With her curvaceous figure and long blonde hair, Nicola Griffiths was the envy of all her school friends. But the pretty teenager was secretly so desperate to be a man that she disfigured her own body.
Repulsed by her appearance and miserable with her feminine looks, Nicola strapped down her 34D boobs with heavy duty duct tape.
The daily skin-ripping routine was so painful that Nicola once vomited and passed out and she would often have blood leaking through her shirt.
Shockingly, Nicola mangled her breast tissue so badly that doctors have warned that she is more susceptible to cancer.
‘My flat-chested friends were complimentary of my boobs but I hated them,’ says the 25-year-old, who now lives as a man called Rei.
‘I would tape them down every single day. The pain was so bad that I would throw up and have even passed out.
‘My skin was covered in weeping blisters but I was too embarrassed to go to the doctors.
‘I bandaged them myself but the skin was left lumpy and scarred.’
But Rei has no regrets, and has since found love with a 20-year-old woman, Ayeshah Bekhat.
Rei, a creative writing graduate, is currently awaiting a double mastectomy and full gender reassignment surgery and the couple are open to the possibility of marriage and children in the future.
‘At my lowest ebb I feared I might end up alone, but Ayeshah has changed my life,’ says Rei. ‘She accepts me for who I am and I’ve never been happier.’
From the age of just 4, Rei was aware that he was different to other girls.
‘I always felt like I should have been born male. I refused to wear dresses and I wanted to play with boys’ toys like Power Rangers but I was made to feel like it was wrong.
‘But it wasn’t until puberty that I fully became aware of what differentiated between male and female and I hated it. My breasts made me miserable.’
Rei pushed his doubts to one side and instead started to act more feminine, hoping that his feelings would eventually subside.
‘I tried to look like someone who was stereotypically pretty and even started highlighting my hair,’ he says. ‘But I realise now that I was trying to look like someone I might be attracted to, rather than what made me feel attractive.
‘During the day I’d act like a girl and wear my hair down,’ says Rei. ‘But in the privacy of my bedroom I’d put my dresses and skirts away, get rid of my make-up and tie back my hair so it would appear short.
‘I’d look in the mirror and wish I was a boy.
‘I’d even watch action films in secret and then read soap gossip so I could pretend to be watching the same things as my female friends.’
But Rei was hiding a more sinister secret.
‘In my late teens I started binding my chest every day with duct tape. I would spend all of my pocket money and wages on it
‘Every day I would get up and put it on, flatten it down as much as I could and bare it for as long as I could stand. I ripped quite a lot of skin off but I refused to go to hospital. Sometimes the adhesive would get into the open cuts and it would go yellow and infected.
‘It gave me fevers and made me sick but I didn’t want to stop – I thought my body was disgusting.’
Now Rei has been left with permanent disfigurement, which he hopes will be rectified when he has a mastectomy.
‘I don’t really have a proper shape anymore because of the amount of binding,’ he says.
‘There’s a risk that I could develop breast cancer so I have to regularly check for any lumps and things like that.’
Eventually when he was 21, Rei decided to stop living a lie and be the person he had always wanted to be.
He died his blonde hair jet black and took the scissors to his long locks.
‘It felt like a massive weight had just been lifted. I’d been taking antidepressants for years but that day I threw them all away.
‘I started using a proper chest binder and dressing in baggy t-shirts and jeans.
‘I’d always been a loner but I started making friends at university and was able to talk to strangers without feeling desperately self-conscious.’
Finally happy in his own skin, there was one thing missing in his life – a girlfriend.
‘I had girlfriends in the past but they admitted to me that they were curious to see what it would be like to be with a trans person,’ says Rei.
Rei had boyfriends as a teenager, but has always been attracted to women, and was never able to bring himself to be intimate with a man.
But after resigning himself to the single life, Rei met fellow student Ayeshah at the University of South Wales.
‘As soon as we met I knew we were going to get along famously,’ says Rei. ‘And I was attracted to her from day one.
‘I never thought she would look at me in that way but after a few months of friendship we grew closer and eventually she told me that she had feelings for me.
‘The time that I’ve spent with her so far has been amazing. She accepts me as a man and I love her to bits – I adore her.’
Rei no longer feels that his biologically female body holds him back, but he does hope to have full gender reassignment surgery in the future.
‘When I look back at old pictures of myself, I feel as though I’m a different person,’ he says. ‘I remember being there, smiling on the outside but always wishing I was someone else.
‘Now I’m finally the person I was born to be and gender reassignment surgery is the final step.’