Para who became a woman

LOOKING at Jan Hamilton in skinny jeans, knee-high boots, tight top showing just the right amount of cleavage, you'd have no idea of the lengths to which this woman has gone ... to literally become the woman she is today.

The size 10, attractive 43-year-old used to be a rugged, macho, 16-stone paratrooper.

A snapshot of Jan as she was – as Captain Ian Hamilton – shows a tanned, muscular, well-built masculine figure in combat fatigues.

The decorated officer served in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, but started the process just over a year ago to become a woman after decades of turmoil, convinced that he should have been born a woman.

Jan, who now lives in Lytham, was the first officer and paratrooper in the history of the British Armed Forces to undergo a sex-change operation.

It was not a decision Jan, who tonight tells her incredible story in a Channel 4 Cutting Edge documentary "Sex Change Soldier", took lightly.

"I grew up in a small village in North East Scotland and my daddy was not happy that I liked girlie things. I was sent to boarding-school, one for boys, when I was 10. When there were school productions and female roles, I was always happy to play them. But I ended up being abused.

"My dad was quite violent towards me growing up and I realised that violence and being macho could get you things as a man. "My role models were guys like John Wayne and after watching A Bridge Too Far in which Sean Connery stars as a paratrooper, I remember thinking that if I was like that, I would be a man.

"So I went off and joined the Army, but then I suffered a mental breakdown."

Jan, or Ian she she was then known, started working in the media and took a number of courses, before – at 35 – going back to the Army.

Ian was stationed in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan and while in hospital after being caught up in a road-side bomb, caught a serious secondary infection –and was treated in Blackpool.

He was due to take up a post as head of media relations in Gibraltar, but made the tough decision to change gender and informed bosses.

Jan says the Army ordered her to report for a medical, as a male officer, and when she refused, the job offer was withdrawn.

Losing out on the the job was not the biggest loss suffered. "My family disowned me. My mother sent me five suitcases of things to do with me, photos of me and so on. I was told never to have contact with them again. An Army officer told me I had gone from hero to zero in one day.

"I got married in 1995, when I was 31. I loved my wife very much, I still do. But she wanted a man. Sexual relations were very difficult and we ended up in separate rooms. We divorced two years ago. We are still in touch and I hope she finds happiness. I never told her how I felt until I made my decision. I never told anyone.

"I genuinely thought there was something so very wrong with me, that I must be cursed, evil."

It also cost her financially."I had no money, no job. I was racking up legal costs and cost of the surgery, that’s why I started selling my story and doing media work.”

There was more pain to come as Jan embarked on the incredible journey from man to woman.

“I moved from being a 16st paratrooper to 10st. I was a physical training instructor in the Army and dietitian, but it took hard work.

“The hormones helped with the muscle loss, but it meant going for long runs at low intensity, core work and pilates to be toned. I have to watch what I eat and even count the calories in a cup of coffee.”

Jan opted for feminising surgery in Thailand, where doctors have the most expertise in the procedure,and her transformation was completed in February this year.

She also had facial surgery which opened up her brow, narrowed her nose and gave her eyes an almond shape.

After her last operation to complete the gender reassignment, Jan hit a real low point.

“I was in hospital for days and when I came out ,I still couldn’t do anything. I was on a cocktail of drugs, my hormones all over the place, I was half-way round the world on my own, in such physical pain I wanted to kill myself. I took an overdose, but was treated in hospital.”

Since coming back to the UK on February 28, Jan has settled into her new life as a woman.

She said: “People look at me and think I am a 43-year-old woman, but I am really a few weeks old. It’s an exciting voyage of discovery.

“I am happy with my life. It’s very different now, but it’s interesting that I have a male and female perspective on things. In some ways, it’s hard being a woman and trying to get on.

“When you’re a guy, in meetings and so on, you just tell people you want something done and want it done now. But women are more evaluated on their physical attractiveness.

“I am not so ambitious any more. One of the biggest changes is not being bothered about being a managing director or whatever. As a woman, I relate to people more and love going out with my friends, my girlfriends – it’s wonderful. Sometimes I wish Ian was around to sort something, but I am happy.

“I would love to adopt children one day. I have joined dating websites and am open and honest about me and my story.

“I understand men and know what’s going on in their heads. Women are better at empathising about my situation and are curious, whereas some men see it as a slight on their masculinity.

“I would like to carry on with my media career and am very busy doing TV shows and other projects. I want to get the message across that transgender people are not transvestites, we are not Funny Girls.

“That was the idea behind the Channel 4 documentary. I want other people to understand the sacrifices people like me make to go through this. It is not a pleasant experience.

“The pain, the costs – physically and emotionally – I have lost everything in my life. I have been spat at and abused. We live in a democracy and people are entitled to free speech. But what those people don’t realise is, I fought for them to have that right, I have fought for democracy and I would like to think I deserve a bit of respect.

“People can and should still treat us like human beings. I didn’t choose this. What happened to me was an accident of birth.”

“I wake up each morning and think how amazing things are. I still have the same problems as other people but now I am building my new life.

“And instead of building it on sand, I am building it on concrete foundations.”

emma.harris@blackpoolgazette.co.uk