Sam Kane pulls up outside her £3 million (NZ$5.37) London mews house in a top-of-the-range red Mercedes, looking every inch the successful, mature career woman.

An international lawyer, she is wearing a black suit and white blouse with delicate lace detailing. Her greying blonde hair falls in soft waves around her face.

Discreet gold earrings hang from her ears. On her wrist is a Cartier watch. A diamond engagement ring comprising five stones sits on the third finger of her left hand, according to Daily Mail.
"The fiancé went long ago," she says, adding with a slightly wicked smile, "but I kept the ring." Aged 57, she is happy to be single. She is a very different woman from her sexy younger self, Samantha.

As a 30-something interior designer she was into glamour, high heels, cocktails, shopping, long gossipy lunches, partying with the jet-set in Monaco and handsome boyfriends.

Advertisement

"I'm not the old Samantha who spent all day in Harrods and piled into a taxi loaded with shopping bags," says Sam.

"Today, I'm a modern, professional career woman. I expect to be treated as an equal by men, in a way that perhaps wasn't possible for me 20 years ago.

"I'm a female who can take on any man and compete, rather than just be frilly and confined by all the glamour and nice clothes, which gets a bit boring in the end." But there's an unusual dimension to Sam's metamorphosis.

For Sam was a 36-year-old multi-millionaire businessman, divorced from wife Trudi, and a father-of-two when he first became a she.

Long confused over his gender - with feminine leanings suppressed since childhood - it was the breakdown of his marriage in 1992 that forced Sam to re-evaluate.

Believing life as a woman would finally resolve all those conflicted feelings, Sam spent £100,000 ($179,046) on private gender re-assignment surgery in 1997 to transition into Samantha, during which male organs were removed and female genitalia re-fashioned.

She had breast implants, a nose job, tooth veneers and an operation to remove her Adam's apple and tighten her vocal chords, to feminise Sam's appearance and voice.

At first she was thrilled with her transformation, but seven years later, Samantha made the shocking public declaration that life as a woman was disappointing and "shallow".

Going shopping was boring, female conversation dull, hormones made her moody. The sex wasn't much good. Men didn't take her seriously as a businesswoman and privately mocked her for not being a "real woman".

So, in 2004, Sam spent thousands more to reverse the sex change operation, having decided she had made a terrible mistake and life was better as man.

Breast implants were removed, male genitalia re-created by surgeons, testosterone gel replaced oestrogen patches, and a new male identity - this time as Charles Kane - was born. I last met Charles almost seven years ago.

At the time engaged to a beautiful 28-year-old woman called Victoria, Charles insisted he'd been "deluded" to ever think he was a woman trapped in a man's body. Victoria called him "all man".

So whatever happened? Man to woman, back to a man and now a woman again?

Even Sam agrees it all sounds as if she changes gender as casually as one of her many jackets.

But in truth, the journey has been tortuous.

"I feel as if I made a trip to Venus, but was unable to return to Mars again, and landed on a nearby planet, as neither man nor woman," she says.

"The reversal operation did not return me to the man I once was, just an approximation.

"With the exception of Victoria, I was rejected by both men and women. The original surgery was effectively irreversible. You can't turn back into a man because whatever defines the male has been completely removed, so how can you bring it back?

"I discovered to my detriment that there is only so far medical science can go.

"As Charles, I still sometimes wanted to wear a blouse or a pretty ring, and wear my hair long.

"Having become Samantha, I should have stayed Samantha. When I told Victoria how I was feeling, it effectively ended the relationship.

"She said she preferred men and did not want to live with a woman, but we are still friends."

Last month, Sam registered her new name - Sam Kane - with the Bar Council.

She is undecided about further surgery. She is not sure she needs it.

"I don't need another operation to feel that I am a woman," she says. "Does it really matter what's "down there?" What's in your head, heart and soul only matters."

Believing her astonishing story deserves an update, Sam has invited me to meet her. She also wants to reply to veteran broadcaster Jenni Murray who recently opened a hornet's nest of controversy by asking if transgenders can ever be 'real' women.

Writing in the Sunday Times, the Radio 4 presenter asked: "Can someone who has lived as a man, with all the privilege that entails, really lay claim to womanhood by taking hormones, maybe having surgery, and simply choosing to become a woman?"

But Sam counters: "Not only am I a real woman; I would go even further to say that a transgender woman has more claim to womanhood that a 'biological' woman.

"A transgender woman has reached womanhood by the arduous path of achievement rather than by accident of nature. Those who climb Mount Everest have a greater claim to winning that peak than someone accidentally dropped there by helicopter."

Sam's trek to the summit couldn't have been more circuitous. Nor the sacrifices greater. The suffering was very real. Who would choose such a path if not a woman?

Born in Iraq, Sam Hashimi, who studied engineering after he left school, moved to Britain as a young man in the Seventies.

Back then, he was the very study of a successful alpha male. He headed the investment arm of a Saudi-based company, made millions developing property and even launched an unsuccessful takeover bid for Sheffield United football club.

"Born male into a very traditional society, with fixed notions on what constituted masculinity and femininity, I always felt I had to play the part society expected of me," Sam says.

"The fast cars, the yachts, the competition to have the prettiest or the youngest girlfriends - it was all a theatre, a charade to fit into this male club I never really wanted to join.

"From childhood I felt female, but I was ambitious and the two were always in conflict, so I became almost a caricature of what a 'real' man is expected to be."

