‘I didn’t fall in love with a gender, I fell in love with a person’
Tom Gaebel, 54, is engaged to Allie Velasquez, 41. The couple live in Los Angeles.
Tom I’d been looking for a husband for years, but had had a lot of failed relationships, because I picked the wrong guys. I had an idea of what a perfect gay relationship looked like. Allie, whom I met before she transitioned, finally seemed like the perfect match.
We met in a gay club in West Hollywood in 2007. We dated on and off for several years. I could never figure out what Allie’s problem was. She kept wanting to step away. She was struggling with this secret. Eventually, Allie said, “If you are serious about me, then this is something you need to know.”
Allie started her transition five years ago. I wanted to be as supportive as I could, but I was terrified of losing my partner. When you are in a relationship with someone who is going through something so dramatic, the first year is going to be about this new life. I put mine on hold. It was important to get her through this. Afterwards, I could think about how I felt.
My family didn’t approve. My sister said, “This is not what I want for you.” My gay friends said, “You’re a gay man, what are you doing with this person? You’ve got no business being there. Let her be, go.” Allie anticipated this. The people she talked to told her the same thing: be prepared to lose your job, your family, and especially your boyfriend. He’s going to walk. I looked online for others like me, but found no one. It seems not many men stick around when their partner comes out as trans. So Allie was certain she’d lose me.
We had a six-month hiatus to consider if the compromises this relationship was asking of us were worth it. I learned that I didn’t fall in love with a gender, I fell in love with a person. I came back to Allie a month before the hiatus was due to end. I didn’t want to see her experience this new life alone, or with somebody else.
When Allie transitioned, the sadness and anger went, and this beautiful person popped out. People have very strong opinions in this arena, but after they meet Allie, they completely change them. Allie and my mother are the closest of friends now. My gay friends are in love with her. People assume we’re a straight couple. We take full advantage of that. Before Allie transitioned, she was scared of public displays of affection. Now we hold hands everywhere we go.
At first, I was bothered by presenting as straight. I thought I was betraying some kind of code. I believe I have responsibilities to my gay community. I’ve done the Aids Life Cycle 12 times: it’s a seven-day charity bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and a big social gathering for gay men. Since Allie has transitioned, I haven’t done the event, but we’ll work our way up to that. She has to know that my interest in the gay scene is about being part of the culture, rather than sex.
We are now engaged. If I were 20 years younger, this might be very different, but I’m 54 now, so sex is less important to me. We’re figuring this out. My compromise is that my partner is no longer male; Allie’s compromise is that her husband is gay.
Allie Tommy was my biggest cheerleader and ally. For the most part, he was extremely supportive, compassionate and understanding. It wasn’t until our hiatus that he felt some disconnect between his identity and my transition. Tommy’s biggest challenge was the mourning of his once male partner, whom he had banked on becoming his husband one day.
I honestly thought it was the end of us. Here was this gay man in his 50s who worked all his life to be true to who he was. A straight trans woman was not what he signed up for. But he’s always said that he was in love with me, not my gender. That he was Allie-sexual, which made me laugh.
‘I feel a bit like Princess Diana; there are three of us in this marriage’
Liz Gray, 63, is married to Amanda Ure, 53, who came out as trans seven years ago. They live in the East Midlands.
Liz It came out of nowhere. It was like a bomb thrown into my life. No warning, nothing. Then I had to deal with it. There wasn’t any deceit. They just started wearing flowery skirts. And I said, “What’s going on?” They said, “I’m doing this to feel better.” And it emerged, piece by piece. Each stage was like a series of shocks. We’d had 20 years of happy marriage. That was the one thing in my life that I thought was solid and secure.
We met in 1990. I was about to go to India, travelling. I didn’t know if I’d come back. And it suddenly hit me that this was the person I wanted to be with. I blurted out that I wanted to get married, in a pub. Do you call that proposing? We got married, and had two children. We had an incredibly happy marriage.
