This February The Huffington Post UK is running Making Modern Love, a fortnight-long focus on what love means to Britons in the 21st Century. Built on the three themes of finding love, building love and losing love, HuffPost will feature human stories that explore exactly what it is to be in love in modern times
Think about a time you have bought something that turned out not to be fit for purpose; perhaps that shiny new car that revealed its rust-ridden undercarriage the first time you washed it, or that "bargain" dress that fell apart and shrunk in the dryer? That is how I imagine Lesley must have felt when she realised that she was not getting quite what she thought she was with me.
What she thought she was getting was a sporty, middle-aged, mildly successful, gregarious, rugby-playing bloke. Instead, a few short years into what had been a wonderfully joyous relationship, swept along from a romantic first meeting in Madrid that involved my pocket being picked on the Metro; she found that her own precious possessions had been snatched away. My very inner soul had now been revealed, stripped back to reveal a somewhat less alluring core.
There is no easy way to tell the person you love that you are not the man she thought you were; that, in fact, you are not a man at all.
No easy way to tell indeed. My previous experience of doing just that had ended my marriage a few years previously, after which, I had shamefully and desperately tried to shake off the "psychological problems" that I had become convinced I had, to lead a male life.
The telling though is easy compared with the hearing. While I waited for what I assumed was the inevitable end of my relationship, she was left to try to piece together being lied to- not maliciously, but lied to nevertheless.
Her reaction? Calm confusion was the public face that belied a stomach-churning silent reality that her life had suddenly been turned upside down.
We talked, we cried, she read, avidly and researched indomitably. Her research revealed a world hitherto unknown, or at best, a safe distance away from her. A transgendered spectrum of transsexual women, transvestite men, and gender dysphoria. She shone her inquiring light into dark recesses where some so-called feminists rail against those they dismiss simply as male fantasists- or worse, potentially dangerous sexual predators.
Was this the person she had fallen in love with, had married in a whirl of Las Vegas glitz and Elvis impersonators? Fortunately, she believed the evidence of her own eyes, of her own heart- and carried on researching. She became more knowledgeable than I on gender dysphoria and its effects. She was more prepared than I ever had been, to face the truth, a truth that I had dared not properly encounter for 50 years. She began to understand.
All this time though, we were living our lives, paying bills, working, socialising. She had 3 stepsons, we both had work. She agreed to a financially disastrous move back from our idyllic lives in Spain so I could start my transition in earnest. We talked more, we cried more. She got rightly frustrated with my 100 mile an hour pace of intended transition; but equally understood why I was in such an unseemly hurry.
Lesley was with me when I took my first, nervous steps in public presenting as female, doing my damnedest not to look like a stereotypical transvestite. She advised me, chided me when I suggested wearing something completely inappropriate, or got my make-up badly wrong. It was all part of the "real life experience" that the psychologists and other health professionals insist on to ensure that you are a valid candidate for hormone treatment and, ultimately, surgery.
She stood with me on the heart-breaking occasion when we told my sons who I was, and what I was about to become. She sat, silently strong, while we were coldly told we would have to leave our village, our home. That day haunts us even now.
She has been with me at every turn, every page of the at times terrifyingly and gut-wrenchingly emotional journey we have both been on
The last 31/2 years have been hell for her. She has had some support from her friends and family; but she has lived a new reality every single day. She has seen us go from an outwardly affluent heterosexual couple, to a flat broke same sex one. All this time, supporting me through my hormonally-induced mood swings, through my constant tears of self-loathing for what I had done to my relationship with my family; and to supporting me as I desperately tried to rebuild my working life after the majority of my friends and business colleagues had voted with their feet and disassociated themselves completely. She has been the one person who has encouraged me to believe that I could be a writer.
Most of all, Lesley has had the patience to allow the real me to develop. To see the person I had deliberately suppressed for so many years, emerge once the testosterone-driven mantle I had been wrapped in, deliberately exaggerated even, slowly fade away. For her, it faded away to reveal an unremarkable middle-aged woman, full of the doubt that being invisible in the workplace and in society brings. She understands completely when I get angry with well-meaning types who tell me how happy I must be now I have what I want. What I want? Who would want to put themselves and their loved ones through this? No, she understands completely that I had no choice in this matter. An unremarkable middle-aged woman is what I am. Lesley however, is the polar opposite of unremarkable.
I would like to think that she has fallen in love with the real me now; the sensitive, emotional, irrational and irritating me, that is. I cannot speak for her though. All I can say is that, whatever happens to us in the future, she has already proven that she has more love and understanding in her heart, more inner strength than anyone I have ever met. I can never repay her adequately for all she has done for me, and helping us both on our journey.
If there is a better example of unconditional love, I have never experienced it.
I am not recommending having your wallet stolen on the Madrid metro; but sometimes it can lead you circuitously, to people and places you would never have imagined. Most of all it could lead you to the love of your life.