A transgender woman has documented her journey in a video on YouTube (video below).
Sona Avedian, 33, of Austin, Texas, was born male in 1982 and raised as a burly boy, named Matthew.
Avedian said she always knew deep down her outer appearance didn't match who she truly was on the inside. As early as age 4, Avedian knew she was really a girl. Because of the conservative family in which she was raised, she felt compelled to keep her true identity a secret.
"When I was just 7 years old, my mom caught me cross-dressing," she said in her YouTube video. "[Devastated] and ashamed, it turned into my deepest, darkest secret for 23 years."
Avedian, a former U.S. Marine, told the Mirror that for years she "overcompensated" for her true gender by joining the military and bulking up to a formidable 238 pounds.
As a member of the Marines, she served six tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before returning to the U.S. and starting a family. With a beautiful wife and young daughter, Avedian appeared to be living the American dream, but was still unhappy with who she was.
In November 2012, Avedian finally came out as transgender to friends and family, and began taking hormone therapy. Over the next three years, she gradually transitioned from a burly, bearded man to a slim, attractive blond woman.
The transformation, which Avedian chronicled in her YouTube video, involved complex surgery as well as changes to Avedian's diet and exercise routines, reports the Mirror. She stopped eating junk food, took up cycling again and began practicing yoga. She lost 100 pounds with these changes.
Avedian, now a passionate LGBT advocate, said that while the transition brought some difficult changes, it has made all the difference in her life and helped her to finally achieve happiness.
"Before I couldn't stand myself and I couldn't interact with people," she said. "I don't even know who I'm looking at the 'before' pictures, it was so depressing."
Avedian said in the YouTube video of her transformation that she "hid behind the mask of a U.S. Marine" because she was ashamed of herself, and only discovered the term "transgender" on the Internet in 2001.
She had wanted to tell someone about her true identity before going to college, but her parents' divorce caused her "to go another route," she said in the video, reports BuzzFeed News.
In the video's parting message, Avedian offered these words of hope to others undergoing a similar experience: "This is not about passing, it never was. It's about being you, no matter what society thinks — and that is beautiful."
Avedian and her ex-wife Lucy are now divorced, but she reportedly continues to have a close relationship with her now 5-year-old daughter.
"My daughter and I are awesome, she adores being around me," Avedian told the Mirror. "She only remembers me as a woman and I love how we interact, we are so much alike."
In addition to the YouTube video, Avedian has also chronicled her journey in an online blog.