A soldier who served in the army for 30 years has swapped her combats for dresses — after coming out as transgender.
Andrea Halliley, 52, was born as Andrew but hid her feelings for most of her life – even keeping her emotions secret from her wife and three children.
Serving in the military, she would wear combats in the day before sneaking to her room at night to get changed into women’s clothes she’d bought from nearby shops.
She revealed her true identity when she retired from her career as an infantry soldier in February 2015, bravely confessing to her family and later splitting from her wife.
Now living openly as a transgender woman in Crook, Durham, she likes to be known as Andi and works as a delivery driver.
She has even been signed up with a modelling agency.
Andi said: “When I first came out to my (now ex) wife, I told her I was a cross dresser – I had never heard of the term ‘transgender’ before.
“My ex wife did some research and told me about transgender people, and it was like a lightbulb moment, we both knew that’s what I really was.
“We have split up since but on amicable terms, it’s just that she didn’t marry a woman and that’s fine, I don’t hold any bad feelings towards her or anything.
“I still see our two teenage children every other weekend, they’ve been brilliant with my change and I have an older daughter from a previous relationship who has been fab as well.
“After telling my family, it was time to tell other people like my friends and old colleagues, and although I was nervous, I’ve actually had hardly any negative feedback.”
Andi said she has known she was different since she was a child and liked to dress up in her mother’s clothes and jewellery from five years old.
But growing up in Saddleworth in the 70s, Andi felt that coming out was not an option.
She said: “Initially I didn’t think there was anything wrong, but as I grew older, I became aware of societal norms.
“I think there was a certain amount of embarrassment and a lot of confusion.
“I didn’t hope it would go away because it felt right, but I did bury my feelings.”
She joined the military in 1985 and served in the infantry for the next 30 years, rising to the rank of Colour Sergeant, touring in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and Iraq.
Despite Andi forming close friendships with her military colleagues, nobody knew that she identified as a woman.
Andi had been aware that she identified as a female ever since she was little, but suppressed how she felt.
It wasn’t until she had left the military that she bravely ventured outside as a female, visiting a trans event in Cardiff in October 2015, and the experience confirmed what she had known for so long yet.
Andi said: “The military is very macho, especially in the infantry.
“I think I was trying to prove I was macho as well, but it was very difficult living a secret life in such an overtly male environment.
“It was difficult living with your own secret war inside your head.”
Feeling most like her true self when dressed in women’s clothes, Andi devised a secret routine that would allow her to live as a female when off duty.
Andi said: “Any dressing I did at that time had to be very secret.
“I’d buy women’s clothes in the town of wherever we were stationed at the time and smuggle it back into my room without anyone seeing.
“After the work I needed to do had been done for the day, I’d lock myself in my room and get dressed into the clothes I’d bought in secret.
“I wouldn’t put make up on or anything at that time, but just putting on more feminine clothes made me feel more comfortable.
“I was always worried that someone would knock and discover my secret, but thankfully, that never happened.”
Andi retired from the Army in 2015, and several months later, she decided it was time to come out so that she could live openly as a transgender woman.
The first person Andi came out to was her wife who was shocked and initially felt angry and betrayed, but after doing research into transgender people, she grew supportive of Andi being out as transgender.
They discussed staying together but decided it was not a viable option and split amicably.
She told her family first before sharing the news with friends, including fellow soldiers that she had grown close to over the three decades that she had been serving for.
Andi said: “It was nerve wracking coming out to the guys from the Infantry, as it is such a macho male environment.
“Incredibly, a lot of my old colleagues were supportive of me being transgender.
“The general response was if it makes you happy, then go for it.
“Regardless of their reaction, I wasn’t going to hide who I am any more, but it was nice to have that support and acceptance.”
Andi got a job as a delivery driver and is currently in the middle of the lengthy NHS process to be helped by a gender identity clinic.
Her GP referred her to the NHS gender identity service in Leeds in September 2016 but is still waiting for her first appointment at a gender identity clinic and has been informed it will be in February or March 2020 at the latest.
Andi’s struggle with waiting to receive help from the NHS has not stopped her from embracing her feminine identity and she lives openly as a transgender woman.
She was at an alternative burlesque show in May 2017 with friends when she got chatting to a woman who suggested Andi audition for The Alternative Model of the Year Contest.
Andi entered the competition for the first time in 2017, and has made it to the catwalk final of the contest for the past three years in a row.
She fell in love with the modelling world and after taking part in multiple photoshoots, Andi was signed by the agency Rogue Model Management.
Andi said: “It is amazing to think how much my life has changed since leaving the Army and embracing being transgender.
“Five years ago, I was wearing combats everyday, pretending to be this big macho man all day before secretly hiding in my room wearing girly clothes in fear.
“Now, I’m strutting down runways in feminine clothes and posing for cameras as a proud transgender woman.
“I have no regrets over joining the military, it was an important time in my life, but I do regret wasting so much time not being me.
“I’m just so happy I finally decided to come out and show people the real me, and I’ll never hide that side of me ever again.”