MICHELLE Penn always knew she was different from her friends.
Born a boy and called Michael, she knew from the tender age of eight she was a girl who was living in the wrong body.
But it would not be until Michelle was 41 that she would finally make the physical transition to become a woman, helped by doctors in Sheffield.
Gender dysphoria is a medical condition where a person has a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.
One in 12,000 people in the UK are receiving medical help for the condition.
But growing up in the 1970s - with the internet not yet invented and transgender issues only rarely discussed - Michelle had no way of knowing she had gender dysphoria.
The 45-year-old from Worksop said: “When I was about six I didn’t understand why, but I knew I was different.
“By the age of eight I knew I was a girl.
“But I couldn’t talk about this to anyone - it was the 1970s and I lived in a traditional working class mining town where men were men.
“From an early age, in my mind I was Michelle, but I never said anything to my parents.
“Luckily, it wasn’t obvious to others I was different.
“I liked playing football and I played with action men and superhero toys, so I was never bullied at school.
“But the feeling of being in the wrong body grew and grew.
“When I was older I would secretly try on my mum’s clothes when she was out - wearing women’s clothing just felt right.
“But from the ages of 14 to 26, I went into complete denial. I’d left school at 18 and become a hairdresser and at the same time I developed an interest in body building.
“I remember being so confused, telling myself ‘I can’t be a woman’ even though, deep down, I knew I was.”
Michelle - or Michael as she was then - met Julie when she was 17.
They married when Michelle was 18 and went on to have two sons a few years later.
Michelle suppressed her true feelings until her mid-20s, when she admitted to Julie how she really felt, explaining she wanted to undergo treatment to physically become a woman. “I was fearful she would leave but she is an amazing person who’s coped with it and she has been fantastic, so supportive,” said Michelle.
As their children were then at primary school, and fearing they would be bullied, the couple agreed Michelle would wait to make the change until they were grown up.
In 2008, aged 41, Michelle began the process of transition, with the first stage being to explain the situation to their now grown-up sons, both in their 20s and living away from home.
Michelle said: “Our sons were understandably shocked, and at first they really struggled with it. But they are now both supportive, as they can see that I am happier now.”
And she remains committed to Julie, 46, who works a care home manager.
Michelle had to dress and live as a woman for two years to prove that she could manage to live in the opposite gender.
During her transition, Michelle was supported by experts at the Porterbrook Clinic in Sheffield which is managed by Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust.
The Nether Edge establishment is one of just eight specialist clinics in the country which gives medical help and psychological support to men and women with gender dysphoria.
Michelle saw two psychiatrists who both confirmed she had gender dysphoria - and they offered her a range of supportive care.
As part of her care she saw an image consultant, whose job it was to advise on clothing, hair and make-up.
But she felt no advice was needed as Michelle had already perfected her look.
Michelle was also offered sessions with a speech therapist - but as she had already trained herself to raise her vocal range to sound feminine, she did not need help.
Her physical transformation involved taking hormones to grow breasts and finally undergoing surgery which completed the transformation from male to female.
She has no regrets and finally feels she is living in the right body.
Michelle said: “I am very happy and so glad to have had the treatment. It feels like I’ve always been like this, and I feel a million dollars. I am fortunate to have such supportive family and friends.”