The other woman

I lost my wife - but then I managed to find happiness with someone else...

Published by: Nicola Skinner
Published on: 3rd February 2011

They say honesty is vital for a happy marriage, that you and your partner should tell each other anything – even your darkest secrets.
Well, I’d always tried being honest with my wife Joan. But, even after 20 years together, there was one secret I’d never shared…
‘Bye, love,’ Joan sang as she left for work. The second the front door slammed, I was off, climbing the stairs to the attic two at a time.
Before I’d reached the top, I’d ripped off my shirt, tugged off my jeans. It was time to get ready for the other woman in my life.
Pulse racing, I reached for the item of clothing I’d hidden in an old trunk, slipping into it…
The relief! Like being released from a straitjacket.
The fabric felt soft against my skin. Next, I stepped into the matching shoes…
God knows what people would have thought if they could see me – a 6ft bloke in a flowery frock and 5in heels. Yet dressing in women’s clothing was an urge I couldn’t control.
I’d always known there was something different about me.
While most boys were obsessed with Action Man, I’d preferred playing with dolls with my cousins Lorna and Noleen.
And, from the age of five, I’d been obsessed with dressing up. I’d raid my mum Dorothy’s wardrobe.
At first she’d thought it was cute but, by the time I was six, she’d had enough of it.
‘Take that dress off,’ she’d scolded. ‘It’s not natural.’
Ever since then, I’d dressed up as a woman in secret. I felt sure I’d be happier as a girl, although I was still attracted to women.
When I’d met Joan, aged 18, I’d fallen in love – but been petrified she’d find out my secret. How would I even begin to explain it?
Over the years, I became good at living a lie, dressing up while she was at work, like now.
I nipped downstairs to admire myself in a full-length mirror. The silk blouse was to die for, it draped my shape, softening my broad, manly shoulders. The pencil skirt clung to my hips beautifully.
I froze. Was that…? It was! The jangling of keys!
The door swung open and Joan stepped inside.
‘I forgot my…’ She stopped dead, looking me up and down in horror. ‘What the…?!’
‘Joan, I can explain…’
‘No need,’ she spat, turning to leave. ‘Pervert!’
As she slammed the front door, I collapsed in tears. I’d betrayed her by keeping this hidden for 20 years. I felt terrible.
When she came home from work that evening, I sat her down.
‘I love you,’ I said. ‘This is just something I do.’
‘But why?’ she begged. ‘Don’t I make you feel attractive?’
‘Of course you do!’ I croaked. ‘It’s just…’
‘I don’t want to hear another word about it,’ Joan interrupted. ‘Promise me you’ll stop.’
How could I? All I wanted was to be accepted, for someone to love me for who I was. It was devastating to think Joan wasn’t willing to do that.
Looking into her eyes, I knew how much this was hurting her. I couldn’t bear to lose her. ‘I promise,’ I said.
The next few years were tough – I didn’t know if Joan would ever trust me again.
To make things worse, I slipped up along the way. But each time, instead of feeling liberated, I felt wracked with guilt.
Then, 11 years after she found out my secret, Joan was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She had a mastectomy and, a year later, was given the all-clear. But months later she developed throat cancer and, this time, the prognosis was devastating.
‘I’m afraid it’s inoperable,’ the consultant told us.
Even with chemotherapy, Joan was only given a year to live.
We spent every minute together, cuddled up on the sofa and going on long walks.
‘What will I do without you?’ I sobbed one day, hugging her.
‘You’ll be okay,’ she reassured me. ‘You’ll do your own thing…’
‘My own thing?’ I blinked. She gave the slightest nod of encouragement.
Looking into her eyes, I knew she was giving me silent permission to unleash the side of me I’d kept hidden most of our 35 years of marriage.
Two weeks later, Joan passed away at home aged 59. I felt like my world
had ended.
I felt incomplete, like part of me was missing, but I knew what would make me feel whole.
I wanted to become a woman…
I booked a consultation at the Albany Clinic, in Manchester, and told the doctor everything.
‘You can start hormone treatment,’ he said. ‘Though you’ll have to live as a woman for a year to prove you’re serious about the sex-change operation.’
The tablets softened my voice, my skin, and I started to develop breasts. With the way my body was changing, it was becoming hard to hide my secret. I was going to have to start telling people.
Calling my pal Colin and brother Maurice, I invited them round.
‘There’s no easy way to say this,’ I began. ‘I’m going to have a sex change.’
There was stunned silence, then…
‘Well, life just got more interesting!’
Colin chuckled.
‘You’re my brother,’ Maurice said. ‘I’ll support you.’
It was the final bit of reassurance I needed. Last August, I had my op and everything
went smoothly.
My recovery was long and painful, but I’ve never once doubted my decision.
I changed my name from Brian to Rikki and the first time I went to the corner shop for a pint of milk as a woman was the most liberating experience of my life.
And the best thing is, I know I have Joan’s blessing – I can finally be me, guilt-free.
Rikki McLain, 63, Barrow, Rutland