Fifty Shades of Gender podcast graphic with Sam Bettens

Episode 17

A conversation with Sam Bettens

TRANSGENDER MAN

Recorded on 21 October 2020. Duration 44 mins approx.

Sam’s pronouns are he/him, and he identifies as a transgender man. Find out what that means to Sam in this episode.

We also talk about music and creative expression, self-identifying, the benefits of ageing, family and relationships, hormone therapy, body image, self-acceptance and being proud of who you are, and finding your voice in a whole new way.

“This is your body. The beauty is in the confidence that you exude, because it’s you; so that’s what makes it beautiful, because you’re uniquely you, not like anybody else. And the prouder you are of that and the more open you are about who you are, what you look like, maybe even the struggles you have with it, the more beautiful it is.”

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TRANSCRIPT [expand to read]

Esther: So hello and welcome! What’s your name?

Sam: Hi. I am Sam Bettens and I identify as a transgender man and I go by he/him/his.

Esther: Welcome Sam!

Sam: Thank you.

Esther: So it has been a year since you came out, and you have been documenting your journey on your YouTube channel, right?

Sam: Yes.

Esther: How has this been? How has the last year been for you?

Sam: It has been great, I think I am one of the lucky ones when it comes to transitioning, everyone in my world, in my immediate family, and my friends, – pretty much everyone – responded very positively. I think transitioning is a hard road for anyone, but to have so much support and to not have forces working against me, outside forces, has been an amazing blessing, so it has been a great year.

Esther: Awesome, yeah. I watched a few of your videos just to sort of prepare for the chat we are having and I wondered about one thing, you came out as a lesbian basically, twenty years ago you mentioned on one of your vlogs, is that a label you still identify with, when you felt like, when you came out, it felt like it all changed… is it very binary for you? Is it changing from one binary to another? That is kind of two questions, but yeah.

Sam: No that is a good question, because I know my wife asked herself right away, ‘like, wait, am I still a lesbian?’ Because that is how I identified. I try not to look at anything in really binary ways, but at the same time, I do feel like I fall into some of these, more traditional, classic, guy things easily. I want to do guy things, I want to be a dad, I had no interest in non-binary identification, for example, and I have the most respect and feel the same way about non-binary people that I feel about anybody else: the right to be, identify whichever way you want. But for me that was never an option, I really wanted to go through life as a guy. At the same time I feel such a connection to the lesbian community still, I identified as a lesbian for so long and, you know how it is, you have kids and you go to the school gate and there is another lesbian couple, and you spot each other and it is like, ‘oh, we have something in common, we should talk’. And that is kind of how you connect and you makes friends – and we have a lot of lesbian friends still – and to think that that would all just go away, or my twenty years as a lesbian would now mean nothing, it is just… that kind of binary thinking, I am not really into that, that is still such a great part of me and I will always feel close to the lesbian community. And I don’t have a feeling, maybe some individuals feel differently about this, but in general I don’t have a feeling like the lesbian community just abandoned me or something. I think in general the response has been kind of positive, and I like to think in terms of, ‘look we all went through similar things and we all have our own journeys, and our own stories, but we also have so much in common so let’s focus on that and let’s celebrate that’.

Esther: Lovely, lovely, that’s great, yeah. So I was listening to your Rex Rebel album a little while ago, and the last song is called Low, and you mention…it is a little bit about your journey, isn’t it? Do you feel you always know on some level, I know you came out a year ago roughly, but have you always known that you were trans, or did you have a sense of it? Or was it really like a revelation, like all of a sudden, ‘oh my god this is what it is?’.

Sam: I think a little bit of both, I think in a way when I think back, and I think about my childhood and the things that I wanted to do and the things I wanted to be, and the way I emulated my brothers, it was always a part of me, and then, at the same time, it never occurred to me. I heard someone who is transgender say once like it was always such a big…I forget exactly how she put it but, ‘it was a very strong feeling that I have had my entire life but I never knew what it was until I did know’, and that is kind of how I would describe it too. It was always there, and it was strong, but it was undefined, un-named, I didn’t know it existed even and so it was never an option. I got breasts when I was a teenager and I thought, ‘okay, well, that’s that then, I will just have to go through life as a masculine girl’, and so I never second-guessed that part of it, because I didn’t know there was another way, there was an alternative, I didn’t know transgender existed. I had heard of, back in those days it was transvestite, and that was something I had heard of – men dressing as women and possibly having s surgery – but I had never heard of hormone therapy or transgender, that that was a way to live, for real. So yes it was always lurking I think, but undefined until I saw actual stories pop up on TV and in magazines and I thought, ‘woah, I need to explore this because this really looks like it might be me’.

