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Like many young women, Ria Cooper dreams of one day getting married and having children.

But the 23-year-old knows the odds are stacked against her.

Not only because she was born a boy, but because she has now switched gender an astonishing three times in her short life.

Ria – who was born Brad – became ­Britain’s youngest sex-swap patient at 15. Doctors controversially backed her belief she was a girl in a boy’s body.

She was given blockers to stop her going through puberty, followed by injections of female hormones to impede face and chest hair and trigger the formation of breasts.

Ria Cooper pictured as a boy, Bradley, before a sex-swap at the age of 15

But with her life spiralling out of control as she struggled with her new identity – and the fears of never being accepted as a woman – Ria decided to transition back and live her life instead as a gay man.

Before having crucial surgery, she ended her treatment and became Brad again soon after her 18th birthday.

It turned her into the unwitting poster boy for those who claimed teenagers were too young to be given gender reassignment.

Ria Cooper in 2012 after hormone jabs

But five years on Ria is more certain than ever that is not the real her – and is making her second attempt at becoming a woman to have the future she always dreamed of.

She said: “I’ve always known I was female – it was everyone else who was confused, not me. I was wearing make-up and heels at the age of 12, there was no question.

“But I felt under so much pressure from society that six years later I caved in. I was torn. I knew exactly who I was, but I also wanted to conform and be ‘normal’.

Ria had become the unwitting poster boy for those who claimed teenagers were too young to be given gender reassignment

“Only now I realise that made me even more unhappy. Now I’m going to be me – and I hope I will finally be happy.”

Stung by critics who accused her of “wasting” thousands of pounds of NHS cash on her abandoned transformation, Ria has vowed she will fund her own surgery.

She has paid £5,000 to get her dream 34EE breasts, and will have an op next year for her genital transformation.

But as well as finally finding peace, she hopes it will allow her to find the romance and the family she longs for.

In a bid to conform, Ria decided to live as a gay man

Ria said: “One reason I switched back to being male was because I was worried I’d never find love as Ria.

“My past was always just too much
for men to take on board when I ­transitioned the first time.

“They’d fall in love with me, knowing my background – but as soon as their friends found out, I’d be dumped. I began to doubt I would ever feel happy again.

“But I’m older and wiser now and know exactly who I am. I’m Ria and I’m a woman. There’s no turning back.

“If I can find a man who accepts that and loves me for who I am, that’s perfect. If not, I’d still like to be a mum.”

When Ria became the youngest person in the UK to be prescribed female hormones, they played havoc with her mental health, sending her into a spiral of self-destruction.

Ria has paid £5,000 to get her dream 34EE breasts, and will have an op next year for her genital transformation

By 18 she had twice attempted suicide. She had turned to drugs, gone through violent relationships and, to her regret, dabbled in prostitution.

At rock bottom, she decided to quit the hormones and go back to being Brad.

Ria knows her torment raises questions over whether she had been too young for gender reassignment. Yet despite it all, she insists that is not the case. “I wasn’t confused. But people around me confused me,” she says.

“My mum Elaine let me dress as a woman. But whenever a male ­relative came round I’d wipe off the make-up and get back into boys’ clothes – I knew they wouldn’t approve.

“Growing up on a tough estate in Hull, I had to put on a really hard act to cope.

“On the surface I was hard as nails, but underneath it hurt like hell. The puberty blockers and hormones made me moody and angry, I was all over the place. My mum supported me, but I moved out and went wild, drinking and taking drugs to cope with being different. I made so many mistakes.”

One of her biggest regrets is taking part in a Channel 4 documentary which revealed her job as a ladyboy called Lola.

The documentary, Ria says, blighted her life and was one of her biggest regrets

“I was so ashamed,” she says. “I fell in love with a guy from the Army and he even introduced me to his family.

“We didn’t talk about my past, but they knew who I was and accepted it. Then his friends found out and that was it.

“It was the same pattern every time I met someone. So I decided if the only use men had for me was sex, then I’d charge them.”

The documentary, she says, blighted her life. “Every time I met someone they’d say, ‘You’re the girl from that documentary’. I couldn’t get away from it.

“It all became too much. I decided it would just all go away if I became male again.” But her brief spell as a boy lasted just a few months.

“It just felt wrong,” she says. “I came to the realisation pretty quickly I was doing it because I wanted all the problems ­associated with being transgender to go away. I was no longer able to hide who I really am. Not for family, or friends or ­potential boyfriends. I have to be true to myself.”

By 18, she had twice attempted suicide

Ria, who has already changed her ­passport to her female identity, had her counselling and assessments as a teen at the Tavistock gender identity clinic in London.

She says: “I know some people would say it was all too much, too young. But you know your own mind. You know when you’re living life in the wrong body.

“It’s not just playing with dolls or wearing make-up. It’s absolutely who you are.”

But life has not been easy since Ria committed to life as a woman. She spent six months in a violent relationship, but found it hard to walk away.

“I loved him,” she says simply.

Could it be Ria stuck by her abuser because she is just desperate to be loved? “Maybe,” she says sadly.

Even finding work has been difficult – she claims she lost a care home job after they found she was transgender.

“They said if I left the lid up when I went to the toilet, I’d confuse the clients. It’s just ridiculous.

“When I confronted the boss she admitted she’d seen the documentary and didn’t want me there. What can you do?” Ria now hopes to open a beauty salon for transgender people. But above all, she is desperate to have a family.

“I’d love a child of my own,” she says. “I’d love to have a baby to cuddle and love and look after as they grow up. It’s not going to happen overnight, I know that. But I can dream can’t I?”

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JD Williams Embroidered Shirt Dress
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