LOVE AND MARRIAGE
THIS YEAR DIANE HOWARD IS CELEBRATING 30 YEARS OF MARRIAGE TO HER WIFE, TRACEY. THIS IS THEIR STORY, AS TOLD BY DIANE
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