Jane and Barbara Hamlin had been married for eight years when a secret emerged that changed both their lives. Here, in Trans Awareness Week (13-19 November), they share their powerful story...
When Jane and I first met, I knew her as John; an attractive, well-dressed male teacher at the school where I worked.
Even though she – as I now call her – was married, we got on so well we started going to the pub together as friends. She wore smart suits and I remember noticing her neatly manicured nails. With hindsight, that was my only possible clue.
I was 38 and had recently separated from my husband after 18 years of marriage, because of his difficult moods. Jane, by comparison, was gentle and kind.
When Jane split up with her wife two years later, in 1987, we got together. She loved socialising like me and was also keen to travel the world.
Eight months later, when I was 40, we got married. She already had two children – a boy and a girl – from her previous marriage. At my age, I felt it was too late to have children of my own and teaching at the secondary school fulfilled me anyway.
Watch: Barbara and Jane Hamlin share their love story below
Jane and I were blissfully happy. It wasn’t until eight years into our marriage, in 1995, that a bombshell hit me.
I was busily packing for our holiday to Canada the next day, feeling mildly cross that Jane was out playing cricket, when I came across a bag of women’s clothes at the back of her wardrobe.
Inside was a denim mini skirt, a pair of denim hot pants and some women’s pants and lacy bras. I dug deeper and found a pair of size nine, black patent high heels.
I immediately thought she was having an affair, horrified that some other woman had been secretly coming to my house. I stared at the clothes in disbelief.
I carried on packing, my imagination running wild. With great difficulty, I tried to pretend everything was fine when she came home from cricket. It wasn’t the right time to raise it with us about to go on holiday.
On the aeroplane the next day, I kept looking at Jane, thinking, ‘I don’t really know you. What’s this big secret you’re hiding?’
Once we got to Canada, as we lay in bed in the dark together, I blurted out, ‘So what’s this bag of women’s clothes I’ve found then?’
‘They were for me,’ Jane replied sheepishly. Hearing the truth – that the clothes were hers – was a huge relief. I’d been so worried she’d been unfaithful to me, which would have been far worse.
She wasn’t upset that I’d found out either. I could hear pure relief in her voice, as she explained that she found it relaxing to wear women’s clothing. She said she’d wanted to tell me for years but was worried how I’d react.
As we lay in bed talking for hours, my reaction surprised me too. I was more broad-minded than I thought. I’d read about cross-dressing before. If she’d told me out of the blue I might have reacted differently but finding out this way I was focussed on the relief that she wasn’t having an affair.
I was 49 then and Jane was 48 and I’d always known we’d be together for the rest of our lives. I assumed from then on this would be ‘our secret’, because of her job, her family and the stigma. No one would need to know.
Back then, I thought it was just about dressing up in women’s clothes. I never dreamt it would lead to her wanting a full sex reassignment later on.
Being on holiday, we were in a different, more experimental frame of mind. I found myself exploring what it felt like to have a husband who wanted to wear female clothing.
We went shopping together in Vancouver, the staff assuming the beautiful gold top we bought was for me, instead of her. It was surprisingly enjoyable clothes-shopping with my husband.
Back to normality in the UK, I felt a sudden need to tell my two closest female friends about Jane. With the holiday over, my thoughts had been spiralling. Being able to share our big secret, I felt the pressure lift.
My friends were wonderful, promising to support me. One friend was keen to invite Jane to the house dressed as Jane – her female alter ego – to show her acceptance.
It was two days after we got back that I first saw Jane in women’s clothing. She still had a moustache at the time, so it was an odd combination, with her in a skirt.
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel, but to my surprise, I still fancied her dressed as a woman, probably because she seemed so happy. Also, it was still John, the man I loved, underneath.
Our secret brought us closer and we began to look for opportunities where Jane could express herself as Jane outside of our home. By then, she’d shaved off her moustache.
We arranged to go a cross-dressing club in London and stay in a hotel. We were worried how the taxi driver might react, but unfazed, he said politely, ‘Evening ladies, where would you like to go?’ It was so liberating for Jane.
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We spent the night sat on our stools, people-watching, marvelling at all the exotic outfits. Jane’s dress was sedate by comparison. Like me, she found it a real eye-opener, and relished the chance to go unnoticed in women’s clothing.
It became a daily routine that as soon as John got home from her job as a head teacher of a village primary school, she would change into her female clothing. I was surprised how quickly it became normal.
I fancied her just as much, whether in male or female mode. At first, she went through the ‘mini skirt phase’ when she was at home, but thankfully that didn’t last long.
It sounds strange but seeing John’s enthusiasm made me reassess my own appearance. I felt Jane looked much better than me in women’s clothing. She has better legs and a smaller bottom! It was around this time I started to call her ‘Jane’.
I had to talk firmly to myself to stop a new insecurity creeping in. I reminded myself that Jane had never said anything to make me feel she didn’t like how I looked.
This wasn’t about her wanting to be with anyone else. Instead, it was about her exploring another side of herself.
I showed Jane how to apply her make-up the first few times, but I had as little idea about clothes as she did. Together we worked out what suited her, sourcing larger sizes on the internet. She was a size 20 top and size 16 bottom.
We told a couple more friends about Jane, who were amazed but accepting. Gradually, over the years, she began wanting to be able to go out and pass as a woman in public, so she started to wear more sober clothes, similar to my own.