Esther: Mm, yeah, yeah. I was wondering about your voice in various ways because, obviously you are musician and a singer, so obviously the hormone therapy that you just mentioned will effect your voice, although it hasn’t effected it much, as you mentioned on one of your vlogs, but do you also think it has also had a different level to it, your coming out and really embracing who you are and living your truth, has it helped you find your voice in a whole new way, or is that happening for you?

Sam: I like that question because I feel like, in a way, nothing has changed, a lot of things around me are exactly the same, my family is the same, my friends are the same, I do the same things with my days and yet everything feels different. So yes, the things that I share with the world now come from a place of such deeper understanding, and not just understanding of myself, because one thing I realised during this transition, and all the thinking and wondering and all the doubts that I had, is, I am starting to see the world less black-and-white than I used to and I don’t know if that was binary thinking before, but definitely a lot less now. I see things and can much more easily look at it from both angles, and much more easily see grey areas, things that have nothing to do with the LGBT community, just in general. And there was, when you speak about my voice, there was this part, a lot of pieces were in place: and so my career is going well, I have a family that loves me, I have kids, things are going good, good friends, fun hobbies, and then there is still this nagging something that doesn’t feel all the way right, and that has changed now and that is so…it is such an amazing discovery that I can have this in my late 40s, and it makes so much more sense. And even when I am not 100% sure that [when] a new person, a stranger is looking at me and thinking ‘hm that voice doesn’t sound like a guy’s voice’, or even when people are wondering or second-guessing, I am so sure right now it doesn’t even bother me in the way that it used to bother me when, you know, when people looked at me funny or looked at us funny for being lesbians, or for me being so masculine as a woman. And now, being a transman, even if someone would identify me without knowing, like ‘that looks like a trans dude’, I don’t care! I am so okay with it myself, that it would be very hard to hurt me from the outside, because I am so sure that this was the right path for me. So my voice to myself sounds clear, and more determined, and just more like myself.

Esther: Yeah, love that. Do you expect it to change further? You mentioned that you are working with a voice coach as well, it is very up in the air isn’t it?

Sam: It is very up in the air, but I don’t expect it to change much by itself, I think it is something that I need to continue to work on, because it has been almost a year-and-a-half now since I started hormone therapy, so the changes would have already come, and there are some people who say, ‘look this can actually really take a while, you can still have drastic changes two years into your hormone therapy’ and so there is a possibility I guess, but I am not counting on that, or I am not waiting for that, which is why I started the voice therapy, just to go through daily life sounding like a guy and not having to have people wonder or not have to have someone say, ‘ma’am’ on the phone, those are things that, when you just start transitioning, you are more patient, and like ‘all right that’s fine, that is understandable’. And then there comes a time, and that time has definitely come, when I have lost my patience with that a little bit and I just I don’t want people to get it wrong anymore. So the voice therapy helps me, there is all kind of nuance to breathing the way you pronounce things, the way guys end sentences differently than women do in general. So there are all these little generalisations that you can make about the way men talk, and the way women talk, and that is what I am working on with my voice therapist, and access thing, even though my voice hasn’t really architecturally really changed, still working on accessing that lower, stronger, part of my voice.

Esther: Mm, mm. that sounds to be honest like a great exercise whether you are trans or not really, because the voice is just so powerful isn’t it? And the words we speak are so powerful, yeah.

Sam: I know, it really is. It is such a win-win thing for me, because it is a lot about relaxing, it is a lot about relaxing your shoulders and your neck, so all these things that you can be mindful of when you are talking. So the whole mindfulness part of it alone is also such a great bonus to get out of these exercises. And my best practice is at night, when I am reading to the kids, because then I am really relaxed, and I am lying down, and it is not like I am speaking in front of an audience. And that’s when I really try to get my lowest voice going and practice little characters in the book and stuff, and so it has been fun.

