Sex change Muslim in row with Swindon mosque
Buy this photo » Lucy Vallender at home in Swindon
A TRANSEXUAL ex-soldier who converted to Islam after claiming she had a sex change has hit out at Swindon mosque elders she claimed banned her over her gender.
Lucy Vallender, 28, of Manor Road, Swindon, says she had the operation in 2010.
In September last year she converted to Islam, became the second wife of a man she met online and started attending the Broad Street mosque.
She has now spoken out against the mosque after claiming that they asked her inappropriate questions and told her to pray with the men. She also claims the police have not helped her to address the issues of discrimination.
Lucy said: “At first at the mosque they didn’t ask any questions about my gender. But after a while they asked what my boob size was and whether I had periods.
“They said I was swearing and abusive, but I wasn’t. They also said they didn’t want me to pray with the women because I was looking at them. They said I had to pray with the men. It was demoralising. I said I was a woman, and then I left.”
The mosque has denied they ever asked Lucy, whose Islamic name is Layla, inappropriate questions. They have also said she was never banned from attending the mosque.
A spokesman from the mosque said: “Layla joined our Islamic (Tajweed) ladies class at the end of last year as she wanted to learn Arabic.
“She did not know any Arabic when she joined our school but over the months made brilliant progress. She participated in class and was welcomed by all the women until her departure in June this year. We had no idea of gender reassignment.
“Layla did not declare her change on the school submission form, we only learned of this when she wanted to get married. Unfortunately she was not happy to submit her document such as passport or birth certificate required as per the process for the Islamic marriage (Nikah).
“Apparently, Layla also had the same issue with other administrations, nevertheless we offered to help but she found the request offensive.
“She took a very aggressive approach towards her teacher with intimidating SMS and personal harassment after classes. We understood she had a similar issue with other institutes and previous employers. We had outlined the zero tolerance policy for abuse towards the volunteers and a formal consultation was conducted.
“Needless to say that Layla had accepted her conduct and apologised to the volunteer teacher and had stated that she is moving to London for marriage and would most likely not return to the classes.
“Layla was not banned from the mosque or asked to join the men for prayers, we respect the rights of women and wouldn’t even consider such an action. On the contrary we had wished Layla all the success in her marriage and new beginnings with her move to London.
“We appreciate Layla’s article detailing her struggles and challenges in life complicated with both the gender change and then conversion to Islam. It must have been tough for her to share this experience publicly and we admire her courage.”
When asked whether she had sent aggressive messages to her teacher, Lucy said she had only asked about why the mosque was asking about her breast cup size and whether she had periods.
She also said that a birth certificate or passport was not necessary for Islamic marriage, and the mosque was only requiring them to establish whether she was male or female.
Lucy has said she does have paperwork to prove she is now a woman, but was unable to show this to the Adver at the time of going to print.
A spokesman for Wiltshire Police said: “We can confirm that we have been looking into the welfare of this individual following concerns raised by a partner agency.
“The woman involved has been offered full support by Wiltshire Police throughout this process.
“At no stage has she been told that she will be arrested if she attends her local mosque.
“It would be inappropriate to comment any further.”
In 2011 Lucy, who is a keen gardener and can often be found growing red basil in her plot near her flat, moved into Swindon and started rekindling an interest in religion she has had since she was at school.
She considered Buddhism and Judaism before deciding to become Muslim. “I went to Oxford for the day and then I saw the stall,” she said, “That’s when I decided I wanted to be a Muslim.”
Seven months later, Lucy started attending classes at the mosque on Broad Street.
“There are a lot of transsexual Muslims but they haven’t come forward. I was just looking for something different. Islam is just so lovely and peaceful.
“I was searching for a direction and a point to life. I love it. It’s lovely and peaceful.”
Lucy started attending lessons at the mosque to start learning more about her new religion and the Qur’an.
Although Lucy no longer attends the mosque, she continues to be a practising Muslim and prays at home.
The mosque have said Lucy has not be banned and is welcome to contact them to discuss her return at any time.
THE BOY WHO WANTED TO BE A GIRL
By the time Lucy was 10 she already knew she wanted to be a woman.
Born a boy called Laurens, Lucy, who grew up with her family in Cirencester, had a difficult childhood living inside the wrong body.
“It’s quite hard,” she said.
“You don’t know who you are. You’re somewhere and your mind’s somewhere else and you’re in the wrong body.
“I knew at a young age that I was in the wrong body.”
In 1998 when she was about 13, Lucy, who has special needs including dyslexia and attended a special school, came out to her parents and told them she wanted to have a sex change.
She said: “As the years went by I realised I wanted to have the operation.
“My family were sad. They were sad because it meant they wouldn’t have grandchildren and they couldn’t get their heads round it. It was hard enough to get my head around it let alone everybody else.
“They were upset. It’s a taboo. It’s all like, you grow up, and you have a kid and everything.
“You have to fight your sexuality.”
Much of her family, who live in Cirencester, are still at odds with the news, and her older brother, Soren, hasn’t spoken to her for seven years, but Lucy’s mother and step-father have now come to accept the change.
“My mum has accepted it and my step dad was brilliant,” she said, “You should just be what you want to be. That’s what he said.”
“My brother doesn’t talk to me and the rest of the family. Some people agree but some people don’t.”
Lucy’s favourite subject at school was history, and now she hopes she can also make history by speaking out against prejudice.
“History was my favourite subject. It’s amazing about how a lot of things in the past affect a lot of things now. History shapes the future.”
After completing her GCSEs at school, Lucy had a number of different jobs, including working in a Tesco cafe.
She then started working as a kitchen porter at RAF South Cerney, and decided she wanted to join the Territorial Army to make her more macho.
According to the MoD, Lucy joined the Territorial Army with the Wiltshire Royal Rifles in 2004, where she trained until 2006.
Lucy said: “I joined because I wanted to make myself more masculine. I hoped it would change me.
“I was there for a year and a half. I was just in a male environment and it wasn’t fair on the men because I was attracted to them.”
In 2007 Lucy took the plunge and went to see her GP about wanting to change her gender.
She finally found the courage and told the female doctor that she wanted to be a woman, and was surprised with how accepting she was.
She then started the long process towards changing her gender, with regular sessions with a psychologist and hormone treatment to stop her facial hair and encourage breasts to grow.
“There were good days and bad days when I started taking their medication,” she said.
“Sometimes I would be quite moody.”
She also started wearing women’s clothes, many of which she bought from high street store, New Look.
She said: “It’s expensive but it’s good. Sometimes I still shop there. I get my trousers there.”
She said she had the sex change operation at a hospital in London under the NHS.
“It was great when it was done. I was relieved. I was really happy. I felt liberated. I felt more like myself.”
While she was undergoing the treatment she continued to work at RAF South Cerney as a kitchen porter, but nobody would accept her as she was and the staff treated her differently to everybody else.
She said: “I had to use a separate toilet to everybody else. They had a separate toilet at the back and nobody else used it.”
Lucy, who is now unemployed, stopped working for the camp last year but would not discuss the circumstances of her departure.
The MOD were unable to confirm or deny whether she had been employed by the camp.