We’re just like any other cou­ple in love

It was the week’s most re­mark­able story: the Army cap­tain and the ac­tor — who both say they were born the wrong gen­der — who have just got mar­ried. Here, the new­ly­weds give the first in­ter­view about their ro­mance and in­sist . . .

Daily Mail - - News - by Frances Hardy

THERE was some­thing touch­ingly tra­di­tional — even a lit­tle old-fash­ioned — about the wed­ding last week of Army cap­tain Han­nah Win­ter­bourne and ac­tor Jake Graf.

Han­nah, 31, el­e­gant in a strap­less, fig­ure-hug­ging dress of ivory lace, was mar­ry­ing the first man she’d ever fallen in love with; ac­tu­ally her first boyfriend.

‘She looked stun­ning. When I saw her I just welled up, she was so beau­ti­ful. I was mes­merised,’ says Jake.

‘And you looked very hand­some, too,’ smiles Han­nah, who still feels a sense of dis­be­lief that she is now a mar­ried woman.

‘Just a few years ago the idea of ever be­ing mar­ried was in­con­ceiv­able,’ she says. ‘I never thought the day would come. For most of my life it wasn’t even a re­mote pos­si­bil­ity.

‘I’d never even been on a date be­fore when Jake asked me out in De­cem­ber 2015. I was ter­ri­fied! I’d only just started to come to terms with the pos­si­bil­ity that some­one might one day want to love me. But by the end of our first evening to­gether I’d told him I loved him — af­ter a few drinks, ad­mit­tedly.’

She smiles. ‘And we spent ev­ery week­end to­gether for months af­ter that. On that first date we knew we had a fu­ture to­gether.

‘ When I told my fam­ily and friends I loved him they were very wary for me, con­cerned that I wasn’t just caught up in the emo­tion of hav­ing my first boyfriend. But three years on he still makes me feel I’m the cen­tre of his uni­verse; that lit­er­ally noth­ing else mat­ters to him. I feel very loved.’

The chem­istry be­tween them crack­les like an elec­tric current. They are bonded not only by love and the for­mal com­mit­ment of mar­riage, but also by shared ex­pe­ri­ence: both Han­nah and Jake are trans­gen­der.

Han­nah is the high­est-rank­ing of­fi­cer in the British Army to have tran­si­tioned from male to fe­male.

Jake, 40, who di­rects his own films and acts, took a trans­gen­der role in the Ed­die Red­mayne film The Dan­ish Girl. He be­gan gen­der re­as­sign­ment in his late 20s, hav­ing known with ab­so­lutely cer­tainty that he was ‘a boy in­side’ from the age of two or three.

Grow­ing up in an af­flu­ent house­hold in West Lon­don with his mum, who raised him and his younger sis­ter while their fa­ther ran the fam­ily’s pros­per­ing the­atri­cal cos­tume busi­ness, Jake was a mis­er­able child, ‘ hu­mil­i­ated’ by the girl’s body in which, through some anatom­i­cal ac­ci­dent, he felt he’d been forced to live.

‘I have very curly hair and my mum thought I didn’t want it to be long and un­ruly, so she let me cut it short. But ac­tu­ally I wanted to look like a boy,’ he says. ‘My fa­ther thought I was an en­dear­ingly tomboy­ish lit­tle girl, but I knew I wanted to be a boy and for me it was just a med­i­cal anom­aly that my male brain had been wired into a fe­male body.

‘ I hated be­ing prinked and preened and put into dresses. It felt like hu­mil­i­a­tion. If I was mis­taken for a boy, I’d revel in it. When my mother cor­rected peo­ple, my heart sank.

‘I faced pu­berty with dread. I felt as if my body was turn­ing against me. I used to go to bed ev­ery night and pray to God I’d wake up as a boy. I’d strap down my breasts. I couldn’t bear to look in the mir­ror be­cause my body dis­gusted me. I was so mis­er­able and full of self-loathing.’

At his pri­vate se­condary school in cen­tral Lon­don, Jake was alien­ated from both the boys and the girls. ‘I didn’t know which loo to use un­til a kind teacher al­lowed me to use theirs,’ he says. ‘I was in­tro­verted, anx­ious, re­bel­lious. I was taunted and bul­lied for not fit­ting in.’