Esther: Yeah, I bet! Do you see, for example with your latest musical project, like Rex Rebel, do you feel like that kind of coincides with your identity, is that like a…it is a fairly new thing isn’t it?  And then there is obviously K’s Choice, which is something that you have been doing for a long time, how do you feel that compares?

Sam: Yeah, I don’t know if it is a coincidence, it doesn’t feel like a coincidence at a time when I come more into my own, that I also have a strong need to do something else creatively. And something that I forgot to address earlier, when you were talking about the song Low, and whether me being trans was always a part of me, it is funny how a song like Low, for example, I wrote that way before I started out-loud-questioning my gender. And then you listen to the song, and you look at the lyrics, and you are like ‘well, it is obviously about that, so how did that happen?’. So for sure, all of this has been a part of me for so long, and what makes Rex Rebel really fun is that I really have an opportunity to be, you know, to be someone else, to be Sam in Rex Rebel; and in K’s Choice, maybe it is more, ‘well it used to be Sarah, and now it is Sam, so let’s see if it is just as good as it was’. And having that clean slate start with Rex Rebel is really fun and exciting; and in a completely different way, I think it is unrelated, and it has more to do with being 25 years into your career and just needing to mix things up and keep it fun and challenging for yourself. I don’t care what you are doing for 25 years, there is going to come a point where you are kind of like, ‘all right, that may have run its course’, or ‘I may have to do something extra on the side to keep that fun’. So, Rex Rebel had definitely, now with the pandemic of course it all came to a screeching halt, but Rex Rebel gave me the feeling that I was 20 years old again and starting a band, and all the excitement that comes with that, and with your best buddies and it is just about as good as it gets.

Esther: Wow, yeah, that’s awesome! Actually, there is another question I was going to ask you about your name, actually. For a lot of people, trans-people, their old name, they call it their ‘dead name’, right, and it is like they don’t relate to it anymore, some people don’t ever want to mention it again, which is absolutely fine, fair enough. But obviously you have been in the public eye a lot, you have gone through life as Sarah, especially with K’s Choice, and everything like that, how do you feel about the name Sarah now? What is your relationship with it?

Sam: Yeah for me, obviously like you said, there is no option, there is no dead name, it is all over {laughing} the place for eternity, so I never had that…I think not having that option, I am kind of, personality-wise, a person, I don’t dwell on things I can’t do anything about, so I think that automatically put me in a headspace of like: well that is not for me, I am going to be out from the get-go to everybody, and everybody is always going to see the pictures and the videos of before and see my old name. So I kind of quickly had to make peace with that and I don’t like it when I still get mail, for example, or emails, of people who don’t know, and that is… now, I am really kind of done with that, I am starting to want to take pictures down, family pictures, down from before and I am wanting to replace them. So I can feel those things kind of happening, but that aversion that some people have with their past, and their old name, I don’t feel that yet. I am mostly want to focus on looking forward and being grateful that I still have this opportunity to live my life the way I want to live it at this age, and that was a possibility for me. I want to focus on that more than the years that I wasn’t possible to do that, and I had such a great life as Sarah, as well, so I don’t want to dismiss that.

Esther: Yeah that is fair enough, it must be conflicting, but it sounds like you are finding your way in it somehow?

Sam: Yes so much of it is, but so is life for everybody, I think that a lot of things that I am going through as a transgender person, are so much broader than just the trans-ness of it…just living your true life, I have heard from many people who are not in the LGBT community, that they have been inspired just from me coming out and living my life the way I want to live it. Just not because they think they are trans, or they are gay, but also maybe [they are] in their thirties or forties and realising, ‘I am in something that I shouldn’t be in, I am doing something that is not me’. So much of it, and all these little things that come with coming out, or going through life as a trans-person, I think a lot of it translates into cisgender people’s lives as well, we are all constantly looking and searching and balancing, and with this whole pandemic, you know, we are all rethinking who we are and what we value. So I think a lot of the things that keep me busy during the day would have kept me busy as a cis-person as well.

