On the phone, Leanne Mills’s voice is gentle and could never be mistaken for a man’s. When she opens the front door of her neat house in a quiet English village, I am greeted by a trim blonde with feminine hands and a perfect complexion.
Yet a few minutes later, as she serves coffee in her sitting room, Leanne says with feeling: ‘I can never be a woman. I was born male and it has taken me years to accept the truth that I am biologically still a man, whatever female hormones I swallow and whatever bits have been cut off me.
‘Today it’s trendy to be trans, especially among the young. I want to warn them that a man can never become a real woman, or vice versa. They are being oversold an impossible dream. They are being tricked.’
Leanne Mills is a transsexual who, at age 34, had sex reassignment surgery
Leanne speaks with emotion. She is a transsexual who, at 34, had sex reassignment surgery — as it was then called — on the NHS at a clinic in Hove, East Sussex, after years of dressing sometimes as a man and sometimes as a woman. She is now 57 and says that, since then, she has lived in a twilight world where — despite being bright and having passed the 11-plus — she has had only a string of dead-end jobs, has never found the love she craves, and remains to this day (as male or female) a virgin.
Although she says she doesn’t regret having had surgery herself — what else, she reasons, could she have done? — she advises others not to rush into it.
Born a boy and called Lee Antony, she began to feel she was in the wrong body at the age of four, when she tried on a Native American woman’s costume at a children’s dressing up party because ‘it made me feel like one of the girls’. At seven, she was being bullied at her all-boys primary school because she appeared so feminine and loathed football and playground rough-and-tumble.
By her early teens, she was secretly rooting through the wardrobe of her mother, Mavis, trying on her clothes.
‘I hated my male self and couldn’t even look at my body naked in the mirror,’ she says. ‘Dressing as a woman made me feel happy.’
By her 17th birthday in January 1978, her ‘girly feelings’ were overwhelming. It was a day she will never forget. She blurted out to her astonished parents that she didn’t want to be a boy any more.
Leanne, pictured as boy Lee 11, is now aged 57 and says since her she says that since her surgery she has lived in a ‘twilight world’ and had a string of dead-end jobs
At the family’s dormer bungalow in Nottinghamshire, first came the tears, then profound shock.
Her father Geoff, a police officer and former traffic warden, put his arm around his then teenage son and said: ‘Oh Lee, all the doctors can do for you is cut it off.’
Today, of course, these sound like harsh words. But Leanne says: ‘I realise now my father was right. He knew, as I do, that I could never become a biological girl. I am only a facsimile of a woman.’
Leanne — then still Lee, of course — buried her head in those delicate hands and wept at her father’s pronouncement. The teenager had learnt about transsexualism — a term coined only a decade or two before — from a Seventies book by a U.S. psychiatrist that was on her parents’ shelves. It was called Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask) and contained a short reference to transsexuals.
To the horror of her distraught parents, Leanne then threatened to commit suicide if she couldn’t become a girl. Her determination to change sex marked the start of a rift with her parents that lasted, on and off, until they died.
‘I have seen my family torn asunder, friends turning away and my hopes of ever finding love dashed,’ she says. ‘I have been denied children and, therefore, grandchildren — the important relationships that other women enjoy at my time of life.
‘I want to warn others of the reality of being a transsexual, and the tragedies it can bring.’
Leanne is speaking out now to ‘warn others of the reality of being a transsexual’. She is pictured as a boy aged 3
Leanne is speaking out now and is in a unique position to do so. At 19, having moved away from home and living on benefits in a friend’s flat in Birmingham, she was chosen to star in a groundbreaking TV film called What Am I?, which explored the then new phenomenon of transsexualism. It was aired again recently and, by chance, she saw it.
The film, made in 1980, shows her experimenting with wearing skirts bought from a charity shop, and walking elegantly down the street in a woman’s mac and high heels.
Tall, wafer-thin and pretty, with long hair, she talks about her hopes for the future. She is also filmed with a doctor, discussing her chances of getting sex reassignment surgery and her plans to live the rest of her life as a woman.
‘I guess I must have been the first “trans” teenager to speak publicly,’ she says. ‘But knowing what I know today, watching the young me starting out on my long road made me feel profoundly sad.’
Leanne wrote a moving letter to the Mail recently in which she voiced her concerns over the proposed Gender Recognition Bill, which is under scrutiny by the Government and is backed by trans activists as well as by Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee.
The Bill would make it easier for transgender people to ‘self-identify’ and, therefore, live as the opposite sex to the one they were born into.
The Equalities Committee says it is key to trans people being ‘treated equally and fairly’. Under the plan, adults will be able to change their birth certificates without a doctor’s diagnosis, while non-binary gender people — those unwilling to identify as female or male — will be able to record their gender as ‘X’.
It means there will be no medical assessment necessary to legally become the opposite gender.
Under current laws, anyone who wishes to transition must apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate. This requires a doctor’s diagnosis of gender dysphoria — where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.