Mean­while, Han­nah, grow­ing up in cardiff with her older brother Jeff and their par­ents Wendy, now 61, a teacher, and Brian, 63, a pro­gramme man­ager, did not feel the acute angst that as­sailed Jake. But she also felt alien­ated from her body.

‘I used to en­joy clothes shop­ping with my mum,’ she re­mem­bers. ‘I’d walk round the girls’ dresses sec­tion and wish I was a girl, but I didn’t tell my mum. In­stead I de­vel­oped a sense of shame about my iden­tity which in­ten­si­fied with pu­berty. I coped by adopt­ing a dou­ble life.

‘In pub­lic I em­braced the strong, com­pet­i­tive, sporty side of my per­son­al­ity. Then se­cretly I’d sneak into Mum’s room and try on her clothes. I was metic­u­lous about not be­ing caught be­cause I was afraid of the con­se­quences.’

In that era, the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity was rou­tinely vil­i­fied and mocked as freak­ish; the butt of jokes or cruel taunts. Nei­ther Jake nor Han­nah felt they had any­where to turn; no re­course to coun­selling, help or em­pa­thy.

To­day, Han­nah spec­u­lates that her de­ci­sion to join the Army might have been a sub­con­scious ef­fort to sub­li­mate her fem­i­nine side.

‘ I won­der if I was try­ing to “cure” my­self of be­ing trans­gen­der by go­ing overtly down the mas­cu­line route?’ she re­flects. ‘Per­haps I thought that if I threw my­self into phys­i­cal sports, this feel­ing would go away.’

ACTUALLYshe proved to be an ex­em­plary sol­dier, win­ning a ‘ best cadet’ award on a week’s train­ing camp be­fore be­ing awarded a place, at the age of 16, at Wel­beck De­fence Sixth Form col­lege, in Not­ting­hamshire.

‘I threw my­self into the phys­i­cal, mil­i­tary life to hide the pain be­cause I was so con­vinced that be­com­ing a woman was un­achiev­able,’ she says.

‘Mostly I coped — I worked hard and it was a de­cent dis­trac­tion — but there were mo­ments when, late at night on my own, I opened a lit­tle door onto my soul and de­spair crept in.

‘There were girls and boys at the school, and the girls would talk to me about their an­tics and I wished I was one of them.

‘I was al­ways sex­u­ally at­tracted to men, but be­fore I tran­si­tioned a re­la­tion­ship with a man never felt like a pos­si­bil­ity. It didn’t feel right. It’s a very odd thing, but be­cause you’re not able to em­brace your true iden­tity, the idea of shar­ing your­self with a man was dif­fi­cult.

‘So I shut out those feel­ings. I with­drew from any kind of in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ships. It felt wrong imag­in­ing the boy me with a man when I wanted to be the ac­tual me — a woman — with a man.’

If this logic seems con­vo­luted, it is be­cause Han­nah’s emo­tional and phys­i­cal con­fu­sion was in­tense. Des­per­ate to be the woman she was sup­press­ing, it did not oc­cur to her then that she could pos­si­bly tran­si­tion. In­stead, when she was 16, she came out to her peers — though not her par­ents or tu­tors — as gay.

‘It gave me a point of ref­er­ence. It al­lowed me to em­brace more as­pects of my fem­i­nin­ity, and although I was at a mil­i­tary col­lege with testos­terone-driven teenage lads, they were pretty much all sup­port­ive,’ she re­calls. ‘My fel­low cadets re­acted with cour­tesy. A lot of them re­main good friends.’

From col­lege she pro­gressed first to New­cas­tle univer­sity — where she gained a masters de­gree in elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing — and then to of­fi­cer train­ing at the Royal Mil­i­tary Academy in Sand­hurst, Berk­shire, where her an­guish sharp­ened.

‘We’d have for­mal din­ners in bar­racks and the girls would all be in their lovely dresses with hair and make-up done, and the boys would just chuck on a black suit and tie,’ she re­mem­bers.

‘On those Satur­day evenings I would spend three hours locked in­side my room do­ing a full face of make-up, putting on a wig, high heels and a beau­ti­ful dress, then I’d sit there alone for about half an hour, so I could savour a mem­ory of get­ting ready for din­ner as my­self.