Esther: Yeah, that makes sense because I feel like it is all about finding your identity, being at home in yourself, and feeling like you belong. I mean, I am cis, I like to call myself cis-queer now, which is something that I am playing with, yeah, even for myself, I am late forties now and I am like, wow, awareness is increasing and I feel like I am only just finding who I really am, and it is separate from even a gender journey, because, for me, that is not applicable in the same way. There is a lot of conditioning going on in society, and gender roles and all that stuff, so I do feel effected by that a lot, so it is interesting when you start to see all that for what it is.

Sam: Oh for sure, I think it is a great benefits of ageing, in stark contrast with all my bones that are starting to hurt, I think the realisation of what you really like, you are really starting to realise… and I see it in our older kids who are in their twenties, it is so interesting to watch, because they are so strong in their convictions (and I know I was in my twenties), I can just see it happen and I know it is going to happen to them, they are going to get to their late-twenties and early-thirties and they are going to do 180s on all kinds of subjects and live through things, and live through certain pains, and realise other people’s pain and develop empathy because they have gone through something. It is just so…I like that about being a little bit older that you have a little bit more compassion, and a little more compassion for yourself, and you see things just a little more clearly, because you have already lived some of your life and realised like ‘no that is not for me, I don’t need to surround myself with those kinds of people’, or, ‘I know what brings out the best in me’, ‘I know what makes me have a great day’, and those are like the little things that young people often look at us and think, ‘oh you are so set in your ways, you have got to have your little workout in the morning, the same breakfast every morning, and like dinner at six and like…’, and that’s, they look at that, and they think ‘that looks so boring!’. And for us, it is like, ‘no that’s what we have learned that this is how we like it!’.

Esther: That is so funny really, isn’t it?…totally. Speaking of family, how has your journey and your coming out, how has that effected your family and relationship?

Sam: It has been, like I said in the beginning, I am so lucky; I have two older step kids and I think it was pretty tough for them just because they knew me as their step mom, for their entire childhood, and then all of a sudden, ‘oh you are going to be a stepdad’. They struggled, because we lived in Tennessee, so they struggled with having lesbian parents and the stigma of that in a rural, kind of small, town. So I think for a second there we thought, ‘oh, now, the little kids, we have two nine-year olds, are going to have to go through that again, what we lived through’. So I think that was hard for them to feel the little kids’ pain, not realising that the [little] kids actually have actually experienced no pain at all. First of all, we are in California. Second, they are little and so everything is new for them, and I think they always saw this masculine side of me, and it just made total sense and it was like, ‘oh all right, so you are trans, does that mean we call you dad?’. ‘Yes’. ‘Oh great, all right, great! Do you want to go throw a football?’…

The little kids just did not care, there was a small moment where my daughter was wondering whether I would bond more with my son now, because now I was a boy and two boys maybe bond more than, but once I set her mind at ease about that, that was pretty much it. And they, unlike everybody else, never wavered, never got it wrong – the pronouns – from the get-go, they were just, I think little kids are not bogged down by, we never even planted the seed that people might look at them differently because they have a transparent, that didn’t even occur to them that might be possible, it just doesn’t matter to them. And then of course by the time they go to middle school, or peer pressure becomes a little higher, or something, a lot of people won’t even know that I a trans-person, and they will just look like they have a mom and a dad, just like everybody else, so I think for them, here in California, it is going to be so much easier than it was for our older kids, back in Tennessee.

And then my wife, my wife was great in the way that she gave me the time to figure it out, I think in the beginning, she struggled a little bit with how obsessed I was with it, which I totally understand, because I was looking at YouTube videos of other trans guys, and reading books, I could barely talk about anything else. She had this turning point where she realised: this had been ongoing, it started with more masculine clothing and the hair and then the binders and this is just your next step in the process, and you are just going to have to keep going until it doesn’t feel right anymore. All of a sudden she saw it as, not a decision I had to make, but, just a progression that I had been going on forever and it made sense to her and she had, my wife had, breast cancer two years ago and once you go through a journey like that you are so happy to be alive, and everyone is healthy, and she said, ‘you know you being trans, or not trans, is really so low on my list of things that are important to me, who cares? Who cares?’. She just kind of quickly, once I had figured it out, it was easy for her – because I don’t think she liked the doubting period very much and neither did I – but yeah, the actual decision of having to tell people was easy for her, she was like, ‘I really just don’t care. I think it is great, let’s go’.