It means lots of form-filling and the certificate is granted only if the person applying for it has lived in their chosen sex for two years. In the UK, only 5,000 people have managed to obtain one in a process hampered by red tape.
Yet the Equalities Committee estimates that there are now between 200,000 and 500,000 trans people living in the UK (compared with only about 1,000 in 1980) and waiting times for treatment at gender identity clinics, particularly among under-18s — some aged just 11 and 12 — have grown hugely.
Meanwhile, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights charity Stonewall says 41 per cent of trans men and women have experienced a hate crime or incident in the past 12 months.
A quarter have been homeless at some point in their lives, and many, even today, avoid being open about their chosen gender identity because of a negative reaction from families and friends.
But Leanne warns that the proposed Bill, with its new legal entitlements, is unlikely to be a ‘magic wand’ bringing public acceptance of trans people.
‘Trans success stories are widely publicised, yet failures seldom are,’ she wrote in her letter to the Mail. ‘I have the gravest concern regarding the implications of the Government’s proposed trans self-identification Bill and its effect on confused young people.
‘Today’s rather reckless and, if I may say, irresponsible “trendy to be trans” culture (which social media helps to promote) is pushing many of them towards making life-changing and irreversible surgical decisions.
‘I cannot stress enough that it is absolutely essential to have in place medical checks and adequate preparation (which the Bill seeks to remove) before “crossing over”. What if he or she discovers too late that they are not trans after all but, in fact, gay, a cross-dresser or asexual?’
She added: ‘I once had high hopes of realising my teenage dream when I left hospital after surgery in 1995. All was well for some “golden years” when I went clubbing and living life as a woman. However, it all unravelled because I cannot entirely escape the chains of my male origins.
‘I don’t want others considering an irreversible transition to end up like me, lost in a twilight world of loneliness.’
Leanne’s life story is a sobering and salutary one. She lives alone now in the house where she grew up, having moved there after her mother’s death five years ago. Despite her well-groomed appearance, she rarely goes out — and then only to do the shopping. She didn’t attend her father’s funeral in 2000 because she didn’t want to embarrass her mother, who had told so few people that her son Lee was now Leanne.
‘Even though I reconciled with my mother after my dad’s death, she would ask me to pretend I was a niece, or even still her son called Lee, if I phoned her up when friends or relatives were with her.’
When her mother died, Leanne found herself ostracised at the funeral she had arranged so carefully. Friends from her mother’s line-dancing group (her mother had a fatal heart attack at 80 while on holiday with the group in Norfolk) didn’t realise the son, Lee, whom Mavis had talked about, did not exist.
‘Even at the grave, some of those line-dancing friends turned their backs on me when “Lee” turned out to be a woman called Leanne,’ she explains.
There are other sad stories, too. After her operation, Leanne began to hope she would make female friends to chat and spend time with. She went to a gym to inquire about membership and saw that some of the women were wandering about naked.
‘I just had to leave. If I’d joined, how could I not have told them I was biologically a man?’
She became wary of joining women’s groups because the Women’s Institute once turned her down for membership, saying — at the time — that they did not accept trans women.
She also began to see boyfriends. That raised the thorny question of when to tell her date she’d had sexual reassignment. Should it be on the first date or later, after the relationship had begun to grow?
She remembers two occasions, both at a bar near her then home in Birmingham, when dates walked out on her after she told them the truth.
‘I’d met the first guy through a singles group. When I said what had happened to me, he just started shouting at me in front of the other customers before driving off, leaving me there with everyone staring,’ recalls Leanne.
The second date — a man with whom she was ‘getting on great’ — suddenly said to her: ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if you turned out to be a bloke?’
Leanne, pictured after her surgery in May 1979, said she doesn’t regret having surgery but advises others not to rush into it
When Leanne confessed that she had indeed been born male, he got up and departed, too, saying he needed time to think.
A third beau — an Australian man she met in Sydney on holiday — also left her high and dry. The pair went camping together and walked along the coast but soon
the truth trickled out and he said his goodbyes, leaving her to fly home to the UK.
She admits relationships have been almost impossible.
She has had post-operative complications, as many trans people who have reassignment surgery do. ‘The doctors offered to re-do the surgery, but I thought it was too dangerous.’
Then there is the social stigma, which has not gone away despite the UK’s generally more enlightened attitude.
She was out shopping recently when she saw a man who used to be a pupil at the same school as her when she was still Lee. The old schoolmate was standing in front of Leanne, who said: ‘Hello, don’t you recognise me? It’s Lee.’
She explained she had transitioned and was now a woman. His response was to shake her hand, after which he turned on his heel and walked off.
No wonder Leanne says her life now is lonely. When I visited, she’d not had a caller at home for five weeks. So it is little surprise that she warns others who feel they were born in the wrong body not to make hasty decisions, especially when young.
‘The propagandists tell them it’s a bed of roses and they will be accepted by society. They think they’ll find the right partner, that it will all be wonderful.’ She shakes her head sadly. ‘