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MELANIE Hamilton-Smith, 23, endured a wretched childhood in Bristol after her transsexual dad Toni won custody of her and her brother and sister in a landmark court ruling in 1989.

I REALISED my dad Tony was a bit different because he wore hairspray and nail varnish. But we all thought that was pretty cool, especially as he let us play with them.

When my parents split, we went to live with dad, who was by then dressing as a woman and asking us to call him Toni. Mum won access, but never bothered turning up so we lost contact. I've since learned she had a lot of problems and was quite traumatised by everything.

Toni tried his best to be our mum. She would bake cakes and do our hair for school and then go off to work as a labourer.

She is 6ft 2ins, never had the money for electrolysis and will never look feminine. So out shopping with her in make-up and heels, people stared and even spat at us.

We got a lot of verbal abuse in the street and I was even hit a few times. We had to grow up very quickly and fend for ourselves.

We used to get called 'shims' - a mix of 'she' and 'him' and kids would say, 'Your dad is a transformer'. At school I would be the child that sat alone at meal times.

Nobody turned up at my ninth birthday party and a girl at school said, 'Your dad's a tranny. Our mums wouldn't let us come because he's a pervert'.

I used to play the flute at school and the teacher contacted other parents to say not to let their kids share instruments with me because of my dad. That still hurts.

We'd all come home crying and dad cried when she saw us. She'd say: 'Maybe it would be better if you'd gone to a foster family.' We'd say: 'No - we love you.'

Maybe it would have been - for us and her. She wouldn't have had so many money worries, could have worked on her appearance and gone off and worked abroad. And we might have had happier formative years.

Childhood was traumatic for us all, but particularly for my brother, who was older.

He got into a lot of trouble and is in prison now. My sister's OK - she's married with two kids.

My upbringing made me very insecure. I never had a boyfriend when we lived in Wales because it was uncool to go out with 'shims'.

When I moved to Birmingham three years ago I didn't tell a soul. I was so scared people wouldn't like me. Now only close friends know.

I don't see Toni as a mother or a father and I don't confide in her like I would a mum. We've never swapped clothes or make-up.

Sometimes when I'm feeling really ill I wish I had a mum to bring me a cup of tea in bed or to console me when I've split up with someone.

Every time a boyfriend makes a snide comment about a gay person or transsexual my heart sinks and I have to decide whether or not I should tell them about dad.

I was engaged two years ago but we split. When it came to writing out my guest list I realised I couldn't go through with it.

I've always dreamed of a white wedding, but who would give me away? My mum and brother wouldn't be there, nor would my dad's family who don't speak to her. All day I'd stress about people's reactions to dad. Maybe a small, register office is my only option.

I have accepted Toni the way she is and I love her.

But I will never understand why a man wants to become a woman and tear his family apart.


CAROLINE Hughes, 43, has been happily married for 25 years, but for the last four years her husband has been a woman. She lives in Ireland.

IT NEVER entered my head to leave Richard when he changed gender. It just so happened that the person I loved was now a woman called Diane.

When we met, I accepted that Richard wore women's clothes a couple of times a week. We married because I loved him and we wanted to live together as a family.

But I didn't know how the depression and illness would manifest itself.

Richard drank heavily after our son Gareth was born as his desire to become a woman grew stronger.

I knew something had to be done or she would have ended her life.

Most people think I must be a lesbian but I'm not interested in girls. Diane and I share a bed but we don't have sex and I don't miss it.

She's a great cook and enjoys looking after our home while I'm at work. She is more feminine than me. I'm a trouser person but she wears skirts and dresses. She also waxes her legs and has electrolysis - I don't.

People say we look and behave like sisters but our bond is stronger than that. We're soulmates - that's why we'll always stick together."

DIANE Hughes, 48, began hormone treatment eight years ago and underwent a sex change operation in September 2000. She is training to be a counsellor.

"I'm not surprised Caroline stayed with me because she is my life partner, but a lot of people find that hard to understand.

It is not a decision taken lightly and there was a lot of re-assessment to do.

Her main worry was our son and whether he was going to be OK, but he's extremely well-adjusted. He doesn't drink or do drugs and has a steady girlfriend.

He tells friends he's got two great mums but if he was asked in an official capacity he'd say I was his dad or parent. I invented Auntie Diane to begin with to give him time to adjust. But when he started asking questions we were open with him.

I find men and women attractive but being in a good, stable relationship I don't act on those feelings."

GARETH Hughes, 16, has coped with his father's sex change with maturity. Aged eight he was able to explain to friends what a transsexual was.

I MUST have been five when I guessed that the woman I knew as Auntie Diane was really dad.

My parents have always been very open and when dad said I should call her Diane from now on, I just accepted it.

In my eyes Diane is still my father but in a different body. She's still the tough one who does the manly things like mechanics. But I'm the man about the house now.

We don't celebrate Father's Day but I once sent mum a card and changed the words to 'World's Best Mums'.

When our secret came out I was scared about people's reactions but they were more curious than anything.

I didn't get bullied at school apart from a bit of name-calling.

I wouldn't say I'm embarrassed by Diane - my mother wanting a hug in public is more embarrassing than the fact that my father is a woman."


LOVING: Gareth, Diane and Caroline; DIFFICULT: Toni, Mel, Gemma and Jay; TOGETHER: Mel, Toni and her sister Gemma; LOVE HOPE: Richard and Caroline's wedding day
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 15, 2005
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