Esther: Yeah, as you said in your Q and A with your wife (a vlog that I watched too), it was nice that you supported her through that and then she could support you through your journey, so it is kind of a balanced thing, I suppose?

Sam: Yeah, and being in love in the first year, is something that is so new, and fun, and something that maybe that feeling never comes back – those early butterflies – but, having longevity, and having lived through a few things together, is so irreplaceable and so special and yeah it really does make you stronger and closer. You know, now when we struggle with something, it is so easy to identify, because we have been together for 20 years, so we kind of know ‘oh we have got to be careful with this’, you know, this is like a, ‘we should talk about this, let’s figure it out’. There is such a comfort in knowing that the other person is always on your side, because you have lived through all those years, and you have seen that person be on your side, so it is a given, you never wonder.

Esther: Mm, that’s beautiful. I love it. I wanted to talk some more about one of your songs, another songs on your Rex Rebel album, the second song is called Body, I was listening to it earlier and it kind of made me tingle all over, I think it is just gorgeous. What is the story behind it? I am curious…

Sam: Yeah, it started off as more of a like, I guess a lighter song than it turned out to be, in the beginning it was an up-tempo song and it was just about: having a good time tonight, let’s not worry about anything. And then, it quickly turned into, we changed the tempo of the song, the melody was changed a little bit, and I changed the lyrics and it turned into more of a really general, you could interpret it as a trans-person, but also just in general for anybody: this is what you have, this is who you are, this is your body, the beauty is in the confidence that you exude, because it is you, so that is what makes it beautiful, because you are uniquely you, not like anybody else. And the prouder you are of that, and the more open you are about who you are, what you look like, and maybe even the struggles you have with it, the more beautiful it is, because that is what makes us all the same, in a way. It is such a bigger issue, and I know I definitely don’t address it all in that song but, to me, that is such an interesting subject. It used to be in teen magazines and now it is social media and now it has gotten so much worse, where I think young girls and boys just look at all these perfect people everywhere, having perfect lives, in perfect bodies, and that is just not…it is obviously not the world. You know, you just look at your ten best friends and it’s like, ‘oh no… they don’t have perfect bodies, so that is not the real world!’. Yeah and yet that is how it is presented, and I think that is such a big thing, confidence, it is a big thing with the kids, for us, have them be comfortable in who they are, what they like, their bodies, you know, just everything. That is who you are, that is exactly, uniquely, you and that is just the way it has to be, it doesn’t have to be any different. And that’s such a tough one, you know, because peer pressure is so big and our little kids are African-American, and we live in, it is kind of a white/Hispanic part of the world here in Southern California, there are not a lot of African Americans and so they already look a little bit different and so, for us, it is kind of a big emphasis on trying to make them proud of who they are, their heritage, what they look like, their bodies. We think and talk about it quite often, you know, that that is just the way you present yourself, who you are, it is all part of this confidence thing that I think is so important to instil in kids.

Esther: Absolutely yeah. So as a transgender person how do you feel about the body positivity movement? Do you feel it is inclusive enough, for one?

Sam: Can you kind of specify… inclusive in what way?

Esther: I am thinking about embracing and appreciating your body more for what it is, and not for what it should look like in cultural norms and all the social media and the perfection that you see around you and all that stuff, because the other day I saw a quote, it said ‘your body is the architecture of your every ancestor, no more looking for flaws, bow down’, and it is by Jaiya John, from a book I believe called, Daughter Drink This Water. And I thought: wow, that’s a really powerful statement and it makes you…it kind of made me stop in my tracks to be fair. You know what, it is not easy, nothing like this is easy, obviously, but as a cisgender person I am thinking, wow that is true and I want to, and we should, as a culture, and as a society, be more accepting of bodies and the diversity in that but for someone who is trans, it is not quite that simple.