Now we are trying to work around it, because we are both committed to staying together. We get about an hour in the morning and a couple of hours in the evening where my partner presents as male; the rest of the time they are female. We had a full sex life for 20 years, but we’ve not had sex since they transitioned. My partner says attraction is about the person; that you love a person. I believe you don’t choose your sexuality, and that I’m not bisexual or gay. So I experience this as somebody who is coming between us. I feel a bit like Princess Diana; there are three of us in this marriage.
My partner came out on Facebook. I didn’t have a lot of support. People just assumed I’d be OK. Friends came round and brought presents for them. I was like, “Hang on, where’s all my stuff?” I felt no one gave any thought to how I was feeling.
I heard about a group, Straight Partners Anonymous. It’s an online forum for partners of LGBTQ people. It’s been a very valuable resource, because it is difficult to say how I feel. I am 100% against any prejudice against trans people, but when someone transitions, it does have an effect on other people, and we need to discuss that.
If my partner went for surgery, that would be it for us. I have to lay down some boundaries, and that is a very firm one. They changed their name by deed poll, and I am now the only person who calls them by their previous male name. They understand that I find this really difficult. They tell me how hurtful it is when others misgender them, so I know they also find it difficult when I use the wrong pronouns. I don’t do it with any other trans person I’ve met. It’s just about me living with this.
The first time we went out together in public, I was anxious that they would get abuse: I would hate that.
Bur we still have a good relationship. There are a lot of aspects of the marriage that are unchanged: a sense of being a partnership, working together on things, exchanging views, doing stuff together – that’s all there. We’re still partners, but partners with this huge problem. We’re both living with half of what we want.
Amanda wanted her partner’s perspective to be heard in this article, so declined to be interviewed.
‘Together, we could face just about anything’
Barbara Hamlin, 73, is married to Jane Hamlin, 71. They live in Somerset.
Barbara I have never cried about this. I don’t know why. It wasn’t a crying matter, really. We’ve been married 33 years. About eight years into our marriage, I found the women’s clothes. I was quite relieved when she told me there hadn’t been an affair; it was that she wanted to wear female clothes every now and again. It was a surprise, but it didn’t seem terrible. She was 48, I was 49. She still wanted to be with me. So I was still part of the story. What happened after that was largely going to be down to me.
We were both teachers and had met at work. Jane had two children from a previous marriage; I had also recently split from my first husband. Jane couldn’t be female throughout her working day, so she did so in the evenings and on weekends. As the years went by, we became more adventurous. We went to the Way Out club, a night in London for trans people. We didn’t talk to anybody, just sat and people-watched. We went so Jane could be herself and we could go as a couple.
Gradually, it dawned on me that Jane had a real need, and it wasn’t going to go away. We went to Sparkle, a trans event in Manchester, in 2011. We had such a lovely time, and Jane wore her Jane clothes all the way home. We stopped at a National Trust property on the way back and nobody batted an eyelid. By the time we got to our local Sainsbury’s, we had more or less decided we had to do this. There was no point in hiding any longer. We were into our 60s, so why not just go for it? I was probably quite quiet while I took on board all the implications.
Jane changed jobs and became a university lecturer, where she was able to come out. She started attending the gender clinic to consider surgery in 2011. That’s when I asked for counselling. The young lady was pretty gobsmacked, but she did her job extremely well. I wanted to do this with Jane, but I needed confidence that I would cope. Jane had surgery in 2014, when she was 65. I stayed in a bed and breakfast near the hospital in Brighton.
We go everywhere together as Barbara and Jane. We’re constantly coming out, because we meet new people all the time. There’s a lot of staring, but I’ve got used to that. Jane plays guitar at open-mic nights in local pubs. I go along to suss out people, see that they’re treating her right. I have seen what it is like for a person with gender dysphoria before transition, and how happy that person is as her real self. That is hard for anyone who hasn’t seen both sides to understand. As a feminist, I am concerned that women are still getting a bad deal. But I have been with a trans person through all this debate on their identity, and trans people deserve equal rights.
