Cel­e­brat­ing 30 years to­gether

One evening, my wife of over 20 years turned to me and asked, “Do you still love me?” It was then that I knew I had to tell her the truth.

I’d just got home from work and was ly­ing on our bed cry­ing my eyes out, tears wet­ting the sheets be­neath me. I could hear the tele­vi­sion down­stairs and our daugh­ter ask­ing from the hall­way, “Why’s my dad cry­ing?”

Tracey came up to our bed­room. She lay on the bed next to me, a tired look in her eyes. As she did, I poured all of my deep­est feel­ings out to her – the woman I’d mar­ried all those years ago. “I want to live as a woman,” I said. “I am a woman.” A great sense of re­lease swept over me as I ut­tered those words.

She looked me in the eyes. “That would never work,” she said. “Imag­ine ev­ery­one down the street! They’d be say­ing, ‘Look, there’s that woman who used to be a man!’”

Tracey was ter­ri­fied by what other peo­ple might say. That so­ci­ety would see me as a “freak”. My stom­ach mus­cles clenched but I un­der­stood her re­ac­tion. I had the same thoughts my­self. Still, the sim­ple fact that she was more wor­ried about what oth­ers would think than any­thing else was com­fort enough. Tracey has since told me she’d had an inkling over the years and al­though we never dis­cussed any­thing outright, she’d known some­thing wasn’t right. That night we de­cided we would leave things for 12 months and see how we both felt in a year’s time.

Our mar­riage had, for the most part, been a tra­di­tional one. We were young when we got to­gether – I was 21 and Tracey just 16 – and I re­mem­ber peo­ple say­ing five years was a big age gap but it never both­ered us. We just clicked. We mar­ried on Valen­tine’s Day in 1987 and had our first child in De­cem­ber 1988. Al­though we were happy – and we re­ally were – I’d al­ways felt some­thing didn’t fit. Grow­ing up in York­shire in the 60s and 70s, there

weren’t trans­gen­der peo­ple. At least, look­ing back, that’s how it felt. How was I to know what my feel­ings meant?

Af­ter com­ing out to Trace, I had a ma­jor break­down. I was forced to take six months off work and al­though we never re­ally ar­gued, days would pass where we would barely speak. It was at this time that I first spoke to a doc­tor about my gen­der dys­pho­ria. Tracey sup­ported me in go­ing, but when I came back from my ap­point­ment and told her ex­cit­edly about surgery and hor­mone op­tions, she looked at me in dis­be­lief. “The doc­tors are ac­tu­ally en­cour­ag­ing you?”

Even­tu­ally, and with the sup­port of my doc­tor, I got my­self back to work as a me­ter reader for a well-known en­ergy com­pany. I told them every­thing and thank­fully they were ex­tremely un­der­stand­ing, to the ex­tent that when they be­came con­cerned about my ac­cess rates drop­ping, they de­cided to is­sue me with two ID badges and two sets of uni­form to al­low me, de­pend­ing on the area I was in, to be who I wanted to be. At first, this was won­der­ful – for the first time, I could be “Diane” in pub­lic. I’d cho­sen the name partly out of con­ve­nience as it meant I kept the same ini­tials, but also as I’d al­ways ad­mired Princess Di.

Hav­ing that level of sup­port at work was in­valu­able dur­ing those first few years, but it meant liv­ing a split life. I was lit­er­ally go­ing out in my work van, pulling up into a quiet lay-by, chang­ing out of my “male” uni­form and into my “fe­male” uni­form, do­ing a day’s work and then “de-tran­si­tion­ing” be­fore com­ing back home. Hav­ing two iden­ti­ties be­came ex­haust­ing but I couldn’t move for­ward un­til I’d got­ten Trace on board. I didn’t want to sep­a­rate. Al­though the way I pre­sented my gen­der may have changed, my feel­ings for Tracey had not.

So I went to my doc­tor and asked for coun­selling ses­sions. They were very re­luc­tant at first, say­ing: “We can’t make your wife ac­cept this”. “I’m not ask­ing you that,” I told them. “I’m ask­ing for cou­ple’s coun­selling”. Even­tu­ally they agreed, and dur­ing our first ses­sion, the psy­chol­o­gist turned to Tracey and said plainly, “Diane will do this whether you like it or not”.