Sam: Yeah, and it is actually, I think it is interesting, how, even between trans and cisgender I don’t think it is as clear cut as some people think it is. I even feel different about people having plastic surgery, just cisgender people, you know, whether it is their nose, or their breasts, or something else about their breasts or something else about their body that doesn’t feel right. I used to be more like, ‘that doesn’t seem necessary, you get what you get and you just kind of go with it’, and now I am feeling differently about that and I don’t think I only have the right to change something about my body, because I am transgender. I think there might be a grey area there, where the way you present to the world is important to you and there is something when you look in the mirror which everyday feels off, and of course there is a distinction, and that might not be a very clear line, but there is a distinction between people just going crazy overboard and keep trying to perfect their face and, you know, shrink away every little bit of fat, and tighten everything to where they don’t look like an actual person anymore. But I have gotten much less judgemental about people altering their bodies, because I actually think we have something in common.

I saw an interview, I don’t know if this ties in enough, but I saw an interview with Lady Gaga on the last film she did with Bradley Cooper. It was about her looking natural in the movie with natural hair and hardly any makeup and when she performs, or even if she is on a late night talk show or something, she is like Lady Gaga and it is very much makeup and very extravagant clothing, and all that stuff. And he was saying (I don’t remember who it was [interviewing]…), he was saying you know that she looked beautiful and a lot of people responded to that, that she looked so beautiful naturally. And she was like, ‘yeah, that’s great, but that is not how I see myself’. And that was so strong for me. And I feel that way about Dolly Parton, for example, I am sure she is naturally, as a young woman, she was naturally beautiful, but she had this image of herself, she wanted to present herself a certain way to the world, and that is her right, and that is beautiful as well. And that was so hard for me, even as a masculine lesbian, to explain to straight people. Where they would ask, ‘why do gay guys have to like flaunt it, why do they have to go so far?’. ‘Why do they have to wear the skimpy shorts and you know like a net t-shirt or something where you can see their skin?’ And I would have to explain, ‘for the same reason that I want to wear pants in the morning and not a skirt’. It is the same thing. It maybe easier for you to take, that I am just a masculine girl who wears T-shirts and jeans, instead of skirts and dresses, that is not that hard to look at, so for you it might be harder to look at the gay guy who is wearing, maybe heals even, and you know, tiny little shorts all tight around his body, for you that might be, but that is how he wakes up in the morning and wants to present himself to the world. So who are we, and who are you, to not validate that. So yes, to go back to your original question, yes be happy with what you are given, but, at the same time, I think we all have the right to present ourselves the way we feel inside and if that does not, if it makes us throughly unhappy where the outside doesn’t match the inside, I think we have the right to present ourselves the way we see ourselves.

Esther: Yeah, amen to that (I keep saying that a lot at the end of episodes). Wow, so what is next for you? I don’t known in your life, with your music? Is it obviously hard to predict with the current situation, but there you go.

Sam: Yeah there was a time here, in the last couple of months where I thought, ‘yeah I might as well just go back to firefighting or get into construction or something, because it doesn’t look like my career is going to go anywhere’. Now I think I have settled a bit into accepting what is happening and continue to write and really hope that we can set ourselves up as Rex Rebel, to be ready when things open up again so that we can pretend that year never happened, career-wise, and just pick up where we left off and hopefully get some of our momentum back. So we are writing, long distance writing is incredibly labour intensive, it takes us three weeks to write something between continents that would probably take us three hours if we were in person in a studio together, but it is all we have got, so we are doing that. Then I am writing country songs with a producer in Belgium as well. I am just going to keep writing, keep playing, so that I am ready when concert venues open. And yeah, just be good-to-go when the time comes that we can play again. I thought about going in a different, really kind of, if this goes on to the end of 2020/2021 and we really can’t play festivals or anything then I have really got to come up with something. But at the same time, one of the things the pandemic is making me see, this is what I want to do, I want to play in front of people, I want to make music, so I am going to keep trying to get through this time and setting myself up to be ready when the time is right.

Esther: Cool, well I hope you come to the UK sometime, so I can come to your gig!

Sam: Oh me too, me too! That would be great!

Esther: Yeah, because I found the other day, I think I was mentioning it to you, I found a ticket, a gig ticket, because I keep all my tickets, I have got all my stubs in an album, and I found a ticket from a K’s Choice gig from 1999, so I was like: yay!

