I was determined not to blow my chance at love, but what lengths would I have to go to, to keep my man?
By India Hayes, 50, Wirral, Merseyside
Smoothing my skirt over my slim hips I looked in the mirror and smiled. Pouting at my reflection, I reapplied a slick of lipgloss.
I loved taking the time to make the most of my appearance but it hadn’t always been this way.
Born a little boy, Ian, I could never shake the feeling I’d been born in the wrong body.
I dressed differently to my mates and while they would be careering around getting into fights and scrapes you’d be more likely to find me admiring the azaleas.
‘You don’t like getting your hands dirty, do you son?’ my dad would joke with me. ‘Your sister should have been the boy and you should have been the girl.’
You should have been a girl…
The thought whirred through my mind constantly. Dad had only been joking but I couldn’t stop thinking he was right. I should have been a girl. I was a girl. The only problem was… how?
Confused and desperate to fit in, I did everything I could to keep my sex change secret from the world.
I enrolled onto an engineering course at college and took a job as a welder. The work was all smoke and grease and bloke talk. Not my cup of tea but still, my secret was safe.
But inevitably, still a virgin at 20, people began to ask questions. ‘Call me old-fashioned but I haven’t been brought up to sleep around,’ I shrugged. ‘I want to fall in love and get married first.’
I wasn’t convinced that line was going to cut it at the welding plant but in time, I met a lovely girl, my first girlfriend, and we got married.
I loved her and for a while, things were good. But eventually, inevitably, our marriage petered out. I carried on living like a normal, heterosexual man, even going on to marry twice more.
But nothing could silence the voice in my head… you should have been born a girl.
By the time I was married to my third wife, I tentatively began to explore what I was going through.
I was amazed to discover that there were lots of people out there who felt the same as me, and plenty who had gone through the drastic change.
It was a huge weight off my mind to know that I wasn’t alone and I even began to contemplate confiding in my wife.
But it was too late for that. I’d left my laptop open and she’d gone through my internet history and stumbled across everything I’d searched on about how to become a woman.
‘What the hell is going?’ she screamed at me as I walked in. My jaw dropped as I clocked my laptop in her hand. The game was up.
Her reaction was even stronger than I’d anticipated. ‘Get out!’ she yelled, kicked and punching me as she pushed me towards the door. ‘I don’t want to hear it, just go!’
She wouldn’t even let me explain. Not that I had any excuses, it was the truth.
I spent that night in the family car. Even my kids didn’t want to know me. I was devastated to have lost my family but finally I could begin living life as me… the real me.
‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ my GP asked gently when I made an appointment to discuss the process.
I’d never been more sure of anything in my life and after a series of consultations with my doctor and the hospital, I decided to undergo gender reassignment, and the first of many operations.
First up I had breast surgery, then sex reassignment surgery, rhinoplasty, my jaw realigned, a chin implant and brow lift.
I’d been saving for years and I’d wondered many times if it would be worth the huge £50,000 price tag.
But as soon as the swelling went down and I got to see myself properly as a woman for the very first time, I knew it was worth every single penny.
I barely recognised myself, but I loved the feminine reflection staring back at me in the mirror. Ian Neville Hayes wasn’t going to be appropriate any more – it was time for a new identity to match my new body.
After some research, I came up with ‘India’. I felt like a teenager again. I was filled with excitement and couldn’t wait to start my new life.
I met a group of girls who helped me dress and apply my make-up properly and we started to hit the bars. I was so nervous the first time I went out, but I needn’t have been.
There was no shortage of guys offering to buy me a drink and all of them were clueless I’d been born a man.
On my first night out as India, I was chatted up by a policeman. He was driving me home when I casually mentioned that I’d been born ‘Ian.’
‘You what?’ he spat, as the car juddered to a halt. He just glared at me before chucking me out of the car.
As I plodded home that night I considered that might not have been the best strategy. It didn’t take me long to realise most guys would go ballistic when they found out the truth about my past.
I was thrilled when blokes chatted me up but would I ever find what I really wanted… love?
I’d almost given up on love and was about to cancel my online dating profile, when a message flashed up in my account.
Pete seemed warm and friendly – and different from all the other guys who had contacted me online.
We chatted for hours and although my profile listed me as transsexual, as time went on, it became obvious Pete hadn’t read it.
‘Fancy meeting in DFS?’ He asked. ‘I need a new sofa.’
It certainly wasn’t my idea of a romantic first date but Pete was down to earth and I liked that.
The date was a roaring success. We got on so well, we hardly had a chance to look at the sofas.
‘You’re such a perfect couple,’ the saleswoman who served us smiled.
Pete was a real gentleman, always holding the door for me and helping me out of the car. It felt wonderful to be treated like a lady.
Our next date was more conventional, at a bar, but no less enjoyable. By the fourth date I was falling for Pete and I think he felt the same.
But then my sex change secret flashed to the forefront of my mind. I had to tell him. I’d got Pete hooked, now I had to drop the bombshell.
For our fifth date we agreed to spend a weekend with a couple we knew. Pete organised a hotel room for the two of us.
‘Sounds lovely,’ I told him as Pete explained his plans. We hadn’t even kissed but I knew what this weekend would mean for us.
One room, one bed… I was excited, but terrified. I was falling in love with Pete but now I had to tell him the truth and I couldn’t bear to lose him.
After champagne at the bar we went back to our room, and I blurted it out.
‘Pete, I’m a transexual!’ I announced. Pete’s face was a picture. ‘What’s that?’ he replied innocently. I couldn’t help but smile, he was so sweet.
But my worst fears were confirmed. He hadn’t read my dating profile carefully – he had no idea I’d been born a man. Now I had to confess. Would he run a mile like all the others?
Pete listened intently as I explained all the procedures I’d undergone. But he still seemed perplexed at the end.
‘Well you look like a woman, so you must be a woman,’ he shrugged matter-of-factly afterwards. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I thought Pete would do a runner like all the others or, worse, feel like I’d purposefully tricked him.
Instead, after joining our friends for dinner, that night we consummated our relationship. Just months later, Pete got down on one knee and proposed.
Now, I often wonder what would have happened if I’d been honest with Pete about ‘Ian’ from the start. Would he have bolted and not given our love a chance?
I think this time, a little lie saved the day – and my marriage.
Pete says: “All I noticed on India’s dating profile was a set of really hot pictures. She was just my type, a leggy blond. When she told me she was a transsexual I was in shock. I couldn’t speak for a few minutes. I’m a straight guy, and I was expecting her to have meat and two veg, which I wouldn’t have been able to deal with. But when I saw her with her clothes off, all I could see was a beautiful woman. By the time she told me, I was already hooked. I was in love with her just from her pictures to be honest.”