Written By: Radhika Sanghani 3/9/15
Transgender people are still badly stigmatised in the 21st century but, as the UK’s first trans-themed TV show begins, we ask if their romantic partners have it even worse.
According to the transgender actress and campaigner Laverne Cox, who was nominated for an Emmy for her role in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, “Most men who are attracted to and date transgender women are probably stigmatised more than trans women are.”
The UK’s first ever trans-themed sitcom, the BBC’s Boy Meets Girl, explores precisely these issues. The show tells the story of a trans woman starting a relationship with a younger man and how their community deals with their unusual romance.
We spoke to three couples to find out how challenging it is for trans people and their partners to come out.
These are their stories.
Civil servant Jacqui Gavin, 47, and consultant Stephen Gavin, 60, have been together for 23 years
“My first wife died of multiple sclerosis back in 1992,” says Stephen. “A few months later, some friends invited me to a party and I saw this stunning woman. I couldn’t understand why she was so quiet and shy given the way she looked. We started chatting and got on very well.
“At that point I didn’t know Jacqui was trans. I didn’t call her until a few months later, because I was still grieving, and we had our first date. That’s when she told me about her past. She was very upfront. I was fortunate because I’d already met Jacqui the woman.”
The fact that Stephen had met Jacqui post-transition without any knowledge of her past meant he had already started to fall for her.
“I suppose I did have a preconception of what trans people would be like, and would look like,” he says. “But she didn’t fit into any of that.”
Jacqui transitioned in 1983, aged 15, after moving out of her family home in Scotland. “I left because of difficulties being bullied at school. I was living in London waiting on tables. I remember putting on make-up and just feeling like me.
“But then, at 16, I had to return home because my mum was ill. I had to ‘detransition’ which was hard. I joined the RAF. One day they found a bra and knickers in my bag. I could have said they were a girlfriend’s but I didn’t want to lie.
“I was called in for a meeting with my supervisors who were furious. They were going to demote me – but I decided to just leave instead.”
Jacqui began gender reassignment surgery and, aged 20, started modelling. She had a successful career but after a tabloid ‘outed’ her a year later (her clients hadn’t known she was trans), she says, “I was dropped like a stone because I wasn’t seen as a woman anymore.”
A few years later, she met Steve. And in 1995, the couple wed. “It was tough to find somewhere to get married,” says Jacqui. “The Gender Recognition Act didn’t come in until 2004 so we couldn’t do it in the UK. We ended up going to the Caribbean.”
Steve says he didn’t experience much stigma – to his surprise, even his traditional Catholic father accepted Jacqui’s past immediately. By this point he’d already known her for two years and said, “As far as I’m concerned, Jacqui is and always will be the most beautiful daughter-in-law.”
But, in 1995, newspapers got hold of their wedding photos and connected them to Jacqui’s modelling career.
“It was everywhere,” says Steve. “All over the media. Back then it was probably still seen as, ‘Are you gay?’ People think you’re going out with a bloke.
“Of course you worry about what people think. But then you find out that people who are worth a damn, don’t give a damn.”
Filmmaker Lewis Hancox, 26 and illustrator Sophie Moore, 33, met three and a half years ago
“I was only about four or five when I started saying to my mum I was a boy,” says Lewis, who transitioned from female to male at 18. “We didn’t even know what being transgender was back then, especially in the small town where I lived up North.
“I have always fancied girls, and before transitioning I was labelled gay. But I never liked to refer to myself as gay. I went along with it, but it never felt right. When I realised I was trans it all made sense. Since then I’ve only ever identified as a straight guy.”
Lewis first told his story back in 2012, on the Channel 4 documentary My Transsexual Summer. It’s how he met his girlfriend of three and a half years, Sophie.
“I didn’t know much about being transgender,” says Sophie. “I’d never been aware really that it could go the other way – that a female could transition to a male. So when I saw the trailer for the show I was really interested.
