FOR 61 years, Katie Yeomans had never thought of herself as anything other than a man.

But everything changed one fateful evening when she went to a fancy dress party dressed as a woman.

She had known she was miserable, but she had never understood why.

The thought had certainly never occurred to her that she might be transgender.

But, in 2014, at that fancy dress party, something clicked, and she began to realise that she was female.

Katie, from Hampshire, was quick to make an appointment with her GP to discuss her feelings and get the process of medical transitioning underway.

From the outset, and throughout her transition, Katie found her GP hugely supportive.

An appointment was made for Katie to visit a gender clinic in November 2014.

"I changed my name by deed poll in September 2014 and immediately went to my wardrobe, bagged up all my male clothes and took them to a charity shop," she says.

"From that date, I have lived totally as female.

"It was fantastic. It was quite a big step and at that time, I had little knowledge of how it would go. My attitude was that this was what I was going to do, come hell or high water. I had been so miserable for so much of my life. I had no social life and now I knew why I'd been so miserable.

"As I transitioned, I felt better and better with every step."

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Katie has two sisters who live in the midlands. She hadn't seen them face to face since beginning her transition, although they had frequently spoken on the phone, but falling ill made her realise that she had tell them that she was now living as a woman.

"I had changed my name and was in hospital because I'd fallen quite ill. I thought I'd better tell my family, in case something happened.

"I called my eldest sister and said 'Ive got something to tell you.'

"After I'd explained, she said 'I didn't know you were going to tell me that, but I've been expecting a call. I knew from our phone calls that there was something going on'.

"She is really down to earth, and the said whatever happens, you're still my brother and I love you and support you.

"Now I get 'sister' cards and Christmas and birthdays from both my sisters. They're both very supportive."

Katie, who is involved in organising Hampshire Pride, adds that everyone in her life has been very supportive of her transition.

"I live in Southsea, which is a close-knit community, and I was accepted straight away. I feel quite well liked and respected in the local community.

"I do remember in the early days, being petrified of what people thought of me. Now I'm extremely happy and confident, and I speak up for the less confident people," says Katie, who as well as speaking to organisations and the press about transitioning, also makes a point of complaining to companies where she experiences discrimination.

"I used to just go to work and come home," says Katie, who worked as a clerk in Portsmouth Crown Court, of her life before transitioning.

"I never went out, even to the pub. If people invited me out I made an excuse that I was already doing something else. I used to have a dog, and if people knew me in the area, I was just that guy with a dog. Now I'm Katie.

"People know me now, not because I've transitioned, but they really know the person.

"Now, I go out three or times a week. I go on holiday. I've got plenty of friends.

"I had my 65th birthday in a local pub and it was packed."

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Katie, who is now 66, says that she was surprised with the speed at which her transition happened.

"I started taking hormones in May 2015, and for the rest of the year, I didn't really notice any changes. Then one day I woke up and could feel that I had breasts forming," she says.

Katie decided to try to have surgery too, although she adds that she was determined not to let it affect her if it wasn't possible for any reason.

"I know a lot of transgender people really hate their genitals but I didn't feel that way. But having the surgery has been the icing on the cake for me. It has actually made a massive difference.

"Different people choose to transition differently but I decided to do the whole process – hormones, surgery, legal recognition. There isn't anything more I could do!"

Katie is keen to help raise the visibility and acceptance of transgender people amongst the wider community, and has been involved with Hampshire Pride, held in Winchester, for the last three years.

"I used to identify as a gay male, and was always involved with pride before," she says.

"There are transgender prides, but when I attended one in Brighton, it felt more like a demonstration than a celebration. That wasn't my reason for going. Prides are for everyone. They're a fun day out."

And Katie doesn't shy away from standing up for herself. She contacted Hampshire police when she was assaulted – a stranger threw a pint over her in – or been harassed and also complains to businesses where she experiences discrimination.

"I would always encourage anyone to report hate crime and discrimination," she says.

"Otherwise they won't be able to move on themselves. You start excluding yourself by avoiding certain areas and you can feel trapped.

"If a complete stranger makes a comment, why should I allow that to affect what I'm doing? I report it and move on."

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Looking forward, Katie isn't sure what the future holds, but she's confident that it will be a lot more enjoyable than her life before she transitioned.

"I was in a gay relationship for seven years, but that finished eight years ago. My life has been very full for the last few years with appointments and so on, connected to transitioning, and I haven't much been in the mindset for dating," she says.

"I do have male friends but I find the vast majority of problems that transgender people get come from men and I've gone off guys!

"I do think it might be nice to date someone and that it might be best if it was a woman."

Katie adds that she has no regrets about transitioning at 61, rather than earlier on in her life, and would encourage anyone else who feels that it might be too late for them to think again.

"For whatever reason, that was the chosen time for me," she says.

"If it had happened ten or 20 years ago, things were very different for the transgender community. Attitudes have changed dramatically in the last 20 years.

"I'm just so glad I've done it. I feel content and complete.

"Nothing could make me happier, except maybe winning the lottery!"

* Hampshire Pride takes place in Winchester City Centre on Saturday, February 23. Participants are invited to assemble at Winchester Great Hall from 12, with a parade through the city at 2pm, followed by an indoor festival, with stalls and entertainment, at E11 Court Building in Tower Street.

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