Of course, it wasn’t just Tracey. We have three chil­dren to­gether – two sons and a daugh­ter. On one oc­ca­sion, my daugh­ter had stum­bled across pic­tures of me on my lap­top wear­ing women’s clothes. It caused a big up­set but Tracey as­sured her I was “just dress­ing up”. I wished I could have just ex­plained every­thing to her there and then, but the tim­ing just wasn’t right.

Things came to a head one Hal­loween. At this point, I was still liv­ing “half and half” and I’d been out dressed up as a witch all day as a way of in­tro­duc­ing my­self to peo­ple as Diane un­der the cam­ou­flage of a Hal­loween cos­tume. As usual, I pulled my work van over into a lay-by to get changed when I thought, “What if I just walk straight in with my daugh­ter and my son there? Maybe it would ‘break the ice’…”

I wouldn’t say it back­fired en­tirely, but my son just laughed. My daugh­ter, on the other hand, took one look at me, ran out of the kitchen and slammed ev­ery door in the house on the way to her bed­room. “If dad does that again, you’ve got to leave him, mum,” she said to Tracey. “I’m not los­ing a hus­band and a daugh­ter,” Tracey croaked as she told me that night.

The next day, my phone rang at work. It was Tracey telling me I had to throw away the women’s clothes I’d been buy­ing. I came home and took the soft plaid shirts and slim-fit jeans I’d cho­sen out of our wardrobe and folded them care­fully into a bin bag. Once I was fin­ished I hid it in our loft. I des­per­ately wanted to make up with my fam­ily, but I wasn’t ready to give up my iden­tity.

Once things had cooled down, I ap­proached Tracey to talk things over. She told me that her friends at work didn’t un­der­stand. One of the very first times she’d been open with a col­league, they’d turned to her and said flatly: “Why are you still with him?” “Be­cause I love this per­son,” she replied.

I de­cided then to in­tro­duce Tracey to a friend of mine who was also trans and go­ing through the same ex­pe­ri­ence with her wife. They con­nected over Twit­ter and to my sur­prise, they re­ally hit it off. Fi­nally, Tracey had some­one to talk to other than me who un­der­stood how she felt. It took a while, but with the help of friends, we de­cided it was time for us to come out.

On 18 Jan­uary 2014, we called a fam­ily meet­ing. Tracey was shak­ing as our three chil­dren sat wait­ing in the liv­ing room. I’d pre­pared a com­ing out sheet and I gave a copy to each of them to read. My daugh­ter knew. She was an­gry at first, but thank­fully she stayed. They all did. One of our sons asked how far I was go­ing to go. “It’s go­ing to be a full, to­tal tran­si­tion,” I said.

Next, it was my par­ents. When I gave my dad my com­ing out let­ter, his im­me­di­ate re­sponse was, “You haven’t told any­one else, have you?” “You’re the last per­son I’ve told,” I replied meekly. He pleaded with me not to tell my mum, who was liv­ing in a care home at the time as she had Alzheimer’s. Anne, my sis­ter, de­cided to speak to her car­ers and when they en­cour­aged us, we were even­tu­ally able to get dad to come around. A cou­ple of hours af­ter I’d told mum, her car­ers called to say that soon af­ter we’d left she’d turned to them and said: “Have you heard my big news? I’ve got a new daugh­ter, Diane.” She never got it wrong af­ter that day. De­spite her Alzheimer’s, I was al­ways Diane.

To cel­e­brate, Tracey and I de­cided to take our first trip away to­gether, so off we went to Black­pool to see a cabaret show. We’d got­ten ready and were walk­ing down the stairs from our ho­tel room when a stern-faced older man saw us, turned and whis­pered to his wife who then dis­ap­prov­ingly looked us both up and down. Tracey’s eyes were wide. But if that had hap­pened to­day, nei­ther of us would bat an eye­lid.

Three years on, we’re both look­ing to­wards the fu­ture. My past is still my past and to my kids I’ll al­ways be dad but our grand­child calls me grandma, be­cause – why wouldn’t he? Of every­thing that’s hap­pened over the last 10 years, I think the most sur­pris­ing thing is the so­cial life that we have now com­pared to be­fore. We have so many more close friends and both Tracey and I feel that we’ve fi­nally got our lives back.

Af­ter 30 years of mar­riage and three years liv­ing truly as my­self, the an­swer to Tracey’s “do you still love me?” is a big, fat yes.

“At a fam­ily meet­ing, I told my chil­dren that I was go­ing to tran­si­tion”

To­geth­er­ness: Diane and Tracey Howard

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