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Pretty Alana McLaughlin looks like any other young woman – but less than five years ago she was a macho-male soldier in the US Special Forces.

Alana – who was born a boy called Ryan – was a stacked figure of rippling muscle, spending days engaged in lethal armed combat. Unknown to her fellow soldiers, Alana, 32, had always felt female.

When Alana was Ryan, he joined the Army, to fit in or die

When Alana was Ryan, he joined the Army, to fit in or die

Now Alana, from Portland, Oregon, has finally found the courage to live as a female, and after full gender reassignment surgery, she is hoping to find love as a woman.

‘I joined the military initially because I felt like it was my only option to either force myself into manhood somehow or die, reveals Alana. ‘I wanted very much to be actively engaged in combat so I would have the opportunity to get myself killed. I view it very much as passive suicide.

‘I fought, shot, lifted weights, I grew beards and I rode a Harley and it didn’t change anything. I would still cry myself to sleep at night.’

So how does Alana feel now? ‘Finally I feel happy in my own skin and I’m looking forward to the future as a woman,’ says the woman who served in Afghanistan as a shooter and a medic.

Alana knew she could no longer live a lie

Alana knew she could no longer live a lie

Alana says her anger and rage has subsided now she can finally live as a woman and she now spends her time creating sculptures and artwork from metal.

However, the road to happiness has not been smooth for the ex-solider. Alana knew from a young age that she identified as female and whilst dealing with gender dysphoria she was also a victim of sexual abuse.

She said: ‘As a child, I prayed every night. I prayed that God would either change my body and make me a girl or change my mind so that I wouldn’t want to be. And neither of those prayers were answered.’

Alana’s first attempt at transitioning after she left the army in 2010 ended in a bloody act of self-destruction when she decided to cut off her own breasts with a scalpel. ‘I’d been on hormones but I felt hopeless. All the messages I was receiving were that I could never be legitimate – that I could never be a real woman. I felt like I would never be taken seriously and I would only ever be a joke.

‘I’d been on hormones long enough that I had some breast development and I didn’t want to be a man with boobs so I took a scalpel and removed the breast tissue myself. I went into the bathroom and I had my surgical kit there and I performed surgery.’

Alana is smiling at last

Alana is smiling at last

Alana began her transition again in earnest in 2012, having a range of surgeries including a breast augmentation, facial feminisation surgery and sex reassignment surgery. ‘I wouldn’t say that I felt like I was in the wrong body as much as I was in the wrong role,’ she says. ‘Gender boils down to a lot more than just your physical form.

‘The surgery makes it less likely people will realise you are trans and gives you more safety. I want to survive.’

Alana has now made a group of firm friends who accept her as a transgender woman. And now she hopes to find someone special to share in her new life. ‘I’m hoping that eventually I’ll be able to settle down with someone – it’s important for me to find love.’ She adds: ‘I finally feel like I’m a real person now and I don’t have to pretend any more.’