Ex-squaddie changes sex and converts to Islam
A former soldier has gone from downing pints with the lads - to having a sex change and converting to Islam.
Lucy Vallender, 28, said she is finally being "true to herself" after becoming Britain's first transgender Muslim.
Defiant Lucy - who used to be a TA private called Laurens - has become the second wife of a devout Muslim.
Lucy, who used to live in Cirencester, wed her online sweetheart without telling him she used to be a man.
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Now she prays five times a day and wears a full burkha and spends hours deep in study of the Qu'ran.
But despite her dedication she has been banned from her local mosque by elders who she claims said she would have to pray with the men.
The 5ft 10in ex-labourer says she always knew she was different but did not have her operation until three years ago.
She then converted to Islam a year later after watching tv programmes about the religion.
Determined Lucy met her husband-to-be Murad online and the pair married in April - the first day they met.
Lucy, who now lives in Swindon, said: "I always felt different and felt like I was in the wrong body.
"I told my mum and she was shocked to say the least.
"It just was not the done thing so I just put it to the back of my head and try and forget about it."
Lucy signed up to the TA arm of the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment in 2006 at the age of 21 to try and make himself more manly.
But it only made her more depressed.
"I tried to do macho things you know to stop how I was thinking, but it didn't work because I was trying to be someone I wasn't," she said.
"I felt differently to others - I was attracted to men.
"But I suppressed my feelings and tried to live like most people my age.
"I'd go out clubbing with friends and drink a lot of alcohol.
"I had girlfriends too, but it would never get physical and always fizzled out after a couple of months.
"Joining the TA was my final attempt at trying to fit in to that kind of life but I couldn't handle it anymore and left after about a year.
"I felt like I was in the wrong body. To carry on living as a male was living a lie."
Lucy moved from her family home in Cirencester and plucked up the courage to see her doctor in about becoming a woman.
"I was so nervous and at first I could hardly form the words, but I told him I wanted to be a woman and he said 'ok' - that was that."
After years of counselling, medication and dressing as a woman, Lucy had the op in June 2010.
A year later she converted to Islam.
"I had thought about it for a while but it is such a taboo I thought," she said.
"But I did it because it is a nice religion - so peaceful.
"I felt good and I had something to believe in.
"I felt happy and relieved at last - the happiest I've ever felt in my life."
She bagged herself a Muslim hubbie, Murad, 22, from London, after meeting him on an Islamic dating site - but didn't tell him she used to be a man.
She met Murad - who has two children to his first wife - in April.
"I love him, he's kind and soft spoken," she said.
"I've seen him twice since the wedding . When I do we have sex.
"I didn't tell him I was transsexual but he must have suspected it as he he's seen my scars."
Lucy has spoken out in a bid to "get justice" for transgender and Muslim people.
"They say I am the first transgender Muslim but I bet there are more - they are just frightened," she said.
She says she has been banned from the Broad Street mosque by thoughtless worshippers who were offended by her gender.
She said: "The way they treated me was disgusting.
"They asked me questions about my bra cup size, asked about my Adam's apple, about my period and asked to see my birth certificate.
"They said I had to pray with the men so I left and pray at home instead.
"I hope people will change their attitudes and other people like me will realise they are free to just be themselves."
A spokesman for Swindon Mosque said: "Everybody is welcome, as long as they behave according to Islam."