By Emma Pearson @emma_pear

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

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Videographer / director: Garrett Isham
Producer: Emma Pearson, Ellie Winstanley
Editor: Matthew Hoare

Brawn to beauty: Alana has finally found the courage to live as a woman

Alana – who was born a boy called Ryan – was a stacked figure of rippling muscle, spending her days engaged in lethal armed combat.

Unknown to her fellow soldiers, Alana, 32, had always felt female, and had joined the Special Forces to either ‘become a man’ or to be killed.

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.

Desperate: Alana joined the army to 'become a man or be killed'

Alana said: “I joined the military initially because I felt like it was my only option to either force myself into manhood somehow or die.

“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.

“I just sort of constructed this false personality that was just a combination of action heroes that I could think of, very much the stoic violent, male type.

Happier times: Now she is embracing her life as a woman

“Finally I feel happy in my own skin and I’m looking forward to the future as a woman.”

Alana served in Afghanistan as a shooter and a medic in the A Team Delta as a way to escape her problems.

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.

She said: “I really got into metal work because to me it was almost a sort of magic to take something cold and lifeless - like a lump of iron. With the proper catalyst, in this case to fire, you can make it into something beautiful and delicate but strong at the same time and to me that was very much an apt metaphor of my own life and my own transformation."

Macho: Alana lifted weights to appear more masculine

But sadly, 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. I lost my faith”.

Alana’s conservative parents have found it difficult to accept her as a woman.

Fierce: Alana has faced hostility because of her transition - but she won't let anything hold her back
Moving on: Alana has made a close group of friends who support her in her transition

She explained: “I told my parents that I was gay and I felt like I was a girl and I wanted to be a girl.

“When I first told my parents this, my dad didn’t talk to me for like a week or two weeks.

“They just would not accept me as their daughter and I’ll only ever be their son. I was a massive disappointment.

“They really seem to be fixated on this idea that I was trans because I was raped. Sexual abuse does not change your sexuality, doesn’t change your gender.”

Alana has encountered other hostile reactions to her decision to live as a woman and her 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.

Hopeful: Now Alana has put her army days behind her and aspires to work in healthcare

Alana said: “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.

“You can only hear so much negativity before you start internalising it and I started to feel like I had to be a man.

“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. “As an A Team Delta, my surgical skills were up to the task and I did pretty clean work.

“But it was a pretty self-destructive thing to do - and very stupid.”

Looking back: Alana's previous life couldn't be further removed from her situation today

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.

She explained: “I wouldn’t say that I felt like I was in the wrong body as much as I was in the wrong role. Gender boils down to a lot more than just your physical form.”

Alana says that the surgery to appear more feminine is less about vanity and more about fitting in with societies norms.

Alana said: “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.

Alana said: “I’m hoping that eventually I’ll be able to settle down with someone – it’s important for me to find love.

She added: “I finally feel like I’m a real person now and I don’t have to pretend anymore.”