By PAUL YANDALL



As a 5-year-old living in Kaikoura, John Proctor would lie in bed at night begging God that he wake up the next day as a girl.



"I would fall asleep dreaming I was a girl. Of course, when I woke up ... well, I thought it was God's cruel joke."



Nearly 50 years on Joanne Proctor, as she is now known, may soon have her prayers answered.

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After a 3 1/2 -year battle, Ms Proctor has won the right to have a publicly financed sex change operation after Chief Ombudsman Sir Brian Elwood determined 11 days ago that she had been unfairly denied it in 1997.



The former Lyttelton crane- driver, now 53, spoke to the Herald yesterday after a roller-coaster week of relief followed by sadness at the public reaction to Sir Brian's decision.



"The electronic media have been going crazy, especially talkback [radio].



"People think this is like a nose job. That's bigotry - the worst bigotry I've seen since Aids was discovered."



Her King Country home is well away from the nearest town.



"It's my own slice of paradise," she says, "away from the ignorance."



Ms Proctor, who lives on an invalid's benefit, moved there from Hamilton two years ago, soon after she was denied sex change surgery.



She was scheduled to have the surgery at Waikato Hospital in May 1997, but less than a week before the operation Midland Health, the now-defunct regional health authority, decided against paying for it.

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"I was devastated. I had done everything right," she says.



"I had met the requirements. They said, 'Yes,' and then changed their minds and implemented [the change of policy] retrospectively."



She complained to Sir Brian, who launched an inquiry into whether she had been fairly treated.



On November 16 this year, he recommended that the Health Funding Authority arrange and pay for psychiatric assessments and, if approval was given, to pay for the surgery. "I'm so thrilled. It's been a battle," Ms Proctor says.



The operation cannot come soon enough. A heart condition means that the longer she waits, the less likely she is to survive the procedure.



Following surgery, the last task left to complete her transformation will be changing her birth certificate to read, "Sex: female."



"I want to speak out now because I know there are people like me being born here every year.



"I don't want them to suffer like I have."



Ms Proctor said fear had kept her from telling her neighbours, for whom she works occasionally, of her condition.



"I'll call them later. I think they'll be all right. But you never know with bigotry; it's such an irrational thing."