Jai Latto from Walkerburn proved she was so much more than just a pretty face at the weekend.
The 22-year-old was named Miss Transgender United – after wooing the judges in the glittering final of the competition in London on Sunday, which was hosted by former boxing promoter, now celebrity transgender Kellie Maloney.
After picking up the £5,000 cash prize – as well as £10,000 of plastic surgery in India and a modelling contract worth £3,000 with Sensalle lingerie – Jai said she was surprised but delighted.
She said: “I only started living transitionally in April, so as I’m not very far down the transgender path, I didn’t think I’d have a chance.
“They named the third-placed girl from Newcastle and the runner-up who was stunning ... I kind of started to back away as there were so many ladies in the later stages of transformation.
“So when they called my name, I didn’t know what to do – I was quite overwhelmed.
“I’m not really known for being speechless, but I couldn’t process it ... I was standing on stage but my soul and mind were elsewhere.
“A lot of the other girls were really happy that I had won, but some looked at me like I was just a gay boy in a dress.
“They felt that because I am at such an early stage in transitioning, I have not been through the same struggles as they have, but I think they are just jealous.”
Born a boy in Thailand to Thai/Indian mum Nee and Scottish dad Grahame Latto – originally from Portobello – the family moved to Innerleithen when he was four.
She said that early start in Thailand may have been a trigger to her deciding to go down the transgender route.
She told us: “Being transgender in Thailand is definitely more accepted, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Here in the UK, transgender people are often only portayed as people who commit suicide or possibly outed as stealing someone’s boyfriend on a Jerry Springer type show.
“I’ve been working with several groups, such as Scottish Transgender Alliance, Scottish Borders LGBT Equality and the TIE Campaign, trying to help other people come to terms with who they are, and to campaign for equality.
“The winner of Miss Trangender United is supposed to be an ambassador – and I guess that my volunteering work put me in good stead ... they know they won’t have to push me to raising awareness as I’m doing that already.
“I’m teaching people about LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] issues, but I’m also teaching people that acceptance is out there.”
Jai, who has worked as a make-up artist, a stylist at Harvey Nichols, a hairdresser and events manager, said she found no negativity in the Borders.
She said: “I came out as gay when I was 17 and people were fine about it.
“My family and friends were really supportive. I did get picked on before when I wasn’t open about it. I think they saw someone who was different.
“But once my confidence grew, I was able to own who I am. I think that makes it easier for people to accept it. I moved to Edinburgh when I was 17, but really didn’t like it there.
“I moved back to the Borders and settled in Walkerburn. I prefer smaller towns and rural areas, as it’s more of a close-knit community. No-one in Innerleithen or Walkerburn has been negative about me. In fact, I held a fundraising evening in the Union Club –a working man’s club – so I could raise enough to enter the competition, and we raised £1,000.”
Finding her true self was not the easiest of journeys for Jai.
She said: “I think I’ve always been a bit different, but it wasn’t until I was 14 before I could put a label on what I wanted to be.
“I don’t think I ever wanted to be a woman. It’s just that my inner self and how I feel does not match with my exterior, my physical body.
“Winning this competitionwill help me take the next step.”
Jai has until March to arrange a consultation with the Olmec surgery in India by phone or Skype. She will have two referalls with two psychiatrists to make sure she does not have any surgery she will regret.
She said: “I would like some work done on my brow and have my Adam’s apple removed, and have work done on my chest, so that I can feel more comfortable.”
Another of Jai’s commitments as winner is to event-manage next year’s Miss Transgender United pageant.
Next up for Jai is the Icon Awards next week in Glasgow, where she is presenting one award and is a finalist in the Role Model of the Year category.
You can vote for her at icon-awards.co.uk/vote/