‘Then, 20 min­utes be­fore go­ing down to din­ner, I’d shower, take off all my make-up and put on my suit and black tie.’

There is an in­tense sad­ness in this rev­e­la­tion. Jake, who has heard it be­fore, stretches his hand across the ta­ble and squeezes Han­nah’s. He is a hand­some man, neatly bar­bered, slim, fash­ion­ably dressed. She, bereft of make-up and with her blonde hair tied back, em­anates an un­der­stated beauty. They are, as they say them­selves, ‘just like any other cou­ple’.

For both of them, of course, there was a mo­ment when they knew they could no longer live in their mis­ap­pro­pri­ated bod­ies. They had to be­come them­selves.

Han­nah re­alised this when she was a sec­ond lieu­tenant on a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2011. Liv­ing in cramped quar­ters with seven other of­fi­cers, she had no room for her ‘se­cret’ wardrobe.

With no pri­vacy and no fem­i­nine clothes, there was no scope to be her­self. ‘That was when I thought, not “should I change this?” but “I need to change this”,’ she says.

On her next post­ing back to the uK she mus­tered the courage to

see a doc­tor, who in turn re­ferred her to a mil­i­tary psy­chi­a­trist.

‘When you tran­si­tion it’s baby steps,’ she says, ‘ and if you’re knocked back you stay there for a very long time. But I found peo­ple were kind and un­der­stand­ing.

‘Not only did the psy­chi­a­trist say I didn’t have to leave the Army, he also said he’d helped some­one like me be­fore. I was like, “wow!” ’

But there were still hur­dles to sur­mount. Han­nah had to find the courage to tell her com­mand­ing of­fi­cer she was trans­gen­der and plan­ning her tran­si­tion. She re­mem­bers the mo­ment: ‘I was so ter­ri­fied I was shak­ing,’ she says. ‘I thought he was go­ing to shout at me. But he re­sponded: “Do you know I’m gay?”

‘He was a lieu­tenant colonel in the in­fantry. I was shocked. I said, “No sir, I didn’t,” and it turned out he was not only gay but a mem­ber of the Army LGBT (Les­bian, Gay, Bi­sex­ual, Trans­gen­der) fo­rum. So I’d hit the jack­pot.

‘He was fan­tas­tic, so sup­port­ive — and he asked me to come to a mil­i­tary LGBT meet­ing.’

Newly pro­moted to the rank of cap­tain, Han­nah ar­rived at her next unit proud to an­nounce: ‘I’m trans­gen­der.’ It was a break­through. ‘ My baby steps were be­com­ing strides,’ she says. ‘ My con­fi­dence was grow­ing and my next com­mand­ing of­fi­cer was just as great as the first.’

When she was pre­scribed her first oe­stro­gen ther­apy — in the form of a patch — her fel­low of­fi­cers cel­e­brated with her.

‘ We had a patch party,’ she laughs. ‘For sol­i­dar­ity, ev­ery­one came wear­ing a strip of Elasto­plast and we cracked open the cham­pagne.’


also had testos­terone block­ers in tan­dem with the patches, and laser treat­ment to re­move her fa­cial hair. And at Christ­mas 2013, just as she be­gan hor­mone ther­apy, she went home to tell her par­ents.

‘I told Dad first,’ she re­mem­bers. ‘I said I had some­thing “quite im­por­tant” to tell him. I said, “I’m trans­gen­der” and he said, “Thank good­ness it’s not some­thing se­ri­ous”. I think he thought I had a dread­ful ill­ness.

‘ For Mum, though, it was par­tic­u­larly hard. She wor­ried I’d be bul­lied, ha­rassed, beaten up.’

But ac­tu­ally, Han­nah’s new iden­tity gave her life mean­ing and hope. ‘The changes were slow,’ she re­calls. ‘I de­vel­oped breasts. My face started to soften and my mus­cle mass dropped.

‘I re­mem­ber tak­ing a group of sol­diers rock- climb­ing in Kenya and I laughed when I re­alised how my up­per-body strength was just smashed.

‘And I was so ex­cited to start with, I went a bit over the top with hair and make-up and nails.

‘I wor­ried about my sol­diers but they were cour­te­ous and re­spect­ful. A few of them called me “sir” by ac­ci­dent for a while, but I knew they meant well. They tell me: “I love work­ing for you, boss.” ’

For Jake, mean­while, life had changed, too; ir­re­vo­ca­bly and for the bet­ter. He, like Han­nah, had first come out as gay ‘be­cause I wanted some­where to be­long’.

