SHE was born a male but has regarded herself as female for much of her life.

Now Lucinda Ferguson, of Langlee, Galashiels, is awaiting a sex change operation on the National Health Service.

Despite being an open cross-dresser throughout her first marriage, the 45-year-old former industrial roofer, originally from Fort William, revealed she only began living as a woman when she moved to the Borders to start a new life around a decade ago.

However, Lucinda, who is now divorced from her second wife and studying graphic art at Borders College, claimed she has been shocked by the level of abuse she has received from both men and women of all ages since setting up home in the region.

She has accused them of discrimination tantamount to racism and has called for greater respect and understanding of transgender and gender non conforming people amid fears that the bigots could force them out.

Speaking to the Border Telegraph in an effort to raise awareness of transgender identity this week, Lucinda, previously known as Fergus, said: "I get so much hassle I sometimes have to think twice about going out because I don't feel safe.

"I think most people accept the fact that it's not right to discriminate against coloured people or people with a disability but the same can't be said of transgender people. It is actually very shocking to see the way people behave - shouting and being abusive. It happened in college and happens when I walk around the town but it only ever happened when I'm on my own. It can be very annoying.

"I would say generally I get a lot of abuse from young people who don't know any better but there have been occasions when I have been abused by people my own age. They try to humiliate me, and it seems to come naturally to them. Quite a common reaction is hysterical laughter. I also get people who say: 'That's a man'. And 'that' means I'm a thing."

But she added: "No 45-year-old woman should have to put up with what I have. Everyone just wants to have a happy life and I am no different. I want people to be nice. I'm nice, I want people to be nice to me. Maybe it's a bit too much to expect."

Lucinda, who has five children from her two marriages, claimed she was recently physically attacked by a strange man at a local supermarket in front of his wife and children. But the case was thrown out of court because of a lack of evidence.

Lucinda, who is currently undergoing hormone replacement therapy through NHS Borders, said: "I'm beginning to realise that the life I had previously when I could go anywhere I want is over.

"I have to be very careful where I go down here. I can't have the same freedom I used to unless I'm willing to put up with it. I can't even seem to go to my local shopping centre in Langlee without getting abused. I have had full grown men shouting at me from the pub and a group of girls chasing me and shouting I was gay, which of course I'm not." And she added: "The only way to stop it was to not go there."

According to the Human Rights Commission, transgender is "an umbrella term used by people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from their birth sex", regardless of whether they choose to have gender-reassignment treatment.

Lucinda said: "I'm a transgender woman, so I started off being male and now I'm female. I've been like this all my life, jumping from gender to gender. When I was younger my mother thought I was gay because she doesn't know the difference between gay and transgender and now she doesn't want to know me which is very upsetting.

"I've always been quite effeminate but I didn't fit in to society so I tried to be as male as I could really. I've been married twice and had five kids. When I met my first wife I told her right from the start that I cross dressed regularly but I wasn't aware then that I was going to have a sex change.

"I'm just trying to get on with everyone and be nice and leave all the hassle behind but it's only going to work if other people do the same."

As well as dealing with the bullies, Lucinda revealed she also had to cope with her own personal battle - with the demons inside her head. She admitted she used to cover up her feelings by drinking before publicly coming out five years ago.

Lucinda said: "It's hard to explain but, when you are in one gender and moving to another, a great battle goes on in your head, it's almost like the male side is fighting against the female side. But the female side won so I'm happy now. But I would say half the population still isn't happy with or can't accept me.

"I transitioned down here - when I moved to the Borders I changed from being male to female. There is so much fear involved with it you want to move away. I'm totally over these feelings now but now I'm thinking I might want to move away from here to live somewhere else. I'm thinking it was maybe a bad move.

"I actually felt like I had gone back in time when I moved here in so many different ways. There is an awful lot of ignorance surrounding transgender and gender non-conforming people." But she added: "I bought my house here so I'm sort of stuck."

The portrayal of transgender people on television, such as Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street and Nadia Almada in Big Brother, has helped raise awareness of transgender identity and make it seem more acceptable to society.

And Lucinda praised her neighbours, the police and college for the support they had shown towards her.

However, she revealed she believes more support is needed for transgender people in the Borders.

Lucinda, who said her male doctor had been very helpful while applying for a sex change, said: "It's a very difficult and a very slow process to go through. You're not looked after and nobody mollycoddles you.

"I have been pushing for a sex change for the past 14 months and I've had to pay for my electrolysis myself, whereas other areas of Scotland get that paid for them. It has not been easy."

But she added: "No doubt I would be stoned or shot for being the way I am in some parts of the world, so I've got to realise that living in the UK is actually quite good. I've lived in Scotland all my life, and I know there are much worse places, but it could be better."