"I'm speaking out to help other trans individuals" | Cosmopolitan
Feeling comfortable in your own skin is probably something you take for granted. But for Hannah Winterbourne - who was assigned male at birth - it's something she only dreamed of. After years of struggling with her identity, it wasn't until Hannah, our Ultimate Trailblazer at the Ultimate Women Awards 2015, was studying at university in her twenties that she finally came to an understanding about who she was.
Later, whilst on tour in Afghanistan in 2011, she decided to make the brave decision to fully transition into a woman. Now, she's the highest-ranking transgender soldier in the British Army, speaking on behalf of others who need guidance with trans issues.
"People often ask me what it was like transitioning in the Army, but my experience has been really positive," Hannah, now 28, told us. "I wasn't surprised, as the Army has a long history of looking after its members no matter who they are. Be it colour, sexual orientation or gender; they focus on your ability to do your job over anything."
While Hannah's peers were fully supportive of her decision, Hannah says she initially struggled with the thought of how people would see her after the transition.
"The hardest part was finding the courage to tell my friends and family," she says. "I had this huge fear of losing them and their respect. I worried that all of these privileges that I had earned in life could disappear. But I knew I had to do it for my personal well-being."
I have trans individuals write to me 'I've had the ability to be myself because you've inspired me'
Because of her experience, Hannah made the decision to speak out - determined to provide others with someone to look up to, something she says helped her on her own journey (Hannah sought advice from Aya Holdom, a transgender soldier in the RAF).
"Aya reminded me that you can't expect people to understand with the click of your fingers," Hannah explains. "Having a role model to look up to definitely helped make my transition a positive experience. Because the process is incredibly long, being patient can be difficult. So having supportive people around you who understand the situation makes a huge difference."
Hannah now works with trans people within the Army, acts as patron of the Mermaids charity (which gives support to trans children), and is an ambassador for LGB&T Sports Cymru.
"It saddens me that other people have had tougher experiences, or faced more adversity than I did," she says. "But seeing letters from trans individuals who tell me they've finally had the ability to be themselves because of something I've done is incredible. It's hard to put into words. If I've been a product of helping people be happy in themselves, then that's enough for me."
Read the article at Cosmopolitan