Sam: Oh wow that is cool, I love that! I was just going to mention we released a cover of George Michael’s Freedom last week, and we are so happy with that version and we have a dream that that is the song that is going to break us into the UK, and maybe into the States, and just kind of reintroduce a song that maybe a new generation doesn’t know anymore, or doesn’t know that well and still to us it sounds very Rex Rebel, so that is kind of the hope that that song will help us get into the next level or something.

Esther: Yeah! Is there anything else for K’s Choice as well or not really?

Sam: Nothing in the way in that we… we haven’t actively started writing. We celebrated our 25 years and that was such, it really kind of capped off a time. And then yeah, it has been kind of tough, although my brother and I talk all the time and we talk about what we want to do next, and we definitely want to continue working together, it is hard to find an environment in which K’s Choice can still be creatively interesting to us. So I think if we wanted to we could go play – over the next five years – festivals, and people would be happy with us playing the old songs and I think the crowd would probably like that but, for us, as artists, we want to make things, that’s what we do, that’s what makes us happy and makes us feel productive. And when it comes to K’s Choice it is really hard to find the right path, because the type of music that K’s Choice is, is just, you know…  I know we still have fans, but it is not the music that young people are listening to – rock n roll is kind of dying a little bit of a slow, or maybe not so slow, death. And so to keep the idea of K’s Choice going, and to go in a different direction, is also something that we are not on the same page about. So, we struggle with figuring out, ‘but what then?, if we do make another record what kind of record? what would that look like?’. And now I feel we have been talking about it so much that maybe the answer is in the indecision, so I don’t know, I really don’t know, I just know I still want to do things with him. And it is always, I think we add something to each other, and something special happens when we are together, so it is definitely not the end of K’s Choice but we struggle to… of course Rex Rebel needs some space to grow, and that is also part of it, but we need to figure it out what the next step would be for K’s Choice, but we haven’t done it yet.

Esther: Oh well, we will have to wait and see then, I guess!

Sam: Yes!

Esther: Brilliant! Is there anything you would like to share, as we wrap up? Is there anything that we haven’t talked about, or you haven’t said that you would like to add?

Sam: Let me think, I think we covered a lot of topics. I think one important thing that I always –  and we touched on it – that I want people to take away, is that yes we are all individuals, and everyone has their different story, but I dream of LGBTQIA+ being one, being a community that supports each other, and celebrates the things that we have in common, and celebrates our differences, and sees the differences and acknowledges them, but even within the transgender guy community there is different factions, or those who think that surgery is necessary, and those who don’t… I mean just focussing on, there is so much polarisation in the world right now, and especially in America, politically, that this is really a part of my life where I wish that people would just come together and say, ‘yeah we are all a little bit different from the norm – it turns out that most of us are a little bit different from the norm – so let’s make that the theme and not what sets us apart’.

Esther: Yeah for sure, yeah. Wow, thank you so much for talking to me and taking the time to talk to me about all this.

Sam: It was my pleasure, I really enjoyed it!

About Sam

Sam Bettens is a musician and lead vocalist of the Belgian band K’s Choice, and also of new Belgian electropop band Rex Rebel.

Sam and his brother Gert started K’s Choice in 1992. Their big break came in 1995, when they released ‘Not An Addict’, a single that was very successful and brought international fame. They headlined European festivals such as Pinkpop, Rock am Ring and Roskilde, and toured throughout the US as headliner and support for Alanis Morissette, Indigo Girls and co-headlined tours with Skunk Anansie and Garbage.

You can find out more about Sam on kschoice.com and rexrebel.com, as well as on his YouTube channel, where he has been documenting his transition journey. On Facebook you can find @kschoice and @rexrebelmusic, plus the Sam Bettens Fanpage.

What we discussed

  • Rex Rebel songs ‘Low’, ‘Body’ and ‘Freedom’ [listen below or on Spotify]
  • Quote: “Your body is the architecture of your every ancestor. No more looking for flaws. Bow down.” Jaiya John, Daughter Drink This Water
  • Lady Gaga and Dolly Parton

Rex Rebel – ‘Freedom’ (new single)

Rex Rebel – ‘Low’ (from the album ‘Run’)

Rex Rebel – ‘Body’ (from the album ‘Run’)

Wanna hear more?