It is beyond the comprehension of most people that a person could so detest their gender that they would willingly undergo major surgery in order to change it. A Self-Made Man is the story of one woman's struggle to do exactly that - to physically become a man. Looking at pictures of the twentysomething Martine Hewitt anyone would think her mad. As Hewitt admits in the diary of her 18-month transformation to a male, she was the perfect female specimen with a 'near-10' body, a pretty face and lustrous hair. 'I could appreciate my body, although I knew it not to be mine. Others loved my body far more than I ever did,' Hewitt writes. 'When I wore a skirt I looked slinky and attractive and male attention was a-plenty. And yet I have traded my feminine self for a sub-standard male body which will never function properly. Because of this, people find it hard to understand my motivation. But to remain as a woman would have been to deny myself my dreams and my peace of mind.' It is hard for most people to understand why Hewitt would want to rearrange her body by having breasts removed and to later consider having a surgically-constructed penis. But reading her autobiography goes a long way to explain the suffering and desperation of transsexuals, about which there is so much misunderstanding and confusion, and why becoming the person you know yourself to be is a matter of life or death. Biochemistry graduate Hewitt is neither a homosexual nor a transvestite. Born with the body of a female, she was a woman with the mind of a man; a man in a woman's skin. She grew up, with her twin sister Karen, like any other middle-class girl, but knew from an early age she was different. She preferred to play soccer instead of with dolls, wear jeans not dresses and felt the need to protect rather than be protected by Karen; the typical tomboy that would grow out of her inclinations, some might say. But Hewitt didn't. As a teenager, she wore makeup, teased her hair and had boyfriends but longed to be with women - as a man. Whereas homosexuals are sexually attracted to members of the same sex, they are usually content with their gender. The majority of transvestite men who dress in women's clothing are heterosexual; many are married and their wives accept their behaviour. Transsexuals believe they have been born into the wrong body. As Hewitt says: 'This has little to do with sex. It is not a sexual preference but an ineradicable conviction about my emotional and psychological identity.' Statistics Hewitt quotes suggest one in 15,000 people is transsexual, an accepted medical condition known as gender identity crisis, with sufferers united by their conviction that they have been born into the wrong body. In Britain, around 5,000 people have undergone gender reassignment surgery, with approximately 400 going through surgery each year: three physical men for every woman seek therapy. The support organisation for British transsexuals, Gender Identity Consultancy Services, has doctors, nurses, dentists, civil servants, manual and military workers, lawyers, company directors and a male-to-female bursar at an Oxford University college on its books. Three years ago, Hewitt started making part-time appearances as a man by binding her chest and wearing men's clothes. The diary begins 18 months later when Martine decided to shed her female persona permanently and begin the process of hormone treatment that would change her body, producing facial hair and body hair, bulging muscles and deepening the voice. It is a lively, witty and intensely moving story told with a natural honesty. Not only does it detail the physical changes - Hewitt's delight at his first shave, and the long-awaited double mastectomy - it reveals the highs and lows Hewitt suffered during the emotional transformation, how parents and friends, employers and strangers reacted, and how he himself swung from euphoria to depression and back to euphoria. Essentially, it is a story of hope and courage, about one person's belief in their own ability to control destiny. 'Every day that passes propels me onwards towards my goal. Every twinge of joy, however, is accompanied by a splinter of pain. It seems I cannot reach dizzy heights without experiencing the pangs of barren despair.' One of the great insights in this diary is the changes in attitude Hewitt experiences as his monthly injections of 'oily testosterone derivatives' progress. Hewitt admits Martine would have been angered by some of the thoughts and comments made by Paul. 'I am constantly amazed by the thwarted male who is resident inside me. As I mature and develop, he is regressing into the childhood he never had. I watch The Lone Ranger and Planet Of The Apes on television in thrall. 'I am also finding myself becoming more driven sexually. My sex drive has increased and is now increasingly male. Distinct feelings of lust overtake me at the most inopportune moments . . .' The tone of the writing changes as Hewitt's treatment and evolution from female to male progresses, the reader's perception of Hewitt's gender moving in tandem with the changes affecting his body and the reception he receives from others. At a party: 'As I walked into the kitchen, a slim woman in a nicely clinging charcoal-grey mini-skirt broke away from her conversation to stare at me. She had been chatting to Sarah in between the beer barrels. Her hair was dyed but she had a nice smile. 'Is that your brother, Sarah?' she asked in a slightly slurred voice. Sarah glanced around, leaned towards her and whispered: 'He's my toyboy, actually.' ' But the reader, as delighted as Hewitt at the reaction, cannot help but ask: 'Do I think of Hewitt as a man or woman?' The diary sends conflicting messages. Typical male comments sometimes jar and, on occasion, seem forced, like a pubescent youth trying to be cool. But then you remember Hewitt is in effect going through a second puberty, learning to control and understand the hormones literally pumping through his body. The most moving aspect is the agonising and long battle Hewitt goes through to have his 'detested' breasts removed, having hopes lit up only to see them dashed time and time again. Eventually, Hewitt goes through the painful and traumatic surgery alone in a hospital in Belgium, finally discharging himself a few days later knowing he was not well enough to travel. It would be impossible even for the most cynical reader not to be moved by the joy Hewitt feels at his new status. Nineteen months after the diary began, he wrote: 'I feel like a new man today who has been welcomed back to the world after three years' absence . . . 'Mum has sent me a wonderful card. It says: 'To my dearest son Paul. Wishing you all the love, peace and happiness in the world. I'm proud of you. Love Mum x. Get well soon.' ' There are those who even after reading this book will think of Hewitt as some kind of circus side-show. But as he says: 'If anyone can read this book and still believe I'm some kind of freak, then I truly believe that it's not me who's got the problem. 'If an atmosphere of greater understanding has been created for transsexuals in the future, then this project will have been worthwhile. At this point I have only half the body I need to survive, but it's more than enough to make my life worth living again. I'm glad it wasn't easy. If I'd been given everything on a plate I wouldn't feel half as wonderful as I do now.'