, it should be discussed. I know it is quite controversial for some people. I have heard some things going around where people’s parents feel as though they don’t want their kids to feel pressured into - How do I put this? - kind of being labelled. But I do not see it as pressure and I don’t think it’s a heavy discussion to have. Just, you know, you can be a boy, you can be a girl. It is the way you praise it and the way you want to talk to kids. Of course, they are young but it is good to educate them. Hopefully once being transgender starts to be more accepted, more common, they can introduce this kind of education in school as well. 

UNSA Vienna: Can you explain to us what does gender transition mean and how your transition worked?

Samira HillsI mean there is no form to transitioning. Everyone’s transition is completely different. Just like how everyone’s coming out story is different, everyone’s transition is different. I know some people do not want to kind of even have the full transition or some people do not want to have surgery. But that does not mean they cannot identify as trans. I get a little bit funny when people are so keen to categorize, label, sort of tell you “If you are this, then this is what you’re called, you are in this category”. And it does not need to be that way. Like I was saying before, there are so many different types of human beings. I do not know why there has to be kind of like, one set thing. My transition has been very gradual. I started off by just playing with make-up. Then, I started doing my nails and it has been a very gradual process, whereas I have friends that have finally found the confidence within them to say “This is me. I’m going to transition now.” and have literally gone from one day presenting as male and the next day fully presenting as female. It took me a while to find the confidence to do that and in some aspects I still am looking for the confidence to do other things in that region. Some of my family members actually still refer to me as male? 

UNSA ViennaHow did you feel psychologically during your transition?

Samira HillsI mean transitioning is not a breeze. People have this idea that transitioning is changing your pronouns, changing your name and then you have surgery, boom, done! This is not the case. You have to emotionally transition, psychologically, physically, socially transition. The people around you, your family are also going through the transition. It is not just one thing. 

UNSA Vienna: What motivated you the most to change your gender?

Samira HillsI like this question. Well, for me, because I cannot talk for anyone else. I guess, the desire to live my life as me is what really motivated me. I know that from some people I have spoken to that the misery, the feeling of being trapped, has been the motivation for them finally. But I am lucky enough to be able to say that I had such good friends around me, great family around me that was really just about me doing everything I could to sustain happiness. I guess, just the idea of freedom again, liberating myself and just living my life as me. Also, more specifically there is a Youtuber called Gigi Gorgeous, who did kind of a breakup song. Have you heard Avril Lavigne’s “What the hell”? There is a song called “What the hell” and this Youtuber Gigi Gorgeous, who you might have heard of, she did a music video to the song. I remember watching it and this was before I had come out, watching it and thinking “My god, she looks stunning. She looks happy.” And, of course, she had things going on behind closed doors, everyone does, but she just looked amazing. I remember the night I came across that video, sat on my bed watching it and thinking “I am doing this. This is me. I’ve got to do it.” More specifically Gigi Gorgeous, but on the whole I want to live my life as me.

UNSA Vienna: Did you have positive changes in your life after your transition?

Samira HillsYeah, of course! I mean, it brings a lot of positive things and also it brings a lot of negative things but mostly positive for me. I am so grateful that I am able to say that. Firstly, I’ve met so many people in my community and outside of my community who just love the community and support it. Another thing is I have caught on to a completely different perspective on life and I get to experience new things, which means as a musician I’ve got so many new things to write about. I would not have some of my proudest work if I were not trans. But yeah, of course, there are negative things like discrimination and feeling like the outcast, made to feel like an alien sometimes. I guess it is about using your quirkiness and your differences as a superpower. 

UNSA Vienna: In what kind of environment do you feel more discriminated?

Samira HillsSchool, definitely: kids can be mean, kids can be really nasty. I think, for me, it is mostly the nightlife that can be quite intimidating and scary. You know going out, clubbing and things. I remember early last year we stood outside a bar. I have been to this bar many times and it was always the same bouncers on the door. My friend came up to me and said that one of the bouncers asked if I was a man or woman. I was really taken aback, my heart dropped and you start to feel your face sort of go red. I was like “Oh my god, why are they asking that?” I asked my friend what they told them and they said that they told them that I am a woman. Thank god. And then my friend told me that this wasn’t the only thing they asked and I was like “Oh god”. Bare in mind I’d had probably four glasses of wine at this point. Even after a fair amount of wine it was still awful to hear but the bouncer had basically asked what I had between my legs. I never had anyone be so invasive before. I mean, this is such a personal question. Of course, it ruined the night, which annoys me because I am definitely in a position now where I would just tell them to mind their own goddamn business, basically. You know, no matter what I have between my legs, they’re not getting any anyway. So yeah definitely nightlife. 