Jane is president of the Beaumont Society, a support organisation for trans people. We do have a support organisation for wives and partners, but I don’t meet many others. There were stages of acceptance. I found it difficult when Jane had therapy to feminise her voice. Before we married, we were apart because of work, so we called each other and I would love to hear the voice at the end of the phone. It was an important part of our relationship. But I’ve still got the person I married 33 years ago. We have what I consider to be quite a good marriage. Because we’re talking about love here: I wanted to keep that going with Jane.
Jane Barbara’s attitude was always very positive. After she discovered my clothing, she suggested we go shopping for me. Together, we could face just about anything.
The biggest challenge for Barbara was meeting new people. She felt she needed to alert people – like tradesmen and travel agents – to the fact that I was trans, to avoid embarrassing or difficult encounters. She was very protective of me. When I was referred to the Gender Identity Clinic, it was much more difficult for her. I had the support of other trans people and the clinic practitioners. She had only her friends, and didn’t want to burden them too much. There is very little support for the partners of trans people.
I’ve written several songs inspired by her. There’s one called Everything Is Wonderful With You. That sums it up, really. I owe my happiness to her.
‘I didn’t have romantic feelings for Jamie before he transitioned. Seeing him in a new light made me think things could go somewhere’
Shaaba Lotun, 26, is engaged to Jamie Raines, 26, who transitioned at the outset of their relationship. They live in Essex.
Shaaba Jamie and I met in college at 16, and were friends for a year before he began his transition. He came out in summer 2011, and told his friends when he returned to college. Physically, he didn’t change much, as he’d always presented in an androgynous way. What had changed was his confidence; it wasn’t like meeting someone new, it was more like making friends with someone you’d already known for a long time.
Jamie told me he had feelings for me soon after that, at a Halloween party. It was such an awkward teenage romance. Initially, I ran away. I questioned what it meant for my identity. I was straight. Did having feelings for a trans person make me gay or bi? I didn’t think about Jamie in a romantic way before he transitioned. But my feelings for him changed, because he’d changed. Seeing Jamie in that new light – as male – made me think things could go somewhere.
We started to date. I didn’t want to put a label on anything, partly because of what that might have meant for my identity, but also because of my family. My mum and stepdad were very traditional. When I lived with them, I wasn’t even allowed to be friends with boys, and I didn’t really know what LGBTQ meant. The idea of being with someone who was not Asian or Muslim would have sparked world war three, never mind the fact they were trans.
We kept our relationship secret at first. My parents found out on New Year’s Day, when my mum read a mushy text from Jamie on my phone. All hell broke loose. My stepdad was convinced that going out with a trans person meant I was trans, too. By summer, they provided me with an ultimatum: it’s either Jamie or your family.
I left home the day before my A-levels started. I moved in with Jamie and his parents, who have always been really supportive. We’ve been together throughout his transition. Jamie started doing progress videos for himself, which he put on YouTube. When he had top surgery and spoke about it online, he gained hundreds of subscribers. A community developed and we started doing videos together, during which I shared my experience of our relationship. People are curious, I understand that. We’re not embarrassed to talk about things like sex. It’s cool; we are learning new things.
I realised I was bisexual a few years ago. I was reluctant to talk about it online, because I knew people would say that it explains why I’m into a trans guy: that I still see him as a girl. I didn’t want my experiences to invalidate Jamie’s identity. But I also felt guilty, because as a couple we preach about being yourself, and I was not telling people I was LGBTQ.
Having an online platform has helped me to show that you can be Asian and LGBTQ, or LGBTQ-accepting. My family’s story gives others hope. After I had been with Jamie for five years, my mother started to speak to him, and things got better. We got engaged, and a week later Jamie went into hospital for lower surgery. He developed a haematoma and had to have emergency surgery. I called my mum, and she came straight away. When she saw him lying there, she held his face and kissed him. She brought groceries, a sleeping bag for me, and read up about surgery. She realised no one would put themselves through that if they didn’t have to. Mum apologised. She’s now helping us plan our wedding next year.
