Donegal farmer's 20-year battle to be accepted as a woman
A 20-year battle by a farmer to become recognised and treated as a woman has highlighted the huge difficulties facing people who suffer from Gender Identity Disorder (GID).
Sarah Louise Stafford (40) was born male, near the village of Churchill in rural Donegal, but has been diagnosed as suffering from GID, a recognised medical condition in which a person feels they are trapped within a body of the wrong sex.
She is one of an estimated 70 people currently undergoing treatment for GID, which affects one in 32,000 of the population.
"I always felt I wasn't like other boys. I felt more like a girl. I talked to girls easier. I would have liked to play with dolls, but I didn't have one," she told the Irish Independent.
Ms Stafford's brave journey towards contentment with her gender has been anything but smooth. Along the way, one GP gave her a pill which he said would "cure" her, while a psychiatrist insisted she was gay and should have a boyfriend.
Frustration with her life drove her to the brink of despair several years ago, when she attempted to take her own life.
It has also taken her family a long time to understand her compulsion to live as female, while neighbours in the rural community where she has always lived and worked as a farmer, struggled, but eventually managed, to acknowledge as Sarah Louise the person they once knew as Sidney.
Five years ago, Ms Stafford began hormone treatment and is now hoping to see a consultant in London within weeks. Following this, she hopes to have a date later this year for the surgery to remove her genitals at a London hospital.
"I never imagined it would have taken this long when I set out on the journey, but I have tried to look on the positive side and I really believe this year I will come up smelling of roses," Ms Stafford said.
She hopes to fund the surgery, which will cost an estimated stg£10,000, by selling a portrait painted by celebrated artist Derek Hill of her when she was an eight-year-old boy.
Lynda Sheridan, founder of Gender Identity Support Ireland, said Ms Stafford's story highlights the appalling lack of services for persons born with GID in Ireland.
"There are little or no services available, particularly for people who live outside of Dublin. There are just two professionals, a clinical psychologist and a consultant psychiatrist, both based in Dublin, who specialise in the condition," she said.
She also pointed out that the lack of an Irish-based surgeon to carry out surgery to permanently alter a person's anatomical gender added to the stigma.
"It would mean so much to have an Irish-based surgeon and it would help family and friends to a greater understanding," said Sarah Louise.