Fiona Bosanquet, 47, from Middleton-in-Teesdale tells her amazing story...
I first met Stephen in April 1987, after my cousin set us up on a blind date. We’d gone to a pub and, although he was shy and quiet, we immediately hit it off.
Within weeks, we were talking about the future…
‘I want to get married and have a family,’ I said, and he wanted the same.
Within four months, we were engaged – and, in August 1988, we had a small wedding in front of friends and family.
We were happiest when we were doing things together, like going on spontaneous camping weekends or snuggled up watching telly.
In time, we went on to have our daughters, Abigail and Angela. Then, just after our son Jack was born in 1998, my husband dropped a bombshell… Something I could never have seen coming.
‘I should have been born a girl,’ he said, explaining that he had a brain like a woman, thought like a woman. I was in utter shock. What did he mean?
‘Don’t be so stupid,’ I said. I didn’t know anything about being transgender. Not so many people did back then.
I buried my head in the sand, didn’t talk about it again.
We went on living as we had been, had another daughter, Amy. Despite myself, I managed to put what my hubby had said to the back of my mind.
Then, in 2008, he brought it up again, saying it was always there. He was serious, had even found a Gender Identity Clinic in Edinburgh he wanted to visit.
‘Fine, I’ll come with you,’ I said.
At the appointment, he just wanted some support. The doctor suggested waiting 12 months, but my hubby wanted to start the transition sooner. It was an absolute need.
But I didn’t look at anyone, didn’t engage. And on the way home, we had a blazing row…
‘Can you accept me as a woman?’ my husband asked.
‘We’ll leave it for now,’ was all he said.
But over time, our eldest girls found out and were remarkably quick to accept it.
Then, in late 2013, we had a frank conversation, husband to wife.
‘I can’t live like this any more,’ he said, wanting to be called Stephanie and live as a woman.
Would we stay married?
I was torn. I wasn’t gay, never thought I’d be with a woman. But 25 years of marriage was a lot to throw away.
So when Abigail went to Gay Advice Darlington and Durham (GADD) for help in understanding her dad, I went, too.
There, we spoke to the charity’s CEO Emma Roebuck. ‘Stephanie is the same person,’ she told me. ‘She’s just changing how she looks.’
It gave me a different viewpoint. I suddenly realised it was the person I loved.
I didn’t know how this would affect our marriage, but…
‘I’ll support you and do whatever I can to help,’ I told Steph, who was so relieved. I sought counselling to have a better understanding.
It really wasn’t the end of the world – it was a change of perspective and acceptance.
I spoke to Jack, then 16, too. ‘Your dad’s going to transition into a woman,’ I explained.
He didn’t ask any questions and didn’t want to talk about it, but the kids continued to call Steph ‘Dad’.
‘You’ve already got a mum,’ she said.
In many ways, we were the same, normal family we’d always been.
Stephanie grew out her hair and, in October 2014, she changed her name by certified declaration. She shopped in the women’s section and I still fancied her in the jeans and T-shirts she chose.
Friends understood, too. ‘As long as you’re both happy,’ they said.
I couldn’t quite comprehend that Steph had buried her feelings for long.
‘Our marriage and kids is what I’m most proud of,’ she said. ‘I didn’t want to ruin it.’
The following month, I set up a Facebook page – SOFFA Trans – a place for the partners, families and children of transgender people to share support and advice.
‘I wish there’d been more support for partners years ago,’ I told Steph.
With the help of GADD, Steph and I worked through some issues and it made us stronger. I even joined the charity board of trustees.
I wanted to help people transition. And I had an idea.
I was a trained beauty therapist and went on an electrolysis course.I decided to set up a business named Butterfly Therapies.I hoped to work with people in the LGBT community and eventually offer therapies at a reduced rate.
Steph had appointments at the Gender Identity Clinic, too, and was prescribed female hormones.
Her body shape changed and her face softened.
‘She seems more comfortable in her own skin,’ I said to Abigail, now 27.
Amy, 17, thinks it’s brilliant…
‘Can we go to Pride next year?’ she asked her dad.
Now, we’re a happy family working through this transition period together. It took me a long time to come to terms with Steph’s needs, but I hope I can help other families go through what we have.
I love Steph and hope we can soon renew the vows we made back in 1988. We still mean every word of them now.