The joy and challenges of coming out later in life


10th Jul 2021 Wellbeing

To celebrate the release of Two of Us on 16th July we talk to a couple about their story, their relationship and their experiences of coming out later in life.

Two of Us

Two of Us is a French film that tells the story of Nina and Madeleine, two retired lesbians who have been secretly in love for decades. They share their lives and the top floor of their building together, and to everyone else, including Madeleine's grown up children, they are simply neighbours who share a landing between their two apartments.

This powerful romance explores the struggles Madeleine experiences in coming out as gay later in life to her family and the weight she has to bear, having kept the secret of her relationship with another women and denying who she really is for so long. After an unforeseen and heart-breaking event that leads to Nina being separated from Madeleine, the film's narrative then delves into the consequences of hiding yourself and the conflict caused by bitter and unaccepting children who try to deny that the two women are in love and do their best to keep them apart. While the film is emotionally harrowing at times, Nina’s devotion to reuniting with Madeleine and the lengths she goes to get them back together again is heart-warming and really brings home that love will endure regardless of the obstacles put in its way.

Two of Us - In Cinemas and Digital Streaming from 16th July.

Jenny-Anne and Elen

 Jenny-Anne, 74 and Elen, 77 are a married transgender couple who live in Rhyl, North Wales.

They talk to us about their relationship, their life together, what life was like for them growing up, their sliding door moments and the challenges and experiences they faced in coming out later in life.

Photo by Sarra Davidmann 

Tell us what life was like growing up?

 Jenny-Anne: “I was born in Surrey into a traditional, roman catholic family. My Dad was an accountant and before that, in the RAF and my sister and I enjoyed an a privileged upbringing.

I knew from an early age that something wasn’t quite right. When I was 6, I got caught wearing my mums’ clothes to school one day. In my mind I was simply practising being the person I knew I would grow up to be, but it didn’t go down well. I was sent to see the school psychologist and I was told by my parents, my church and the school that it was wrong. So I suppressed myself and only dressed as me when I knew no-one else was around.

At university I discovered there were lots of people like me, we were trans, we just didn’t have the word for it then. When I raised this, I was told, no, that’s not for you – go and find yourself a girlfriend, get married and have a family and all this will go away.”

Elen: “We grew up in the same area, but our upbringings were quite different. My parents were liberal for the time and could perhaps even be described as radical. My father was a staunch labour supporter, and neither were religious.

When I was a teenager, I got involved in designing quite risqué items of clothing for girls and my parents didn’t bat an eyelid. I’m sure if I had come out when I was younger it would have neither surprised nor bothered them.

Growing up I didn’t necessarily want to be female; I was very strongly attracted to women but soon realised that I wasn’t like other men and didn’t treat women the way many of my peers did.

I’ve always had quite a feminine personality; I didn’t realise that’s what it was at the time and these traits were very puzzling for me. I spent a big chunk of my life hiding behind my beard and searching for the ideal women. It wasn’t until I had an eye-opening moment at 60 and saw that the woman I was looking for was actually inside of me! That’s when Elen was born, and life changed quite drastically!

What was life like before you came out?

Jenny Anne: “I got married and had children, but it made things worse for me. I wanted to be the woman in the house. I eventually explained to my wife how I felt, and she initially thought it meant I was a crossdresser - she went along with it - and even made clothes for me to wear. One day she asked me how I would like to be buried if I died. My response without thinking was “As Jenny-Anne, that’s who I am” That changed things and I think she realised then that I would eventually transition at some point in the future. She became quite depressed and Jenny-Anne was moved out of the family house.

I was pulled over by the police once and they questioned why I was driving a company car dressed as Jenny-Anne. Unfortunately, the officer rang my company and asked if it was ok for a male employee to drive their car dressed as a woman. That led to me being side-lined at work and I was eventually forced out. Throughout the course of my life I have lost 5 jobs for being trans in my private life. It was only in my very last job that I transitioned to Jenny-Anne.

When I felt empowered enough to transition permanently, I was at the grand age of 59. And there is just sheer joy in being who I am now, finally.”

 How have your family been?

Jenny-Anne: “Because I was suppressed as a youngster and at university, it caused a huge amount of collateral damage. My children were grown up when I came out, but they still don’t talk to me. Thankfully I am still close to my granddaughter and Elen and I also have a wonderful adopted daughter, Jasmin, who lives down the road from us with her partner Emily. Having Jasmin has helped me in many ways to cope with not being in contact with my own daughter.

All of Elen’s children, once they got over the initial shock, have also gradually come to a place of acceptance and are very nice to me, I’m simply Elen’s wife to them now. Elen’s brother and sister as well as her wider family are all supportive and accepting of our relationship too and will happily address her as Elen. We even have an in-family joke where our grandchildren call us Tran-ma and Tran-pa.

Elen: “I’ve had numerous relationships throughout my adult life and on the whole, I am still friendly with most of my ex-partners. Although the mother of my children is not comfortable with the life that Jenny-Anne and I lead.

I have three children, one girl and two boys. My daughter struggles a bit with Elen, but we have agreed to disagree. The boys have been fine, particularly my youngest, who was totally happy to be out with me when I first became Elen. I feel very fortunate that my family and my wider community, in the most part, have been very supportive.”

Tell us your story

Elen: “We met at a New Year’s Eve party and were friends for a year or so before becoming a couple in late 2004. We started living together in 2008 when Jenny-Anne retired and moved to Rhyl to live with me. We married in 2011, the same year that Jenny-Anne received her gender recognition certificate. It was a celebration that spanned 3 days and took place in venues that hold great significance to us as a couple. It is our most cherished memory and all the people that took part in it hold important and meaningful roles in our life and our journey together.

Jenny Anne: “We have often said it was our destiny to meet. There were so many times where our paths could have crossed. We grew up in the same area, I was even born at the same hospital as Elen’s brother. She was raised in Sutton and I was often there, either visiting my Dads office or for eye appointments. Later on, we worked in the buildings next to each other and Elen moved to the same area where my cousin lived. But the sliding doors of fate had other plans and we didn’t meet until later in life, perhaps rightly so, as we could be our true selves, at least with each other. Although we have frequently wondered what life would have been like had I transitioned as a youngster and we had met sooner.

What do you love most about each other?

Elen: “Jenny-Anne accepts me so completely and to be accepted as you are, uncritically, is very freeing. We are very happy together, although the one good thing to come out of the pandemic is that it has slowed her down - we get to spend more time together - and have grown even closer as a result.”

Jenny-Anne: “I feel the same. Elen has always supported me. She understands my history and doesn’t get upset that I am interested in things that are not typically female. She spoils me and looks after me so well and is very supportive of the campaigning work I do. I now do all my work virtually, so I have more time at home with Elen. 

What do hope for the future?

Both: Our biggest hope is that we can change society through the work we do so that trans is just another ethnicity. We just want the same things as everyone else and we’re lucky to have a loving relationship and the respect of those that are close to us.

 Jenny-Anne and Elen are founding members of the Unique TG network and are coordinators for networking, outreach and equality & diversity training in North Wales and West Cheshire.

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