David had all the things society equates with success -- a career as an IT consultant, two homes, cars paid for with cash , a wife and 12-year-old son he loved.

But he was hiding a secret.

"For all intents and purposes we were perfect, but many of us know from a young age that something is different, odd, we had been miscast in life," said Donna Rose, who used to be David.

"I wanted the life I had built, but I wanted me to be in it, rather than the person portrayed to the rest of the world," said Rose, now 51 and living as a transgender woman in Harrisburg, Pa.

But just before she was to have sex reassignment surgery in 1999, Rose panicked and returned to her life as a man.

For her, it was temporary, but others who are transgender find the challenge of switching genders too great. Often, they discover they have sacrificed careers and loved ones, and face a society that unfairly views them as freaks.

Just this week, British millionaire Charles Kane, who had lived as the glamorous interior designer Samantha Kane for 17 years, revealed he was marrying again as a man.

Born Sam Hashimi, he was a divorced father of two when he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on his first sex change operation in 1987.

But he later said it was a "mistake," and five years ago he spent thousands more on three operations to restore his male genitals.

"People who think they are a woman trapped in a male body are completely deluded," he told Britain's Daily Mail

this week. "I certainly was. I needed counseling, not a sex-change operation."

And there have been others.

In 2007,Los Angeles Times sportswriter Mike Penner publicly transitioned to being a woman -- Christine Daniels.

"It has taken more than 40 years, a million tears and hundreds of hours of soul-searching therapy for me to work up the courage to type those words," he wrote under the byline Daniels.

But in 2008, the writer missed his wife and returned to the marriage. She rejected him and Penner killed himself last year at the age of 52.

Former tennis star and ophthalmologist Dr. Renee Richards, born Richard Raskind, also expressed regret over her 1975 sex change at the age of 40, saying that she never was able to fully feel like a woman.

"As far as being fulfilled as a woman, I'm not as fulfilled as I dreamed of being," she told Tennis magazine in 1999. "I receive letters from people who are considering having this operation...and I discourage them all."

Rose, author of The Binary Divide, admits the transition from male to female was difficult.

"It's meant to be a discovery process," she said. "The minute that happens the old life profoundly changes and you can't get it back. You can always go back to being a man or a woman, but the life you left is gone. And that's the biggest danger."

According to research by Lynn Conway, a transgender woman and professor emeritus at University of Michigan, an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 postoperative transsexual women live in the United States. Many more are in the transition process.

Some Seek Sex Change for Wrong Reason

But there are no statistics on those who have surgery and later face regrets, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE).

And, according to NCTE spokesman Stephanie White, there is "no one surgery."

"Different people modify their bodies or not," she said. "A lot of people don't modify in any way, and that is not always choice, but a question of access."

Advocates say some of the wrong reasons for transitioning are seeking a sexual thrill or thinking that your life will change completely for the better.

Many don't have the financial resources to access body modification that would make their transition complete.

The World Association for Transgender Health sets rigorous standards of care for gender reassignment surgery.

They recommend a step-by-step process that brings a person "to the point where you don't have regrets," said Rose.

WPATH requires that a person considering surgery take one year to work with a therapist, take gender-appropriate hormones, and "live the role" with a new name and documentation.

Surgery is irrevocable.

In male to female surgery, testicles, penis and Adam's apple are removed. Surgeons then construct a vaginal opening and use salvaged sensory tissue to construct a clitoris.

During Rose's transition year, as she moved toward sex reassignment surgery, her wife and son rejected her and she risked being fired.

Even the female hormones raised havoc with all her senses -- new feelings and sensations she didn't know how to cope with.

"I was alone for the first time in my adult life," she said. "I was ill-equipped to be a girl. It's a complete change in how you look, act and feel. I hadn't been socialized as a girl and I felt uncomfortable and inadequate."

"And I missed my wife and son," she said. "It was terrifying."

Rose had already undergone breast augmentation surgery and told her company's HR department. Within a day of telling her co-workers, she had a change of heart.

"I picked up the phone, called work and said, 'I am not going to do it," said Rose. "I called my wife and said, I want to come home."

Though advocates understand the misgivings, they say that in the case of Charles Kane, his wealth allowed him to "leap-frog" the WPATH safeguards and standards.

And he had "unreasonable expectations that it would make everything in his life better," according to Christine Beatty, a 52-year-old transgender woman from Los Angeles.

Beatty first transitioned from a man to a woman in 1985, while a college computer science major. She had spent four years in the Air Force and was married to a woman at the time.

"There was a lot of ignorance about transsexual women and they were very uncommon and they got a lot of negative reaction from the public and family members," she said.

But when Beatty made the transition -- taking hormones and living as a woman -- she spiraled downward mentally, eventually working as a prostitute and becoming a heroin addict.

Transgender Women Find New Identities and No Regrets

"It was sort of a rebellious act against society," she said. "You turn your back on me and to heck with you."

"I had no other role models," said Beatty. "It was also an act of survival. I had to pay the bills."

And clients, unlike others, gave her positive feedback. "They told me I was beautiful and sexy."

At one point she decided living as a transsexual woman was "ruining my life," so Beatty went back to living as a man.

Eventually, when Beatty was able to become "clean and sober," she realized she had been a "coward and a traitor" to herself.

But in 1988, all her feelings returned. "I could no longer suppress them," she said.

In 2002, Beatty completed her sex reassignment surgery. Now, she is writing a book about her journey, Not Your Average American Girl.

She said today, transgender women have more visibility and the Internet has allowed them to share experiences and "strength and hope."

"I never regret it," said Beatty.

Neither does Donna Rose, who only returned to her wife for four months before she realized, "The part of me that is Donna was there and always would be there."

Now, more than a decade later, Rose said she is a "poster child for change."

"When I was a guy, all I cared about was how much money I made and what is my title," she said. But now she wants to help others.

So last week, she stepped outside her corporate career and took a job as the executive director of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) Center of Central Pennsylvania.

"There's more flexibility now to just be who you are," she said. "But for many of us we had to choose" between being male or female.

"Our culture only recognizes two genders and it forces people to conform to standards and norms that are specific our physical body," she said. "Those who can't or won't conform often face tremendous challenges that don't have easy or universal answers."

As for Charles Kane and his "mistake," Rose said that should not mean all transgender people need to be "saved."

"For many of us this is the right path, and for him to think that he can speak for anyone but himself is wrong," she said. "His path may not have worked for him, but mine does work for me."