Jamie Shaaba was always honest about her feelings, without making me feel my transition was a burden or a difficulty. She always says communication is key, and she’s amazing at it. She was quite hesitant when I started putting my story online. Having any kind of platform often results in hate, and she didn’t want that for me. But she saw how many people said my story helped them.
I had a lot of support from my family, but my lower surgery wasn’t something I shared with many people, except Shaaba, my mum, dad and brother. Shaaba took my fear from me. She just let me be, and looked after me. When Shaaba was kicked out by her family, I felt terrible. But she is fearless. She’s the same online, too – she sticks by what she feels is right. She’s stubborn, but in a good way. I love that.
‘I had to go out in the world without her. It was like landing on Mars and trying to figure out how to breathe’
Maisie MacKinnon, 65, was married to Guinevere de Amblia, 69, who started her transition in 2012. They live in Seattle.
Maisie We had a dream marriage for seven years, and then we began to have trouble. We were fighting one day when Guinevere finally told me about her gender confusion. She was in tears. This was 2010; we didn’t even know the term transgender.
I was from an extremely binary culture. I was raised in the 60s and told there were two options for gender identities: man or woman. But my parents never put anyone down, and were tolerant of all people. I prided myself on being very liberal and progressive, so I thought: let’s give this a go. Naively, I also thought there was a part of Guin that could still be a man, for me.
Guin tried on women’s clothes to see if that satisfied what she was feeling. I tried making love to a woman in bed, to Guin – I’m open-minded – but sex with her did nothing for me. Two years later, I told Guin I wanted a divorce. Losing my husband was the worst moment of my life. Within a few days, Guin was taking hormones, and within a year she had gender reassignment surgery. I had been standing in the way.
The hardest part was that I had to go out and be in the world without her. It was like landing on Mars and trying to figure out how to breathe or exist. More than anything, I had to start pulling apart the indoctrination from society that says it’s best if you are in a relationship. I had made Guin so responsible for my security and happiness.
Early on, I thought I’d never want to see her again. She was so foreign; I didn’t know this person. After 18 months, she called and said she missed me. I said, “Thank God you’re calling now, because my broken heart is finally healed.”
I have four amazing kids from a previous marriage. Guin had been a big part of their lives before she transitioned. Two years after the split, my daughter invited Guin to her graduation. I wasn’t excited about that idea, but over time I began to enjoy Guin’s company. She became part of our family. I’d travel from my home in Seattle to visit her in Portland, and we’d have lunch together. It took years for her to come into her own, and for me to see her as an entirely new person, as if I had never known her before.
For seven years we lived separately, took care of our own needs and grew emotionally. A year ago, it made sense – for financial reasons, and for companionship – to move back in together. Now we are in a big house with separate quarters and a shared kitchen. We’re best friends who used to sleep together, but who laugh that we are now growing into old womanhood together. We have the relationship I always wanted, without the sex. I don’t ask permission to do anything, and neither does she. I can go on a date if I like.
I used to say I was socially liberal because it was the good thing to say. Now that I have walked a mile in marginalised people’s shoes, I can say that if a society wants to be healthy, it is essential that it allows people to be who they truly are. In many ways, I also came out. I’m not afraid to ask for what I want any more. I have a very honest life. I could not have done that if Guin didn’t have the courage to one day say to me, “Maisie, I have to do this, or I will die.” That’s when I realised: my God, I had to find myself, too.
Guinevere When I told Maisie, I was essentially coming out to myself. I had no idea what I wanted to happen with the relationship – it was a matter of survival. Afterwards, I didn’t think I would have a relationship with Maisie or any of my stepchildren – and didn’t for about a year.
Maisie was suspicious when I came back into their lives, but handled it with integrity and openness. Any couple, whether or not they stay together, is changed by the experience of transitioning. Maisie and I both value personal integrity; taking full responsibility for one’s self and situation. Maisie has changed with the experience. She has much more awareness of herself, her power and her own path.