How my HUSBAND became a WOMAN after 25 years of marriage

How my HUSBAND became a WOMAN after 25 years of marriage: First she caught him wearing her knickers, then he changed his name to Charlize and started hormone treatment — with no thought of the life-changing impact on her and their three children

I don’t know when, or even if, my ex-husband was ever planning to tell me. In the event, I found out by mistake when I discovered him, at home, wearing the red camisole and knickers from La Perla that he had given me for Christmas.

He’d thought I was out. Our three teenage children were downstairs, watching a film together in the den.

It was, of course, the most enormous shock. Time froze for a few seconds as I took in this surreal sight. Was that red lipstick he was wearing?

To be fair, he was terribly embarrassed. We had been married for 25 years and together since our early 20s. Two years older than me, he seemed so together. I loved him.

We were a very happy, normal family — or so it seemed to me. I thought I had won the lottery of life.

A woman caught her husband of 25 years wearing her La Perla camisole and knickers. Later he would start hormone treatment to become a woman 

I didn’t tell anyone what I had seen. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. We went to couples counselling and he assured me that it was ‘just’ a bit of cross-dressing.

I knew he was a good person, that he loved me and the children and I understood that he had grown up in a very traditional middle-class family, where something like cross-dressing would have been totally unacceptable. I decided I could live with it.

Yet deep down I must have known he wasn’t telling me the whole truth for, one day, when everyone was out, I went up into the attic, which he always organised, for a look around — and there I found it. A suitcase I didn’t recognise containing size nine heels, fishnet tights, make-up, negligees and a long, auburn wig . . .

This is not about discrimination or transphobia, a term I’d never heard of when I discovered that suitcase ten years ago. I’ve always been a huge advocate of compassion and support for people who wish to express, or become, the gender they feel they are inside. All I ask is that their families do not become collateral damage.

The current revolution in all matters related to gender means more and more people in their 40s and 50s are admitting what was previously a secret — leaving wives and children to deal, often overnight, with a radically different version of the person they love. And yet all too often those wives and children are not afforded compassion and support themselves, but instead are cast aside or forgotten or even accused of bigotry.

Today, people talk about Trans Widows and Trans Orphans. I want to tell my family’s story because I know cases like ours are not uncommon, but are largely untold.

At couples counselling, my husband continued to underplay it. He insisted he was not gay.

He said his cross-dressing was a reaction to the lack of regular sex in our marriage, which like many long-term relationships had suffered a dip in intimacy. So it was partly my fault.

Having seen him in my lingerie, I didn’t really want to have sex with him at all. I didn’t know what he’d be thinking. Would he have rather been me? But he started to get angry at this, so I forced myself to keep the peace, gritted my teeth in bed and resumed more regular sex.

I didn’t tell anyone what I had seen. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. We went to couples counselling and he assured me that it was ‘just’ a bit of cross-dressing

Looking back, I was desperately trying to keep things the same as they had always been. I’d have done anything not to break up the family.

After six months of weekly counselling, he stopped attending, claiming he had been to see a hypnotherapist and was ‘cured’ of the need to cross-dress, in part because we were more active in the bedroom.

It was just a temporary midlife crisis, he claimed — and now we could go back to normal. He never said sorry.

But, again, I had my suspicions. Every time he worked late at the office or went on a business trip, I wondered what he was up to. One day, I could not resist the temptation to go through his wallet — I know that makes me look bad — and found a membership card to a cheap hotel chain, plus a receipt from Topshop.

I nearly retched. He was still cross-dressing, but was he doing it alone or with someone else? Everything seemed to be a lie. By now, two years had passed. The children still didn’t know; no one did.

I moved into the spare room on the pretext that his snoring kept me awake, but the truth was I could no longer look him in the eye.

It was clear the marriage was doomed and, eventually, I plucked up the courage to tell him I wanted a divorce once the children were older.

He agreed, but said he wanted an open marriage until then. Starting now. After initially denying it, he admitted he’d been having sex with other people, dressed as a woman.

He had also been spending a lot of money on trips, clothes and hotels using a separate bank account.