We’d poke our heads out of the front door to check the neighbours weren’t looking before driving into nearby cities to go shopping.
But eventually Jane came to feel that dressing as a woman part-time wasn’t enough. In 2011, she told me she wanted to start hormone treatment and make the transition to live as a woman full-time.
She explained this was deep-rooted, that even at five years old, she had told her mother, ‘Look, I’m a girl, I want to wear girl’s clothes.’ Transgenderism was unheard of in those days so her mother dismissed it.
I was gripped with anxiety and started to wake up feeling low. I had to face up to the idea that the man I had married was really a woman.
Despite everything, I never considered us splitting up. We got on so well, I didn’t want this to mean the end of our marriage. But a strong sense of bereavement kicked in, for the husband I’d lost.
It was one thing wanting to dress up as a woman but to have hormone treatment was the first step towards having a full sex reassignment operation. I felt very disturbed by the idea of the operation and was worried about risks of surgery.
It was very hard to get used to the idea. I was telling Jane I loved her but sometimes lost my temper. The next step was to come out as a woman at the university where she then worked.
Luckily, her employers were immensely supportive. Jane received over 100 emails of support from students too.
I still needed to work through my sense of loss, so I started to see a counsellor. Exploring my feelings helped to confirm in my mind that I wanted to stay with Jane.
I began to see things differently. I wasn’t losing my husband, instead I had the same person in a different form.
Before Jane even started hormone treatment, I knew we had to tell Jane’s son and daughter, who were in their thirties by then. As you can imagine, they were completely taken aback.
We’ve since discovered many transgendered people are estranged from their families, which is tragic. Eventually, after many emails and phone calls, they came to terms with it.
The next step was telling everyone in our village, so I went round knocking on people’s doors before a wine and cheese evening I was organising for a local group, telling them they would notice a change in ‘John’ that evening.
One male friend was horrified, saying, ‘He can’t do that!’ and had to have a stiff drink. I explained it to him in terms of how you can love someone, no matter what.
Eventually over the years, he got used to John, as Jane.
She had to live as a woman full-time for two years before having the operation, which involved full vaginoplasty [surgery to create a vagina, often by inverting the penis and removing the testicles]. With hormone treatment, Jane grew breasts and her facial hair slowed down.
On the morning of the operation in June 2014, after a four-hour drive to the Nuffield Health Hospital in Brighton, my main feeling was fear.
I worried that the surgery could go wrong, but it all went to plan. Although so much had changed, I was instantly less anxious, and began to feel that I could move into a new phase of our life together.
I no longer worry about the looks we get – and Jane is so confident that she seems oblivious. I am so proud of her strength.
We are careful where we go, though, and wouldn't go into town late at night.
We have had only one bad reaction, when the man behind the counter in our local butcher shop commented: 'I see we've come in fancy dress today.' Jane was so upset that we never went back.
Jane classes herself as a 'lesbian trans woman' – meaning she is still attracted to me, as I am to her. We're still intimate as a married couple; we still kiss and cuddle.
Through meeting other trans people, I’ve learned I’m unusual. Sadly, marriages usually end when this happens. Another wife and I set up a support group called Beaumont Partners, to help the wives and partners of trans people. I felt so alone when I found out and wouldn’t want anyone else to feel that way.
I wanted to reassure other wives that with time and courage, sometimes you can work it through. Jane and I are just ordinary people whose love and compatibility has transcended everything."
"When I first came out, everyone told me, ‘You’re so brave’ but I just felt relieved that I was no longer living a lie. The person who’s courageous is Barbara.
I’d wanted to tell her for years but was too scared in case she was angry or even left me. I’d suppressed this side of myself all my life, but our marriage is even stronger now because I never have to watch what I say.
For as long as I can remember, I've felt I was born into the wrong gender. As a child, I used to secretly swap clothes with the girl next door out of childish curiosity.
I told my mum I wanted to dress as a girl, but she snapped, 'Don't be so stupid, you can't.’ The feeling never went away.
When Barbara found my bag of women's clothes, I felt a huge sense of relief. I had been secretly dressing up when she was out for the evening for years. It was horrible knowing I couldn't share it with Barbara.
Some women in her position feel betrayed by their husband – but somehow Barbara didn't.
I didn't feel guilty either because it's not my fault I'm trans. That's just how I was born. No one really understands why.
Many trans people are cut off by their families, so I was anxious about telling my grown-up children. My son and daughter were understandably shocked.
I decided to also tell my ex-wife, as I knew they would need someone to talk to. We had known each other since we were 18, but when we met up with me as Jane she told me, 'That's the most relaxed I have ever seen you.'
As we sat and had a cup of tea with Barbara, my ex-wife said to her: 'I couldn't have coped with this!' I'm so lucky to have Barbara.
Funnily enough, my grandchildren were the easiest to tell. Children are naturally accepting. They were a bit shy when they first saw me in Jane mode during a pub lunch, but Barbara brought out a card game as a distraction.
Over time, I was able to explain to my children it wasn’t some kind of midlife crisis. My daughter admitted, growing up, she always felt I’d been searching for something. Now everything made sense.
As a spokesperson, I’ve suffered abuse online for speaking out on trans issues. I try not to take it personally, but it isn’t easy.
The anti-trans brigade has a very strong voice, so it can be hard being in the minority. I dream of a world that is fully accepting of us."