My boyfriend Drew comes from a very close family and I'm pretty sure no woman would ever have been quite good enough for him in their eyes. If they were to ever find out the truth about me I hate to think what would happen.
So I had mixed feelings when I heard his mother discussing me at a family party "Ali's very pretty and has lovely manners, " she said approvingly and I smiled to myself. "I just wish she and Drew would think about getting married or having a baby" and I could feel my smile fading.
There's no way Drew and I can get married because I was actually born a man, which rules out a baby as well, but we can never tell his parents the truth.
I always knew I was female in a male body, long before I was even old enough to articulate that. I'm tall, slim and blonde and ever since I was very young I could easily pass for female, moreover I feel so much more comfortable as a female – it’s natural for me.
When I reached puberty I grew very little facial hair and had very few physical changes which made me seem even more androgynous.
My dad's a big masculine farmer and my mum's very elegant and feminine, but strangely enough it was my dad who was more understanding when I blurted out my feelings to them when I was 16.
I have an older sister and younger brother who are totally normal, if there is such a thing, but I knew I was in the wrong body. I went to our doctor who surprised me by knowing a lot about gender identity disorder and he referred me for a psychological evaluation.
That was nerve wracking because I couldn't help but feel my future was in her hands and I was very worried about answering questions wrongly and being turned down for a sex change.
Decisions over something this major don't happen overnight and I found my psychologist very approachable.
I was given hormone replacement therapy which made my skin much softer and stopped all my facial hair. I also grew a tiny chest which I was very pleased about as I didn't fancy surgery but I knew that to be a proper woman I would have to face sex reassignment surgery at some point.
When I left home and went to university over 300 kilometres away for the first time in my life I lived as a woman, although I hadn't yet had the operation. I filled in all my forms as female - my name’s Jamie so I didn’t need to worry about changing that part of my identity.
After I finished my second year I went for the operation at a hospital near my parents, planning to recuperate with them. When I woke up I knew something was wrong as all my family were by my bed, clearly exhausted and distraught.
I found out later that during the operation my lungs had collapsed and then my heart stopped so the surgery hadn't continued as all efforts were concentrated on saving my life.
I had to take a year out of university to recover and was absolutely shattered to realise that my dream of being a complete woman looked unlikely ever to happen.
After a lot of support and counselling I completed my degree and shortly afterwards I met Drew. He's not gay and he fell in love with me as a woman but admitting the truth to him was horrendous and at first he really struggled to come to terms with it.
We've been together for over six years and where we live no-one knows the truth, we just look like any other happy, loving, mixed-sex couple.
I work in fashion and have even worked as a model. I do feel that I betray my closest friends by not being totally honest, but for the sake of my relationship with Drew I can't risk even a whisper of this getting out.
I'm still very close to my family and Drew comes with me to see them. But I felt I had to drop all my friends back home. My parents don't understand why we cannot be open with our closest friends, but Drew's parents live near us and he says they would never, ever understand and it would ruin his relationship with them.
When we see Drew's family his mother drops a lot of hints about being a grandmother, which makes us both very uncomfortable.
I get very paranoid about hiding my body and going swimming or wearing very fitting clothes makes me sick with nerves but although I'm very slim and wear special tight underwear I can't relax.
Sometimes I would give anything just to be myself and I have moments when I wonder if I should risk the operation again but I'm scared I might die this time. All I want is to live with the man I love and be the woman he loves, but it's never going to be straightforward.
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