For most military personnel, a combat tour overseas is the hardest thing they’ll ever do in their lives. British Army Captain Hannah Winterbourne, 27, says that’s not the case in her life.
Winterbourne, who has vivid memories of her grueling tour in Afghanistan, says her tour overseas was just the second most difficult thing she’s ever done. The first? Becoming a woman.
Winterbourne has chosen not to reveal her previous name for personal reasons, but she was born a man. Until several years ago, she lived her whole life as one, too.
Like many other transgender people, Winterbourne says she never comfortably identified with the gender she was assigned at birth. But it was only after her tour in Afghanistan, during which she was still officially identified as a man, that she knew something needed to change in her life.
“In Afghanistan I was living an act, I was acting for everyone around me,” she told the Sun. “There was no let-up where I could stop the act. Previously, I relished my own time where I could be honest with myself. In Afghanistan I couldn’t do that, so that was a nudge which eventually ended up with me coming out and changing myself and my way of life.”
Winterbourne started her transformation in Germany, where she underwent numerous rounds of hormone therapy and a few surgeries. She admits she was terrified of how her military colleagues would react to the change, but has been overwhelmed by their positive support.
“Despite being perceived as a very masculine old school organization, the [British] army is actually very forward thinking,” she said.
With the support of her professional colleagues in tow, Winterbourne then had to reveal her decision to her parents. Though they expressed concern at first, her parents now support Winterbourne wholeheartedly.
“I don’t think any parent wouldn’t find it difficult,” she said. “They were worried for me, worried I wouldn’t be able to live a normal life. But now they have seen me come through the process, they are proud.”
Winterbourne admits she was extremely anxious herself at the start of this journey. But now, with all the progress she’s made, she couldn’t be happier with her decision.
“You don’t know how the world is going to react,” she said. “The fear sits on top of you and buries you. It is hard to claw your way out of it.
"By going through hormone therapy and some surgery, they have allowed me to change my body to an extent where I can feel happy enough to walk down the street as a female. People see a female and they interact with me as a female. It has given me self-confidence.”