UNSA Vienna: Do you still hang out at night or do you prefer not to do it?

Samira HillsI love dancing and I love music. So nothing can stop me from going, apart from coronavirus haha. But that did not stop me and, in some ways,thank God it did not. I have really grown as a person experiencing things like that. I feel much stronger. Like Kelly Clarkson says “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and I definitely feel like going through things like that. There have been times where I have literally wanted to curl up in a ball and cry, run away from those types of situations. If you have the right people around you and if you have the right attitude towards these types of people that put you in those situations, it’s going to benefit you in the long run. I always say to people “Nothing great comes easy.” Anything that is worth fighting for is always going to be beautiful when you finally get what you want. 

UNSA Vienna: Do you feel supported by your family and friends?

Samira HillsOh my god, yeah! Totally! I definitely when I first came out had friends that are no longer friends. But now my friends are literally incredible. My parents and my sister are on another level. So, I am totally aware that I am so fortunate to be able to say that. Many people are not in a position where all their family wants is for them to be happy. I am so lucky. I do not want to say that I have sympathy for people that are not in the position that I am in because I don’t think they need or want my sympathy. Trans people are strong, we’re strong people. I definitely find it totally unfair and upsetting and feel angry for the people that are not able to be themselves and be safe or happy. I just hope that one day the world will be safer.

UNSA Vienna: Did you get support from any organisations or institutions?

Samira HillsI did! Firstly, there are so many amazing, all different types of organisations out there, not just for trans people but for anyone on the LGBTQ spectrum. I call it a spectrum because I feel like there are so many more varieties. I think because of the support that I had from immediate family and friends I didn't need it as much but I am aware of so many amazing things out there, even just local groups. Social anxiety kind of stopped me from joining any local groups and things, as well as the fact that I felt like I did not necessarily need it even though I was very appreciative of the people who are running these groups. 

UNSA Vienna: Do you think that now being transgender is more socially accepted or more accepted by the media? Have you experienced any changes over the past few years?

Samira Hills: Through talking to some older trans people, I am aware that a lot has changed. There is definitely still a lot that needs to be changed. We are still very much discriminated against and it depends on where you are in the world. I know that there are some places in the world where it is still illegal or you go to prison. A lot has changed: it is a lot more accepting and a lot more people are coming out or transitioning which is great. I have seen a change online, I think. There are so many more people to talk to who are in the same position. It is changing quite gradually but we will get there.

UNSA Vienna: Do you think that the UK is a good place for trans people?

Samira HillsI do. I think it is a really good place. It definitely has its fair share of mean and uneducated people. I think that the UK, for the most part, is really good and really safe.

UNSA Vienna: What are biggest challenges that you met and how did you overcome them?

Samira HillsComing out is always hard. Telling people is really scary. How did I overcome it? I guess it got to a point where I could not hold it in anymore. I almost feel like it was not a choice to come out. Of course, it is not a choice being trans and that is a big misconception. Why would I choose to make my life harder? Like honey, if I could be born with a body and just be happy with it, who would not take that opportunity? Coming out was a huge thing. But also the social aspect of it was so difficult. For someone that kind of struggled socially a little bit anyway at times, that was really scary. How did I overcome it? Gradually transitioning, very gradually. Sort of going out with brown mascara and then building up the confidence to wear black mascara, then finding the confidence to paint my nails. More specifically, I would put make-up on and then put my earphones in, listen to my favourite music, particularly people like Lady Gaga or Madonna, Katy Perry - people who are singing about being yourself and who are inspirational. I would walk to the local shop with my make-up on and my earphones in and kind of let the world around me disappear a bit. I was trying to build up confidence, in a sense of me going out in makeup, being okay and being normal, just as normal, accepting and okay as someone that was born female. Music helped me a lot. That is probably one of the main things that helped me and I guess talking to people as well which can be hard. Meeting like-minded people, people that I can relate to and chatting with them was really helpful. It is talking to like-minded people and people who are in my position that helped me find pride. Social media is great for that as well. It is so amazing how easy it is to meet someone who is going through the same thing as you. It takes what? 30 seconds to find these people and send them a message. 