This especially upset me. He worked in management consultancy and was theoretically on a good wage, but I had been paying a lot of bills on my part-time life-coach wage, having given up my full-time career to look after the children.

I moved into the spare room on the pretext that his snoring kept me awake, but the truth was I could no longer look him in the eye (File image) 

I had trusted him around money and thought he was saving it. But clearly not.

We weren’t broke, but we had three children, one at private day school, one at a state sixth-form college who needed private tuition and one studying for a diploma. It wasn’t cheap.

I agreed to an open marriage if that meant we could delay divorcing but, a few months later, the situation began to spiral. He stopped hiding evidence of cross-dressing. I began to find things around the house — nail polish that wasn’t mine; size 18 women’s clothes in his drawers. Parcels addressed to him from Zara arriving on our doorstep.

Then, with no warning, he hired a lawyer and sued me for divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour. The petition cited the breakdown in marital relations, my mood swings (I was perimenopausal, yes, but nothing like as bad as some), plus my financial dependence and ‘aspirational spending habits’.

This enraged me. I demanded he move out unless he wanted a vicious court fight on his hands.

He began to rent a bedsit nearby but, in revenge, stopped paying anything for the children, which meant I was left with the mortgage, school fees and all our expenses to find.

Meanwhile, he gave up work and went on benefits, on the grounds of emotional distress.

I also discovered from his mail, which I guiltily started opening now he had gone, that he had run up debts on a credit card, had a PayPal account I knew nothing of, and that he had not paid into his pension since shortly after we married.

I found myself struggling to keep our heads above water, so I got myself another part-time job pulling pints in a local pub and put our spare room on Airbnb, which the children didn’t like. I increased my life-coaching hours and worked six days a week, and the older children found themselves part-time jobs. I felt proud of their efforts but also furious that his deceit and irresponsibility had put us in this position.

In fact, the children were upset with me because they assumed I had kicked out their father with little reason. They didn’t know about his cross-dressing and I still wanted to protect them from the truth. I think I was frightened to tell them.

Not long after he left, I got a letter from the solicitors demanding that we sell the family home within six months and give him half the proceeds. I couldn’t believe it.

He stopped hiding evidence of cross-dressing. I began to find things around the house — nail polish that wasn’t mine; size 18 women’s clothes in his drawers

Two of the three children had exams coming up; their home was their stability. I said I was happy to sell it and give him half, but not at this crucial point in their young lives. He would not listen. I had paid for half the house deposit and always paid my share of the mortgage, so I did not feel I was being unreasonable, especially as I was now paying for everything else. My anger reached new heights. How dare he!

My eldest child found and read the letter about selling the house and, soon after that, my middle daughter started self-harming, cutting herself on her thighs and upper arms. My younger daughter wouldn’t get out of bed for weeks. I thought she had chronic fatigue syndrome.

By now, my ex and I were only communicating through lawyers. Without telling me, having not seen them for months, he arranged to meet the children for a walk. He told them he liked cross-dressing and was ‘non-binary’.

They came home in complete shock. Later that night, the youngest burst into hysterical tears, not knowing if I knew the truth about her father. I had to summon all my strength to tell her that I did, that I was fine and that I was there to support them.

My daughter who was self-harming, however, had a total meltdown and was sectioned in a general NHS mental health ward.

I was exhausted and devastated by it all. A court hearing was looming about the house and I did not feel I could take much more.

READ MORE: Husband who transitioned to become a woman after spending $29,000 on surgery insists it has strengthened her marriage – despite her wife needing eight months therapy to come to terms with being in a ‘lesbian’ relationship

How could this man I had loved be so selfish and controlling?

One day, I felt so anxious I thought I was having a panic attack. I could not stop crying and my breathing was erratic and very shallow.

I took a taxi to A&E where I broke down in the waiting room. They wanted to take me in for observation, but I had one child on a ward upstairs and couldn’t leave the others alone all night. Doctors prescribed beta blockers and diazepam to get me through the crisis, and antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication to help me function longer term.

It helped and, slowly, we all began to come to terms with what had happened. Though my middle child remained in hospital, the self-harm stopped. I began to look outside the family for support.

