LUCY Persechino is a beautiful woman. The fact she has lived most of her life in a male body is not important to her or those who love and respect her.

She’s also an amazingly brave lady, happy to share her story about how she went from a once- married man to a loud and proud lesbian in the hope of helping others.

Lucy, 50, is one of the roughly 1,000 people who undergo sex realignment surgery in the UK every year.

Anyone who thinks a person will go through this on a whim doesn’t have a clue.

For Lucy, it’s meant years of change and pain both physically and mentally. But she doesn’t regret it for a second.

Not even when, six years ago, she had to go to work for the first time dressed in women’s clothes – to the same desk she had sat at for several years but with a different physical identity.

Working in a mostly male IT department it was never going to be a walk in the park for Lucy to go about making her changes public.

But what’s the alternative? Imagine you are born into the wrong body. There’s a mismatch between your biological sex and your gender identity.

Lucy knew from a child that something wasn’t right. But 40-odd years ago there wasn’t anything near the support for people with gender dysphoria there is now.

She says: “From my first memories as a child I was aware I wasn’t comfortable with some aspects of myself.

“But without any lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) awareness at schools or equality within the workplace during my childhood and young adult life, I lived a life of self-denial and self-harm.

“It’s hard to explain exactly how I felt but I always wanted to go skipping with the girls in the playground. I would secretly want to be wearing a dress instead of trousers.

“I did play boys’ games like football and I enjoyed it, but I knew deep down something just didn’t fit.”

It wasn’t until her 40s, and after a failed marriage, that Lucy finally plucked up the courage to discuss the issue with her GP.

Her doctor was supportive and her journey began. But part of this was to live as a woman for two years before genital reassignment surgery could take place.

So that was it. There was no going back. Lucy contacted her representative with the worker’s union Unison and several meetings were held with her bosses at Southend Council to make the transition as easy as possible for her.

This involved Lucy’s co-workers being told what was happening.

Lucy had to begin a new chapter which meant using a completely new name. She chose the name Lucy after the sixties’ TV show I Love Lucy.

She said: “Of course I was aware of how this might make my work colleagues feel. I knew it would take a while for them to get used to it. For a long time I just wore trousers and a blouse and flat shoes, nothing outrageous.

“I left it three weeks before I wore a skirt.”

Although she did get support from the union and bosses at the council, where she worked, Lucy did feel exposed. But she admits that’s only to be expected due. It’s human nature to be curious.

She said “At the time my department was up on one of the higher floors and you’d be amazed how many people found a ‘reason’ to come up to my floor to have a gawp.”

Another difficult ‘first’ for Lucy was what to do when it came to using the loos.

She said: “This was another difficult one. I remember thinking, ‘well you are going to have to use the ladies’.

“I felt all eyes on me and everyone waiting to see what I’d do. So I went up to the top floor where there was a toilet that hardly anyone used.

“While I was in there a female worker came in. “She came up to me squeezed my arm and said ‘good for you girl.’ That was a great feeling.”

Not everyone was so understanding. Lucy would often be called by her old name, but she concedes that most people did it out of habit, not to be malicious.

She said: “One colleague, who had a hard time with it all, would deliberately use my old name while introducing me to new staff. That upset me. I remember I sent him an e-mail saying, can we meet for a coffee?

“He was very hesitant to meet me, but he did and when I raised it with him and told him how his actions were making me feel he apologised.”

A year into her hormone treatment, Lucy was diagnosed with bowel cancer. She needed time to recuperate and work became too much for a while. She eventually took early redundancy from the council.

She said: “The bowel cancer diagnosis came about a year into the transition and it was before I had the full op.

“It was a shock but I knew something was wrong. The chemo was hard but I was determined to pull through. I suppose it made me even more determined to live the life I wanted to live – to be me.”

Over the past six years, Lucy, from Southend, has undergone hormone therapy, laser hair removal, electrolysis, breast augmentation and genital reassignment surgery. She feels and looks great.

In the end, she paid for most of her surgery herself with her redundancy money. She had the procedure done at a specialist clinic in Thailand.

She said: “I remember sitting on the plane coming home from Thailand. I was in pain but it was probably the best feeling of my life.”

Lucy now does a lot of mentoring for LGBT people and hopes to become an official spokeswoman and counsellor for transgender issues.

She has formed a support website, www.transitionxy. which promotes, educates, and supports LGBT awareness, focusing on the transitional aspect, before the main surgery takes place.

She also works with councils in Essex to promote transgender awareness, holds workshops and gives public talks about this often taboo topic.

Despite having to answer the same old questions at these workshops from understandably curious people, Lucy is always open and honest.

She laughs: “People want to know do I fancy men or women!?

“Well I’m a lesbian loud and proud.

“I was married when I was younger. I have since got in touch with my ex-wife and we are friends.

“When she saw me as Lucy she said she had always known really.”

Not all of Lucy’s family have accepted her and some relationships have become strained but many relatives, including her sister, have been a wonderful support.

She said: “It’s not an easy journey to go through. People react differently but that’s life.

“My social circle reduced by 90 per cent overnight and I was dropped by some of my family.

“But I don’t want this to be a sob story. I just want to highlight what some trans people can go through.”