Sam married British woman Trudi in 1984 and they had a daughter and son, now aged 32 and 31, but the relationship ended after 12 years when the children were still young.

During the marriage, Sam admits, he had a couple of affairs. His wife left him and the divorce was acrimonious - for many years he was unhappily estranged from his children.

The transition from Sam Hashimi to Samantha came at a time of personal crisis and breakdown. Attracted to both men and women, Sam first thought himself bisexual then started to question gender identity.

"I met people at transsexual clubs who kept saying how fantastic it was to be a woman and how happy they were, and I thought it would be the solution to all my problems," says Sam.

"I still believe that my first sex reassignment surgery happened too soon, and I should have been given the appropriate time before embarking on such drastic action.

"If I'd known then what I know now, I am not sure I would have gone ahead with it. All surgery can ever do is create an approximation, and I have paid a very high price for that decision.

"The first my parents knew of it was when they phoned me, heard my higher-pitched voice, and said: 'What's wrong with you?'

"When I told them I was transitioning into a woman, it greatly upset them.

"After my main surgery, I went to see them for a holiday in Jordan. It was a shock when they saw me as Samantha for the first time, because they didn't recognise me.

"They tried to understand and accept that it was something I had no choice over."

Sam says it is true that her life as Samantha quickly became worse once the novelty wore off.

Life as a woman is hard work, she says, and much easier as a man.

"The transition was very successful. I was seen as brave and glamorous.

"Like many transgender women, I tried to turn myself into an ultra-feminine, perfect woman.

"I was trying to live up to the feminine ideal, so I wore sexy clothes and make-up.

"I learned how to walk and talk a certain way. I just wanted to be accepted.

"Just as Sam Hashimi had been 100 per cent male, Samantha had to be 100 per cent female, but in the end I felt confined by a different set of expectations. Today, it is easier. Gender boundaries are not so defined. Biological women can adopt masculine attributes, lower their voices, without having to be men.

"I can bring attributes from my male past into my female present. There is nothing wrong with that."

Sam says her decision to transition back to male, was triggered by a desire for acceptance from her family in the Middle East and also from her estranged children.

"My brother was very much in favour of the reversal operation. He is a retired colonel in the Iraqi Army.

"He wanted his brother back. He said people would respect me more as a man. He told me: 'Your children can't call you Mum, you are their father.'

"In my parents' eyes it was a good thing to reverse back to the gender I was born, but I didn't fully realise just how irreversible the original surgery was.

"When people come to me for advice, I tell them to think very carefully.

"My view is, as long as you feel like a woman, that is what you are. You don't need to have an operation, you don't need anything."

Interestingly, Sam says that her reversal back to being a man was more challenging socially.

"Charles Kane did not really serve me in any way. People were less accepting of him than Samantha,' says Sam, whose parents died soon after the reversal back to being a man.

"People just thought me odd because I didn't want to give up my feminine features, my style, the way I dressed or acted.

"Sometimes, I still wanted to wear a blouse or a pretty ring.

"My profession is very conservative. Many of my international clients cannot accept a male who is feminine. They were confused. It became very difficult.

"Like a beach ball being forced under the water, my core identity as a female kept forcing itself to the surface."

Sam's decision to transition into a woman for the second time crystallised after attending the wedding of her 31-year-old son in Malta in 2013.

Aged 57, Sam is happy to be single. She is a very different woman from her sexy younger self, Samantha. Photo / Charles Kane Facebook
Aged 57, Sam is happy to be single. She is a very different woman from her sexy younger self, Samantha. Photo / Charles Kane Facebook

"It was the first time we'd been reunited as a family since 1992 and the divorce. It was very emotional," says Sam.

"The last time my ex-wife saw me, I was an alpha male with a moustache and a sports car. I hardly knew my daughter, because we'd lost touch over the years.

"It was very civilised. Everyone was very welcoming and no one said anything unpleasant, but I felt like an embarrassment and it hurt. People would ask my son: "Is this your father?" and I suppose some people must have thought me odd.

"I looked unusual with my long hair and feminised appearance.

"My son insists he isn't embarrassed by me, whatever my gender.

"He recently told me: 'Dad, I'd love you if you were a man or a woman.'"

Encouraged by this unconditional love, Sam made the astonishing decision to have a third sex change - becoming a woman again.

"Many people said to me: "If you change back, no one will ever take you seriously again." There were all these warnings, but this is not a choice.

"Do you think I would have gone through all this suffering and sacrifice if there wasn't something inside so strong telling me I am woman?

"The whole notion that a transgender woman is not a real woman is false.

"We are not talking about castrated males, or gay men in drag, we are not fakes."

Sam adds: "Nowadays you can enter your chosen gender in your birth certificate.

"By law, transgender women are considered real women, so to suggest otherwise is not only a backward step but illegal.

"I've had people look at me with that 'Ooh, you don't fool me, I know what you really are' look on their face.

"I've had taxi drivers make a point of calling me "Sir". I am made to carry my own bags.

"Eighteen months ago I was at a French hospital, waiting to be treated for an injured hand, when a man pointed to me and said: 'Is that a real woman?'

"The next thing I knew, a fist was flying through the air and I ended up with a broken nose.

"Is that the kind of intolerant society we want to live in?

"I am a real woman. Of course there are regrets about the course I have taken.

"If I had a magic wand, I'd choose to have been born a biological female, but I am a woman just the same."