He was 16 when he told his then wid­owed mother he was a les­bian. ‘And she said, “as long as you’re happy”. ’ But pal­pa­bly he wasn’t.

He had af­fairs with women — he had al­ways been at­tracted to them — but a deep-seated re­vul­sion that his body felt wrong con­tin­ued to af­flict him.

Hav­ing grad­u­ated in film and me­dia stud­ies from West­min­ster Univer­sity, in his late 20s he went to New York, where for the first time he met a trans­gen­der man who was ‘good-look­ing, suc­cess­ful, happy and ful­filled’. This was

Jake’s mo­ment of re­al­i­sa­tion. He re­turned to Lon­don and told his mother: ‘ I’m not gay. I’m a man. I’ve al­ways wanted to be a man.’

Her re­ac­tion was calm and sup­port­ive. ‘She said: “Well what are we go­ing to do about it?” And in a cou­ple of days she’d come with me to my first ap­point­ment with a pri­vate doc­tor and helped me pay for hor­mone treat­ment.’

So Jake’s phys­i­cal and men­tal trans­for­ma­tion be­gan. He started to take testos­terone and within six months his voice was lower and his beard had be­gun to grow. His mus­cu­la­ture al­tered, too, and his jaw be­came sharper and more mas­cu­line.

‘At the same time the veil of dark­ness lifted,’ he says. ‘I used to walk with a hunched- over chest, but as my breasts dis­ap­peared I started to walk tall.

‘I worked out. I took care of my­self — and my per­son­al­ity changed. I started to be con­fi­dent, af­fa­ble, out­go­ing. Ac­tu­ally, af­ter wast­ing 30 years of my life be­ing in­tensely mis­er­able, I was happy.’

Nei­ther Han­nah nor Jake will dis­cuss what they term ‘ lower surgery’ and when I raise the ques­tion of whether they have had it, they point out po­litely that it is an im­per­ti­nent and un­nec­es­sary ques­tion. ‘Would you ask any­one else about their gen­i­tals?’ asks Jake, rea­son­ably.

They have been mar­ried for barely a week when we meet and the lus­tre of their joy-filled wed­ding at Chelsea Reg­is­ter Of­fice has not worn off.

Forty friends and close fam­ily gath­ered for the oc­ca­sion. There were squeal­ing chil­dren, smil­ing col­leagues, danc­ing el­derly un­cles and much ad­mi­ra­tion of Han­nah in her glo­ri­ous gown.


looks back to when they met: they had ex­changed flirty mes­sages on so­cial me­dia af­ter a mu­tual friend, an ac­tress, had told Jake that Han­nah thought he was ‘cute’. Then Jake sug­gested a date: they would meet at 3pm un­der the clock at Water­loo Sta­tion.

‘And when I saw her there she looked ner­vous and scared and so lovely,’ he re­calls.

They went to the Royal Fes­ti­val Hall to ad­mire the view of the Thames. There was a lovely din­ner by the river. ‘And then I leaned in and kissed her,’ re­calls Jake. ‘It was a sweet first kiss. Re­ally spe­cial for both of us.’

Their shared ex­pe­ri­ence of tran­si­tion­ing was, of course, a bond. No awk­ward ex­pla­na­tions were needed. ‘And that was a huge re­lief,’ says Jake, who pro­posed on a row­ing boat in Cen­tral Park, New York, in Septem­ber 2017.

‘I was so ner­vous and jit­tery I couldn’t get the words out,’ he re­calls. ‘ And through floods of tears, Han­nah ac­cepted.’

She shows me her sparkler. Her fin­gers are el­e­gant, fem­i­nine.

They plan to have chil­dren, per­haps through sur­ro­gacy or adop­tion, but they know the path will be fraught with chal­lenges.

I’ve no doubt they will sur­mount them through the sheer strength of their love.

‘I’ve never felt for any­one as I do for Han­nah,’ says Jake, giv­ing his new wife a gen­tle kiss. ‘ And the fact is, I love her more ev­ery day.’

Find­ing happiness: Han­nah and Jake. In­set left and right, be­fore their tran­si­tions

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.