“When I watched it, I wondered how would I feel if I met a trans guy. Would I date someone like that? I was looking at Lewis – who to me looked like any other man – and thought, ‘Why not?’ I was actually quite enamoured by him so I added him on Facebook. There was no intention or anything, but we ended up talking every single day for two months.”
The couple then met up in London and for Lewis, “That was it.” He knew he wanted to be with her.
For Sophie it took a little bit longer. “People tend to assume I’m gay because I’m a bit of a tomboy. But I have always only ever been into guys and I have never been with a trans guy before. I remember saying to Lewis, ‘It might take me some getting used to’. My only concern was the sexual side of things.”
Lewis explains, “Things do change down below and grow to become more male with the testosterone. I also had surgery to neaten and rewire the area.
“Now it’s not necessarily big enough for penetrative sex but there are lots of other things in the bedroom I can do. It looks natural to me, and we don’t see it like I was ever a woman.”
Sophie adds, “For me it ended up being a case of nothing mattered because of how I felt about him emotionally.”
The couple had support from their friends and family. “My mum had questions but she was mainly just curious,” explains Sophie. “My family don’t have an issue with it and I’ve never had any negative remarks.”
But, says Lewis, “Gay guys come up to me in clubs in Brighton, where everyone knows me, and they say, ‘I find you attractive. Does that mean I’m straight?’ They say it as though it’s a massive compliment that they might fancy me, but it feels like an insult.”
Sophie agrees. “It pisses me off. It’s incredibly offensive. I’ve also had straight people applauding me for going out with Lewis. They mean well and I know it’s a positive thing they’re trying to say but it can come across as really insulting.”
Freelance artist Sophie Green, 40, and marketing professional, Thom Shannon, 33, have been a couple for 11 years
“The first time I met Sophie she was a woman. Then, the next morning when I saw her with her friends, she’d gone back to being a man,” says Thom. “But I quite liked her either way. I asked a mutual friend about her and they said she was engaged to a woman, so I thought that was it. But a few months later it all changed.”
“I was in a relationship, which was kind of going South when we first met, and it broke down,” explains Sophie. “I was at the beginning of my transition and I didn’t know who I was. It’s partly why we broke up.
“Thom and I became friends and stayed that way for a couple of years but, as I got more together, I started to see how good he was for me. I gave him a chance and we hit it off. Thom supported me through the whole transition. We kind of worked it out together really.”
Thom was 21 at that point and had previously identified as gay. “I was still figuring out what I wanted. Now I refuse to identify as anything.”
He currently considers himself to be in a heterosexual relationship.
“I’m pretty relaxed about my sexuality and, because I knew Sophie as her old identity, I knew everything from the start so her transition was never an issue for me.
“My parents were confused though – the first time they met Sophie she was living as a boy and they were worried about explaining her transition to the family. But they get on well now, and we haven’t really had any negativity – apart from a few comments on the street.
“I think the only problem has been that because I’d been out as gay before, people who’d known her before she transitioned assumed something about her gender and sexual identity. They still see me as gay even though I’m in a straight relationship.
“I think a lot of guys are worried about being seen as gay if they’re going out with trans women.”
Sophie agrees. “Thom was attracted to me as an individual – not as a trans woman. But I certainly think guys who are attracted to trans women get a rough ride. People judge them a lot.”
Before her transition, Sophie had always had relationships with women. “That’s just the way it was. I was trying to conform to a heterosexual male but I was rubbish at it. I’m more open now. I say I’m pansexual. If I wasn’t with Thom I could be with anyone – their gender wouldn’t matter.
“It’s been amazing sharing my transition with him. It’s a strange thing but it’s also wonderful. It was bizarre the first time we made love after my gender transition surgery. But it was good. Sex is a different way around for me now. It’s kind of fun finding it all out.”
“It’s like being teenagers again,” adds Thom.
Boy Meets Girl was brought about by BBC Writers Room andAll About Trans, an On Road Media project that improves understanding and portrayal of transgender people and promotes trans voices in the media.
Source: The Telegraph