"WHY do you ask about the surgery? Why do you ask physically about the surgery? Is that what made me a woman? Is that the only thing that makes you a woman?"
Nikki Sinclaire is irked. Her transformation from male to female was much more than a question of a hospital visit.
"The media focus in on it," she says, "and I think 'why is that so important?'. It's almost like they have this revolving door attitude. You go in a man and you come out a woman."
"The operation," continues the 45-year-old, "is irrelevant. You look around here (we're meeting in the cafe at the Potteries Museum), you don't know what operations any of these people have had. You don't know if I'm lying, if I've had the operation or not. Your sexuality is about who you are."
Nikki is, of course, correct to pull me up. Even the quickest perusal of her book, Never Give Up, reveals the truth of the long drawn out, emotionally draining, physically arduous, horribly judgemental, and relentlessly self-analytical nature of finding yourself trapped in the body of the wrong sex. Football's Nikki's game but, considering the obstacles she's overcome, it might well have been the 4x100m hurdles, with Nikki running all four legs.
Nikki's one of seven members of the European Parliament serving the West Midlands, a constituency extending from North Staffordshire to Coventry to Hereford.
Formerly of UKIP, she now stands under the banner of her own We Demand A Referendum party. As she puts it, "basically, I'm campaigning for my own redundancy".
But that's but a small part of what makes Nikki Sinclaire who she is. For her independent streak has been honed in adverse circumstances. In an ideal world, the fact she's a transsexual wouldn't be mentioned. But she was, she claims, forced to reveal all after UKIP threatened to do it themselves.
"They thought that possibly it would undermine me," she says. "It was a way of pushing me down."
By writing the book, at least she could reveal her past – and the woman it's made her – on her own terms. "I ummed and ahhed about it," she says. "It wasn't an easy decision. I've always thought your past shouldn't matter."
And then there were the sensitivities of what to include. "There were things in there that people didn't know. My father, for instance, didn't know about the rape. It was going to be one of the things that wasn't in the book. But as the process evolved, it came into being."
Sinclaire was raped by a stranger in a London street. Except, back then, it was defined as an 'assault'. "Regardless of the surgery you'd had," she explains, "you were still legally a male." The law has since been changed.
"The big thing the media got wrong again," she despairs, "is that because I was raped I became a lesbian. That's not very helpful to people who have been raped."
While Sinclaire underwent sex change surgery in her mid-20s, the journey began two decades earlier.
"When I was five," she reveals in her book, "I began having the same dream almost every night. I would wake up as a girl and everything would be all right. Then I really woke up and I was still a boy."
School only reinforced the feeling something was amiss. "On my first day," she recalls, "I headed straight for the wendy house where I dressed up in all the girls' clothing and played happily with the girls and the dolls.
"Things were not right, but what options were there? Better to shut it all off and try not to worry about it."
Matters failed to become easier with age as, with an awful inevitability, bullying ensued. Nikki's solution was, put simply, not to attend. She spent her days riding buses, escaping into music, and increasingly experimenting with androgyny. "I knew what was coming," she writes. "My body would change. It would make me into a man and I wouldn't be able to stop it. Somehow, someway, I was going to find a way to be the real me."
Despite her dad's indignation, she was buoyed by a newspaper article about former Bond girl Caroline Cossey, who'd taken the transgender route herself.
"I felt incredibly happy," she says. "It made me realise that I was not alone. Until then I'd thought I was some kind of nutcase – that I was the only person in the world who felt like this."
Still in her teens, it was then, having initially purloined tan tights, pink lipstick and powder compact from her mum, she began dressing as a woman. The first major, and hugely liberating, transformation came when she took the step of donning a dress, changing from her school clothes in a dingy and disused inner city garage, and stepping outside to a brighter, better world. "For the first time in my life," she says, "I felt right, which was all I had ever wanted to feel. It wasn't a sexual thing. I had simply found the correct identity. I had a future here.
"I was happier than I had ever been, exultant. All my life I felt as if I'd been trapped in a darkened maze. Now, suddenly, I had found a way out into sunshine."
