REAL LIFE: ‘My long and painful journey to become a man’

Ribs aching and lungs bruised, only strong pain killers will dull the agony Samo White suffers.

The almost-medieval chest binder that Samo wears every single day can cause indentations of the ribs, deep skin scarring and even a build-up of fluid on the lungs.

Artist 'Samo White outside Play Dead tatoo and art gallery '''Picture : Habibur Rahman

It’s uncomfortable, it’s awkward and, in fact, it’s life-threatening.

But not wearing it is unthinkable for Samo because without the binder flattening down their breasts, Samo simply wouldn’t leave the house.

The 31-year-old artist and gallery owner is transgender and suffers from body dysmorphia – a condition which causes extreme mental anguish for people who are unhappy in their own bodies, or with a certain part of their bodies.

Warm and always with a ready smile, the owner of Play Dead tattoo and art gallery in Highland Road, Eastney, is repulsed by the body they were born into.

Samo White with partner Donna Carter'''''Picture : Habibur Rahman

Samo is on the waiting list for a double mastectomy –the first step to medically transitioning from female to male.

But in the past two years the waiting list has tripled on the NHS.

And the thought of having to wear a chest binder is causing Samo enormous mental and physical pain.

Urged on by friends and partner Donna Carter, Samo has taken the bold move of setting up a crowd-funder page to raise the £10,000 to £12,000 needed for surgery to remove their breasts and has been overwhelmed by the response.

Samo says: ‘I was always a tom boy but when I was a child gender identity was not a thing.

‘I was really lucky, my mum and grandparents let me be me.

‘I was gender neutral. That was natural for me.

‘But in my early 20s I became more conscious of my identity.

‘I came out as gay at 19 but there was something about living my life as a lesbian that made me very uncomfortable.

‘It was a label that didn’t sit well with me.

‘I moved to Brighton but I couldn’t find my group, I couldn’t work out where I fitted in. But I suppressed those feelings. Actually, I thought that was how I was supposed to feel. I buried it all and it affected my mental health.

‘I continued to live as a lesbian in my 20s but it eventually became unbearable. I was self-harming and on anti-depressants.’

Samo moved back to Portsmouth and opened Play Dead which is a hub for the artistic community which Samo is at the centre of. The gallery exhibits the work of many local artists – and many credit Samo with giving them a much-needed launch pad.

It was after meeting partner Donna three years ago that Samo realised there was an alternative to feeling like an imposter in their own body.

‘I’ve been surrounded by artists my whole life. It was normal to be a bit weird, to be androgynous. But that meant that in a way I could not find my own identity.

‘Donna introduced me to friends who were transitioning’, says Samo. Until that point it wasn’t even on my radar.

Samo visited a GP for the first time two and a half years ago and is now on the waiting list to medically transition.

But it is a long way off. The waiting list has tripled in the past two years.

From the moment you meet them, it’s clear that Samo and Donna are madly in love and are looking forward to marrying.

But Samo cannot contemplate a wedding until the double mastectomy has been performed.

‘Wearing the binder is actually quite dangerous’, says Samo.

‘But the anxiety I feel without it, and the body dysmorphia, means I don’t feel I have any other options. I cannot bear to stay in this binder forever. ‘The health implications – both mental and physical –are huge.’

Samo wears it up to 20 hours a day, 12 hours longer than is safe.

‘I feel anger and I’m upset that I have to go through this’, says Samo.

‘I try not to think about it too much as the negativity would be overwhelming and I’d never leave the house. I’m stuck in a vicious circle.

‘I just hope (by speaking out) there will be a kid out there who is 15, sees it, and won’t have to go through this.

‘It’s important to me to hold on to the positive side of things.’

Samo and Donna are activists within the LGBTQ community.

With a small group of close friends they run Queer Disco – which began as a club night and now encompasses support groups for people struggling with sexual identity – and their families.

Donna is candid about how difficult it has been for her to get her head around identifying as a lesbian and falling in love with a woman, to becoming the partner of a man.

And Samo understands that gender identity is a confusing subject for people who aren’t going through it.

‘People do slip-up and refer to me as “she” – and that’s okay’, says Samo.

‘I can promise it’s much more embarrassing for them than it is for me. It’s totally normal.

‘I have socially transitioned (from female to male) but I have not physically transitioned.

‘It’s confusing for people and I don’t expect them to just get it.

‘But there are more than two types of gender.

‘ I explain to them that we are all on a (gender )spectrum and you can fall anywhere on that spectrum. It does not have to be related to genitals.’

As to the response from the community for the crowd-funding, Samo says: ‘I’ve been really lucky, I’ve had a lot of support from the community to make this journey possible.

‘I think they know how hard we work for the community.

‘I’ve had so many messages from people who say they don’t want to see me in pain anymore.’

To support Samo, go to

To see a video of Samo and Donna, go to

Cisgender Refers to anybody who identifies with the same biological gender they were born with.

Gender neutral Somebody who identifies with no gender.

Gender queer An umbrella term covering any feelings about gender alternative to society’s traditional expectations.

Nonbinary Anybody who doesn’t identify as simply female or male.

Transgender/Trans Any individual whose gender identity is different from their assigned biological sex at birth. Transgenderism is a gender identity and not a sexual orientation, therefore no assumptions should be made as a result.

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