Tough digger driving dad turns up to work as a woman
A TOUGH digger-driver on building sites has shocked workmates by becoming a woman.
Until four years ago Samantha Bowler, 47, lived her life as man, a hard working construction worker and father-of-three with a black belt in karate.
But after a lifetime struggling with her gender identity she took the decision to start living as a woman.
Samantha still operates a digger for a living but now turns up to work as a women with long brunette hair and make-up.
When she’s not on a building site Samantha acts as a consultant on transgender issues for the government, the police and local authorities.
Samantha's profile as a professional diversity equality trainer means she could no longer keep her past a secret from her workmates.
She said: "I was afraid I'd get a lot of abuse but the lads on the site have been great.
"They were a bit shocked and left me alone the first day. There was only one remark made which was not malicious, just banter which I could handle.
"After speaking with some of the men about my medical condition my workmates all became very relaxed and easy about it within a couple of days.
"I feel very comfortable in the site canteen - everyone has been very respectful."
Samantha knew from the age of five that she was different from the other boys in school.
Growing up she preferred to play with girls and their dolls rather than join in with the boys playing football.
She would secretly dress in her mum's clothes, borrow her make-up and style her hair in the bathroom mirror.
But because she was confused and afraid to talk about her feelings she developed a macho persona.
She said: "I became a loner, isolated and insecure - I found the best way to cope was to suppress my feelings by being a man in a man's world.
"I worked as a computer engineer, then on building sites, I got married and became a father.
"I was divorced when I was 24 but soon married again and had another child.
"I took up karate and gained a black belt - I did weightlifting, I was a family man who loved to be at home.
"I was married for 11 years, I loved my wife but deep down I hated my body. I longed to be someone else, the person I am now."
After a second divorce she lived alone and wore women's clothes and make-up when no one was around.
And under her builder's clobber of jeans and a jumper she would be wearing women's underwear on the site.
Samantha said: "It was not for any sexual reason - I just wanted to be me, female."
She later had another relationship and fathered a third son with a new woman but because depression was affecting her this relationship was breaking down. Her then partner encouraged her to get the help which she so urgently needed.
Samantha was diagnosed with gender dysphoria - a condition where a person feels there is a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.
She changed her male name by Deed Poll and began living as Samantha.
She originally paid for her treatment privately but was then referred to an NHS specialist who prescribed female hormones and recommended sex reassignment surgery.
Four years later Samantha is at the end of her transition after an operation at London's Charing Cross Hospital.
But during that time Samantha, of Pontypridd, South Wales, has been the victim of hate crime, prejudice and even violent abuse.
She has been assaulted and abused on the estate where she lives and dreads going about her business within her community for fear of being attacked.
Samantha won a large out of court settlement from a previous employer who broke Britain's equality laws by discriminating against her.
But Samantha has refused to be ground down and has reacted to the abuse in a very different way to how she would have handled it before transition, by reporting all hate crime/incidents to the police and promoting awareness of her birth condition.
She said: "Before I transitioned I was aggressive, short-tempered, flippant - I was trying to prove my masculinity and overplayed it.
"Since I have transitioned I am nothing like that. I am gentle and kind and I think I have the patience of a saint."
Samantha says she is a better father now, especially to her five-year-old who still calls her dad.
Samantha's campaigning work for other people with transgender issues has led to her advising public bodies, including the police and government.
She works with Valleys Regional Equality Council, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Welsh Government, South Wales Police and other public authorities.
And her consultancy work is taking up so much of her time she hopes to finally quit her life in the cab of a digger on building sites across South Wales.
She said: "I have been working in construction to pay the bills - no one paid any attention to the fact I am a woman driving a digger.
"But now everyone knows I was born male and I'm glad to have finally come out to everyone.
"I am proud of who I am and I'm not going to pretend to be anyone other than me anymore.
"I consider myself unique and very fortunate".
"How many people get to live two lives, I don't deny my birth sex but I'm happy and proud of who I am now."
Samantha is now single and still has regular contact with her young son.
She has recorded educational videos for many organisations, talking about her life story and telling of some of the abuse she has endured.
Samantha says organisations invite her to talk to them because she is positive, non-threatening and doesn't take herself too seriously.
But she said: "There are many inspirational people in our communities who work hard to increase Transgender awareness to improve the lives of others.
"We work together to eliminate trans-phobia, hate crime and discrimination.
"I am honoured and humbled to be a part of this venture. These people inspire me to continue with my work.
"All we want is fairness, equality, understanding and acceptance.
"We are here and always will be, not to cause confusion, distress or force people to change their faith or beliefs.
"We simply wish to live our lives as we feel we were born into - in peace and free from persecution."