UNSA Vienna: Do you think the trans community is strong and you support each other a lot, right?

Samira HillsOh my God, yeah! When I released my last single “Revenge”, I could not believe the amount of  people that did not know me who were so eager and enthusiastic about my music, what I was doing and what I was singing about. The love so many people showed me when I released the song, I never had that before.  I felt a real sense of love and power within the community. It just felt like I had my own allies, my own family that were like “YES! Go and listen to Samira’s music – she is amazing!” It was so nice to have that because I spend a lot of my life kind of feeling like the outcast and feeling like I had to try so hard to fit in and gain respect. To release one piece of music and have a lot of people share it really overwhelmed me.

UNSA Vienna: Did your music projects start when you changed your gender or were you already into music and dancing before that?

Samira HillsThe music came a while before anything. Music is literally all I have ever known. I have always performed. I have always sung. I have been writing since I was about ten. I starred in musical theatre, lots and lots of shows. I must have done about fifty different shows. I got bullied a bit because of it, so I started to distance myself from the musical theatre side of things. I could never let go of the music and I also wanted to have a bit more control of what I was singing about. I am a very creative person, my mind is constantly coming up with new ideas and just like colour and visuals and so. I just needed to have more control over my art, so that I could project everything that was going on in my brain. In musical theatre on the other hand you’re sort of told what to sing, where to go and when to do a spin. 

UNSA Vienna: Is your dream to become a musician and dedicate yourself 100% to music?

Samira HillsMy dream is to 100% be able to fund a life, purely through my music, yeah.

UNSA Vienna: Have you ever experienced violence because of your status?

Samira Hills: I have but not based on gender.

UNSA Vienna: Has someone close to you ever become a victim of violence because of their gender?

Samira Hills: Not someone close to me. I chatted with a girl, a trans female, at a local pub last year and she told me to be very careful about who to tell and when to tell them. As a trans person you have to become really good at reading situations, when it is safe to disclose certain information and when it is not. It is very unfortunate that we have to think that way about our own safety and for the respects of others of course. This girl told me that she has had times where she has literally been chased down the street because she is trans, which is awful. I hope I never have to experience that because it sounds terrifying. 

UNSA Vienna: Would you like to share a message with the people who read the interview or with the rest of the world?

Samira HillsThere are so many things I could say, that would take hours. Surrounding yourself with people who genuinely want to see you happy is so important. Last year I was part of a friend group that was fairly toxic and I guess they did not really want to see me succeed. I had to find new friends because you just cannot live your life like that. Surrounding yourself with great people, like-minded people included, people who are going through the same thing as you. Like I said before, it is talking to people that can relate to me and people that I can relate to is really how I found pride in the fact that I am trans. It gave me the feeling of being part of a community. Of course not everyone is in a position where they can surround themselves with positivity. Some people are in a position where it would be very unsafe for them to leave the house with even just an ounce of makeup on. So I think if you are in that position, which I am so sorry you are. Try to find some time and a safe space where you know that you will not be disturbed and just spend however long you can doing what makes you happy: wearing heels, putting on make-up, Find a safe space and use that time to be yourself and let your inner self come out, now and again. Another thing and this has definitely helped me: write about your feelings. I write songs but it does not have to be that. You can draw, paint, you can write poems. Art is such a therapeutic way to escape from the world around you - whether it is a good or bad one. Keep a diary and write your feelings down. If you can, tell someone you trust how you are feeling. My direct messages are always open, so feel free to message me. Life is so short and it is very easy to get caught up in the pressures of society, the pressures of what you should and should not do. As a female, as a male, how you should dress, how you should not dress. But the truth is, in reality, and I think about this all the time, and this goes for anyone: we all started the same, we all come from the same place, regardless of what is in you bank account, regardless of where you live, regardless who you are as a person, regardless of what job you have, regardless of whether you want to wear a pink skirt or black jeans - we all come from the same place. Bare that in mind and do NOT let anyone or anything hinder the journey that is meant for you. I feel as though we are all destined to be something, we all have a purpose.  I really do believe that and, like I said before, the best things do not come easy. If you start transitioning, buckle up because it is an incredible journey.