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Meet the transgender ex-soldier who is now a Wolverhampton councillor

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She became the Labour Party's first openly transgender person in the country to be elected as a councillor last month when she won Wolverhampton's East Park ward seat.

But Anwen Muston has faced a lifetime of battles, having spent 23 years in the British Army during which she served during the Gulf War among numerous postings abroad.

Back then she was known as Sergeant Tony Muston, having sworn allegiance to Her Majesty at the British Army's Queen Street recruitment offices in her home town of Wolverhampton at the age of 17.

Aged 18 and in the Staffordshire Regiment

Now in her early 60s, she looks back on her stint in the Staffordshire Regiment as a period marked by a fear of coming out.

"It was a lonely existence," she said.

"I had no one to confide in. People couldn't understand why I didn't have a woman. The Sergeant Major used to say 'you're gay, you are'.

"On my first posting in Germany I got up one morning and was told that a Corporal and some others had been arrested because of homosexuality. They were never seen again. I was so scared something similar would happen to me.

"I had wanted to be a soldier. I liked the adventure and didn't want to work in a factory, but I could never be myself.

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"It was my double life. My dirty little secret."

Ms Muston started out as a rifleman in the Army, where her roles went on to include advising on what actions to take during chemical warfare attacks, overseeing food rations and managing property.

Her honours include the Kuwait Liberation Medal and the Gulf War Medal.

Anwen Muston was in the armed forces until 1996

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Ms Muston says she had 'felt different from the age of eight or nine onwards', and remembers being reprimanded by her mother Ellen for taking an interest in women's clothing.

But it was only when she left the forces in 1996 that she found out there were other people like her.

"I wanted so much to transition but I had no idea how I would be received," she said.

"From leaving the Army it took me 10 years to come to terms with myself and pluck up the courage to come out.

"It was harder than being shot at on operational duties."

Spearing a stingray while serving in Belize in 1977

She said she spent 'a lot of time and money' buying women's clothes 'then throwing them away', while she also began self-prescribing hormone tablets to reduce her testosterone levels – a dangerous move that saw her overdose on one occasion.

Ms Muston admits she 'chickened out' from attending support groups 'numerous times' through fear of being spotted.

She said: "This is what happens when people can't be themselves. I couldn't let my mother into my bungalow because she would see the real me.

"If she knocked on my door and I was dressed in another mode I wouldn't answer. She thought I had disowned her."

But at the tail end of 2007 Ms Muston says she 'finally plucked up the courage' to come out, a move which she said was planned with 'military precision'.

Anwen's medals, including the Kuwait Liberation Medal and Gulf War Medal

She received a private medical diagnosis allowing her to be prescribed hormones, changed her name from Tony to Anwen by deed poll and organised a 'coming out' party.

Invited guests included neighbours, friends and local councillors, the majority of whom had no idea she was transgender.

"It was a complete relief," Ms Muston said.

"It was definitely the start of a new chapter for me. I could really be myself in public and didn't have to hide anymore."

Ms Muston became the chair of Gender Matters, an organisation offering support for transgender people based in Compton.

She also became vice-chair of LGBT Wolverhampton, taking an active role in promoting the rights of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people in the city and helping to develop the 2010 Equality Act.

Anwen had contested ward seats in Penn in the last two years before being elected last month

Ms Muston's passage to becoming a councillor has seen her take on key roles in several community initiatives in the city.

It started the year she left the Army, when she played a leading role in securing the multi-million pound redevelopment of Phoenix Park while chairing the All Saints & Blakenhall Community Development partnership.

She also worked as a manager for the Blakenhall Action Forum and trained to be a qualified mediator to help her in the new role.

Before being elected last month she had contested ward seats in Penn in the previous two years.

"I have always had an interest in politics," she said.

"Being a councillor goes hand in hand with community work. It is about trying to get things resolved as quickly as possible, which also ties in with my time in the Army.

Celebrating victory after the election on May 5

"I've come from a background where I had to make snap decisions under fire. I had a lot of responsibilities then and I thought I had a lot to offer when I came back to Wolverhampton.

"I worked hard for two years in Penn and I think I earned the respect of the Labour group. I have carried that on to East Park and look forward to serving the residents in the best way I can."

Ms Muston says she would eventually like to hold a cabinet position on Wolverhampton council, and has already taken on roles on a string of boards including planning, licensing and equality.

She also says she sees herself as an ambassador for the LGBT community.

"Being transgender has absolutely nothing to do with me being a councillor," she said. "But people look at me as a public figure and I think I have a duty to break barriers down at the same time as doing the job I have been elected to do.

"All LGBT groups provide a vital role as they help save many lives each year. I want to do everything I can to promote the work they do.

"There are a few people who will choose to judge me in a negative way, but times have changed and I think most people are more understanding of the transgender community."

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