IN a previous life Becci Allen was a 24-stone violent football hooligan who would regularly cause trouble at England and Exeter City matches.
Her name was Richard.
Surrounding herself with men and behaving as "manly" as possible was, Becci says, a way of releasing the anger she lived with trying to contain a pent-up need to live life as a woman.
Despite knowing from the age of eight that "there was something wrong with me", it wasn't until recently that she decided to seek medical advice.
Currently one of a growing number of people accessing the Laurels service, run by the Devon Partnership Trust from Dixs Field in Exeter, she is now preparing for a sex change operation that could happen any time after April this year.
The 36-year-old, who lives in Alphington, said: "I spent a lot of time suppressing it and trying to fit in. I was trying to conform to the male form and I did live an unhappy life.
"I decided at the age of 32 to make changes. I got to the point in life where either I did this or my life would be ended.
"I had been on a colourful path with anger and got into trouble with the police a few times. I went to football games with Exeter City, Spurs and England and I was a hooligan. I used to beat people up. I was always fighting something I wanted to be. I am not proud of what I used to do. But it has all gone to shaping the way I am today.
"I didn't used to have many female friends. I was envious and jealous of them so I built my life around a male environment. I have now gone completely the other way and am now the person I should have been. I had never really been happy but I have no anger issues any more. For the first time ever I am just happy."
Becci, who said she has been supported fully by her employer at Homebase and her family, knows that others are not so lucky. But she urged people to seek advice before their life spiralled deeper into the darkness.
"I cannot wait to have the operation," she added. "My only regret is that I should have done this years ago.
"My advice to people is don't suppress your feelings. That is a slippery route to go down. Seek medical advice and get to Laurels where you will get an honest opinion. Everyone I speak to says the longer they leave it the worse their life gets and they sink into drink, drugs, depression and mental illness.
"The earlier you do it the better your life will be."
She started living as Becci in March 2009 and first came to the Laurels in April 2010.
"I had already spent time researching. My operations will be any time after April next year and I will then undergo hormone treatment and voice therapy.
"By the end of 2013 I will have completed my journey.
"I am a confident personality but when I told people, it was a big surprise for them. I hid it from everyone. But once my family could see how happy I was they said I had definitely made the right decision. My friends and family are right behind me.
"I know I am one of the lucky ones. I was like a pressure cooker but all the steam has finally been let out.
"I am finally getting the life I was meant to live."
Becci says she waited until the completion of her 12-week probation period at Homebase before telling her manager, which she did over a McDonalds.
"He was really shocked but very supportive at the same time," she added. "So much so that I have followed him when he transferred from Exeter to the Tiverton store. They have been fantastic.
"I just need to get out there and live a normal life. The more people see you, the less prejudice you get. They get used to you.
"The first initial reaction is 'what is that', but they get to know your name and start asking questions. In society no matter what you are, people judge. Whether you are fat, black, blue – whatever. You just have to get out there and live a normal life.
"This is a problem that is getting bigger and bigger and at the same time is becoming more socially acceptable. We have five to six years to go but the more people who come out the more accepted it will become. We are now in the same era as the gay community was in the 1980s."
As for the future Becci says she is enjoying single life after coming out of a 12-year relationship.
She will have to stay on hormones until the age of 65 and is waiting to see how her breasts develop before deciding if she will have an operation.
The main operation to change gender is carried out on the NHS but anything cosmetic, such as breast enhancement, has to be funded privately.
"I had a lot of fears about coming out but you need to overcome them," she said.
"I have not been to St James's Park for a while because of the trouble I got into but I am a different person now. Having a sex change does not mean I have to stop going to football or darts.
"I have lost seven stone in weight as I have been a lot more active but I am not as strong as I was and I am learning about my limitations.
"And if I am dressed inappropriately my friends will tell me to go home and change."