My parents were both gone, but my brother was a help and my girlfriends were brilliant.

I didn’t hear a word from my husband’s family, which was very hurtful, as we used to be close. I presumed they were still in the dark about his ‘new life’ and believed I had thrown him out for some trivial reason.

Then, five years ago, I discovered from my GP — who assumed I knew — that my ex-husband was getting NHS counselling and hormone therapy in order to start transitioning to become a woman.

In about a year, said the GP, he would be able to start the surgery process in London.

I felt blindsided again, and so anxious for the children. Your father growing breasts, having genital surgery? However comfortable you are with the concept of transitioning, it would be hard to process.

Once again, there was no reply to my enquiry, via lawyers, as to how we should handle this as a family. Instead, my ashen-faced daughters told me they received a round robin email from their father, sent to his parents, uncle and two siblings, informing them that his pronouns were now ‘she’ and ‘her’ and that he had changed his name to Charlize. I wasn’t included.

His parents travelled up from Dorset to see the children for lunch one weekend, but it was a disaster. They were as confused as the children and no one knew what to say.

That was how I learned my husband had been interested in dressing up in girls’ clothes even when he was a young boy. They had turned a blind eye to it, and he certainly never breathed a word of it to me.

My understanding now is that he would almost certainly have known from an early age that he was gender fluid. Did he think about this at the altar when we made our wedding vows? What was real about our marriage? Had our whole life been a lie?

We lived in one of those South London suburbs where everyone knows each other and I started getting funny looks in the street. The two youngest were being teased at school, even ostracised. It turned out that Charlize was prolific on Facebook and was going around the neighbourhood in fishnet tights, skimpy tops and heavy make-up. None of us would deny Charlize her right to this freedom, but I wanted to scream: ‘Slow down! This is not just about you. Please let the children take stock and catch up.’

I felt sad, too, for Charlize because I could see her rapidly losing any respect the children still had for her. Neighbours would say: ‘I’ve seen her in a mini dress! What on earth . . .?!’ I hated the curiosity and pity.

I paid for a family counselling session from the money I was earning from Airbnb and, via the lawyers, invited Charlize to come.

The only response was a lawyer’s letter saying I was not to contact Charlize for any reason other than immediate divorce proceedings and the house sale, and wasn’t to contact her family. When did I become the bad person in all of this?

I reached out to a transgender charity for a counselling session for myself, instead. But the counsellor, a trans woman, implied that the reason the children weren’t dealing with it well was because of me. I left in tears of impotent rage. I realised I’d have to stay silent for fear of a backlash and being judged. It felt immensely isolating. And in all of it, we were grieving. The children for the loss of their father as they knew him, and I for my husband.

I had really loved him. I know he loved me. Sometimes, after the children were in bed, I would go to the basement, curl up into a ball and sob for hours.

I am still utterly bemused by how my ex handled it. Some psychotherapists think that some people transitioning go into a state where they cannot think of anything other than finally being able to be free. They’ve spent all their lives not being themselves and, when they do come out, they feel it’s their time now.

I get that. But, with all the kindness in the world, it is still a huge challenge for your children, your family, your life partner.

Ten years later, we are emerging from it all. I fought and succeeded in staying in our home until the youngest turned 18. Thankfully, I am in a new relationship and all three children are dating in a healthy way.

Our trust in love has not been irreparably damaged.

Yet my children have lost a great deal, too — their father, their grandparents and their wider family on their father’s side. It is all too awkward to confront. They do not see Charlize at all, because they cannot face it. It is too unsettling and hurtful. Charlize’s parents have lost three of their grandchildren.

With hindsight, perhaps what is most interesting — and infuriating — to me is that both the transitioning person and the State seem to simply forget the family’s existence in all this.

The transitioning person has counselling, can go on benefits, receives surgical operations and hormones on the NHS, can be signed off work . . . but all I got with two of the three children being still under 18 was £48 a month from his Universal Credit.

Things could be so much easier if only more help was available to deal with everyone’s fragility at a measured pace.

I can only hope the next generation will not have to go through this as ignored, collateral damage.

  • Names have been changed to protect identities.

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