A former firefighter and truck driver who knew from an early age she was trapped in the wrong body has undergone gender confirmation surgery at the age of 80.
Devout churchgoer Isobel Jeffery, who began transitioning to female in October 2021 at the age of 79 after living her life as a woman for six years, says it has enabled her to finally find peace.
After beginning hormone therapy a year ago, she had the operation at the private Spire Yale Hospital in Wrexham in January this year under Consultant Urologist Christian Seipp.
Isobel said: “I cannot tell you how much it has meant to me; the peace, the calm and the contentment that has been brought over me,” she said.
“People ask me what I am smiling about, and someone asked recently why I was walking taller! Everything has just fallen into place – it was meant to be.
“Now I just want to spread the good news and help others. I feel like 25 – not nearly 81!”
Isobel, who received the full blessing of Margaret, her beloved wife of almost 60 years, a few years before undergoing the surgery, said she wanted to give hope to other transpeople in their twilight years that it’s never too late to transition.
“So many people ask why I left it so long but around 10 to 15 years ago, it was becoming more accepted. The changing attitudes in society gave me more confidence to be who I am,” she said.
“It’s not to be undertaken lightly, of course, but I am proof that you’re never too old. As long as you’re physically able to undertake the surgery, then it can happen.”
The three-hour procedure, which has been offered at Spire Yale for the past three years, takes place under general anesthetic.
Mr Seipp, 56, who completed his urological and surgical training in Germany, South Wales and London, said: “I was extremely touched by Isobel’s story. It’s amazing how somebody lived their life for such a long time hiding their real identity, it was very emotional.”
“The majority of patients are in their 20s or 30s but quite a few patients wish to complete their transition with gender affirming surgery in their 50s or 60s.
“This is really a story about what it means to be transgender. We are living in a more liberal society now compared to a time when people like Isobel were growing up.
“But discrimination and barriers still exist. For many people with gender dysphoria, life is filled with anxiety, depression, pain, and a struggle for acceptance, belonging and equality.
“Gender incongruence is not a choice – being born with a body that is not aligned with what your mind perceives as your true identity is scary and makes you question your space in society.
“It has taken Isobel almost eight decades to get to the point where she mustered up the courage to express and reveal her real identity.”
Born and raised in Marshfield, South Gloucestershire, Isobel grew up as a boy called Andrew Jeffery, alongside four brothers and a sister and now lives in Winsford, in Cheshire.
It was around the age of 10 that she first realised she felt different.
“As a young child, I always played with my sister and her dolls and pushed her pram. Seventy years ago, boys didn’t push dolls’ prams around. It was already starting to show then in hindsight,” she said.
“I would’ve been bullied badly had I not had a twin brother who stuck up for me. My brother was in a different class to me, and we weren’t always together, but I only had to say so and so has been on at me again and he would sort them out!
“I didn’t understand it, I just seemed to feel different. I was dressing up in women’s clothing probably from around 10 or 12. I learned to hide it and was the quiet child at the back normally.”
For the next 40 years, Isobel took on a variety of ‘physical’ jobs to convince the outside world of her masculinity.
“I sailed around the world out of Liverpool or London with the merchant navy and did two 18-month voyages. When I came back, I became a firefighter for Bristol City Fire Service as it was known then,” she said.
“Then I went into heavy goods driving and oversized loads. I did everything I could to ‘prove’ I was a man with ‘manly’ jobs but all the time I had a niggling feeling in the back of my mind. I would come home at the end of the day and get into a nightdress! I can laugh about it now, but I was living two lives.”
It was after returning from a voyage that Isobel, a practicing Christian who attends St Andrew’s Methodist Church in Winsford, met her wife Margaret at their local church.
“One day, as the choir came out during a service, a young lady caught my eye and I winked at her. That was Margaret and I’m still married to Margaret. It’ll be 60 years in September,” she said.
“She was always very supportive. When she was buying clothes, she would say ‘I’m buying it a bit bigger so you can wear it’. I wore a nightdress for a great many years, she loved me in the true sense of the word.”
The couple had two children, a son and a daughter, and moved to Winsford in 1967 while Isobel was employed as a truck driver for a Bristol firm.
“It was when Alzheimer’s began to take hold and she was slipping away that I realised I couldn’t go on living how I was. We talked before the Alzheimer’s took over completely and she said to do what you need to do, she wanted me to live and live happily,” said Isobel, who volunteers with Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service.
“We were so lucky we met – our differences coincided. I’ve been mentally ill a couple of times in my life, and I couldn’t have got through if it wasn’t for Margaret and a few others. Margaret will be 81 in July, there’s just 24 days between us.”
Margaret, who has advanced dementia, now lives in a care home in Winsford.
Seven years ago, Isobel told her family and close friends she wanted to transition, the majority of whom were very supportive. She also began to openly dress as female and changed her name by deed poll.
Isobel talked to her GP and received support from the Cheshire and Merseyside Adult Gender Identity Collaborative (CMAGIC) which provides gender dysphoria services including assessment for and diagnosis of gender incongruence, hormone/voice therapy and psychological therapy for individuals transitioning.
With only three hospitals in the UK providing gender affirming surgery on the NHS (two in London and one in Brighton) – and waiting times of more than five years – Isobel decided to use redundancy money she had put aside when she was 50 for private treatment at Spire Yale Hospital.
She had already completed psychological assessments while waiting for treatment on the NHS and met the necessary fitness criteria for surgery.
“It is still a procedure which needs to be considered very carefully but knowing how motivated Isobel was, I wasn’t surprised that she literally sailed through post-op recovery and was out of hospital in no time. Everything went really well,” said Mr Seipp, who lives in Macclesfield and feels passionate about transgender healthcare and reconstructive urological surgery.
“Isobel’s greatest desire was to make her body the way she wanted it to be. Even in the shower, she wouldn’t take off her underwear because she couldn’t look at her male body.
“It’s cruel enough for younger patients to face many years before surgery with hormone treatment in between, it’s even more distressing for someone of Isobel’s age who has dreamt of this her whole life.”
Isobel added: “I cannot thank Mr Seipp enough, he really is a lovely gentleman. From the first consultation, I don’t know why but when he went to shake my hand I just put my arms around his shoulders and gave him a hug.
“Spire took a lot of pressure off me, and I was really pleased with the service I received. It means that if I end up in hospital or in a care home or some other place, I will be cared for as a female.
“There are sadly lot of unhappy transpeople out there and I feel so lucky to have finally found happiness.”