Sadly, however, when it came to making the move to a feminine life permanent, the storm clouds once again started to gather. The medical establishment was dismissive. "You are indulging in an adolescent fantasy," Nikki was told.
And even when doctors did begin to take her seriously, and she was set on the pathway to her current self, there was still 'the verbal abuse – sarcastic catcalls and wolf whistles, followed by a sneering comment, as I walked down the street'.
"To say it didn't hurt would be a lie," she says. "But when you have imagined doing something so big for so long, such slurs become an irrelevance. I knew where I was going and I knew who I was. I wasn't going to give the bigots power over my life."
"The operation," she tells me, "happened as quickly as I possibly could, because unfortunately in those days, I couldn't see a specialist until I was 21. It's not like I waited. I was talking to people at the age of 16. I'd have had it at seven, eight, nine, ten!"
Never happier in her own skin, Nikki has, in herself, created a new life. And it's the experiences she's accrued along the way, negative and positive, that now drive her as a politician. "It's that justice thing," she says, "the feeling that you've got to fight back. I've had to fight my whole life, but I had the strength and the ability to do that. I have these skills and I'm quite tenacious and I can achieve in other areas."
But does she fear she'll always have the word 'transsexual' applied before MEP? "Why should it be?" she sparks. "Would you say to someone 'divorced MEP', 'heterosexual MEP' 'spinster'? You don't. So why would you?
"And also," she adds, "it's a medical condition. So would you say 'cancer survivor MEP', 'stroke survivor MEP'? Surely that's discrimination in itself.
"The whole 'sex' thing has always got negative connotations. It's almost like it's a choice. Why would anybody choose to put themselves through it? You wouldn't. Because my life could be easier."
As a politician, Nikki would prefer to use her experience of demonisation to flag up issues of social equality. "When I told the teacher I wanted to be an MP," she recalls, "she led the whole class in laughing at me. But why can't a kid with the poorest parents be a leader of this country?"
It's at this point a chap comes up to say hello. "I'm one of your MEPs," Nikki tells him. "Are you?" he says. "Well nobody told me about it!"
"I'm one of those who votes on 75 per cent of the laws in this country," she assures him, attempting to reinforce how we under-estimate the European Parliament's power.
"The people of Stoke-on-Trent are hugely Euro-sceptic," she claims. "The only place we're overrun with Europhiles is Leamington Spa."
There is one alleged blight on her record that she'd like to be rid of, an allegation regarding expenses dating back to 2010.
"I completely deny any accusations," she says. "I believe the amount I'm being accused of is somewhere in the region of £8-10,000. Why do I need to steal £10,000?" – she points out her independently audited accounts – "It doesn't make sense."
Nikki plans to stand for one more term in Europe. Ideally, she'd then turn her attentions to domestic politics. "Would I like to be an MP?" she asks. "I'd love to be an MP! But an independent MP. You should be representing the people, and politicians forget that." More realistically, she feels, she'll enter the charitable sector.
Whatever the next chapter holds, the preceding umpteen tell a truly remarkable tale. "I hope," she writes, "that my story, and the many obstacles I overcame, will inspire other people from difficult or underprivileged backgrounds to find a way of realising their dreams, personally and professionally.
"The struggle I endured to become the woman I am today has played a critical role in the way I see the world. It has fuelled my hatred of discrimination, and left me with an insatiable desire for fair play and justice."
"I consider myself incredibly fortunate," she adds. "I have a job I enjoy, family I love, and I have a special woman in my life that I am in love with and to whom I am deeply committed."
And the title of the book? It relates to the one and only time she met Margaret Thatcher, revealing her battle to unshackle Britain from Europe. "She seemed to admire my fighting spirit," she says, "and nodded approval as I spoke. Then she grabbed my hand and her eyes looked into mine. 'Never give up!' she said. 'Please, please, you must keep going! Never give up! Never give up!' She vanished among the crowd. One imagines Nikki will never allow herself to do the same.