How Was It For You? My marriage to an Autogynaephilic man (AGP)
I first resolved to speak out about my experience because autogynaephilia exists and because I believe it has a crucial significance in the debate which needs to happen around the impact of the proposed adoption of ’self-ID’ on the legal rights and protections women have fought so hard to secure. I will say ‘women’ and not ‘cis women’ or ‘natal women’ because language matters. Not only does sloppy language lead to sloppy thinking but it can be manipulated and ‘fudged’ for political ends. Anyone who doubts this should read George Orwell’s excellent essay “Politics and the English language” (1946).
I am also motivated by the fact that before I reached the age of 15 I had been groomed, abused, abducted at knife point, and shot in the eye. In the aftermath of these events I promised myself that I would never again would I allow myself to be silenced by intimidation. Facebook and Twitter are awash with abuse of so-called ‘TERFs’ like me but this only strengthens my resolve. There has been a deliberate, sustained, and highly organised campaign to demonise gender-critical women – and just lately gender-critical men too. I will not allow that to go unchallenged.
Lastly – and perhaps most importantly, I am in a position to know and say how it feels to be married to an autogynaephile man in what ‘passes’ for a normal heterosexual relationship. Unlike many of the women who are living this now- and whose stories I have read, for example, in a heart-breaking thread on Mumsnet – I am looking back some fifteen years to before the ‘trans explosion’. It is impossible to say whether, if the events I am remembering were happening today, my husband would ‘come out’ as ‘trans’ or not. At the time I met him he was already in his late thirties and I suspect that the pattern of his life was already fixed. I do know, however, *because he told me so* that he would not be seeking surgery. I also know, again because he told me, that he obtained sexual excitement and gratification from both wearing women’s clothing and from intruding into their single-sex spaces. He boasted about having done this over a period of many years and about his belief – deluded I am sure – that women couldn’t tell.
What mattered most to my husband – apart from his penis of which he was extremely proud – was the idea – the delusion – that he ‘passed’ as a woman. He did not believe that he was a woman nor did he have the slightest thought of ‘losing’ his penis. It was, by his own admission, far too important to him as the primary site of his sexual gratification. It was also the focus – often quite literally – of the trans pornographic videos that I later discovered he made, copied and sold on the internet. He was, however, obsessed by breasts and fantasised about having them, telling me once that to have both breasts and a penis was his idea of ‘heaven’. He was also, incidentally, very interested in ‘lady boys’.
I must stress that although these things happened a long time ago it is not easy for me to talk about this. The hurt, the betrayal, the sense of humiliation, the absolute loss of self-esteem: all these things were, and still are, the source of great pain. What was most painful, however, for me at least, was the brutal realisation that I had lost a decade of my precious life to a deliberate and poisonous deception. I want to be plain. My ex-husband married me in the full knowledge of what he was and the life he was living, a life that he had no intention of giving up or changing. He used me and my position in the community – I was a senior teacher at a large comprehensive – to provide him with a cloak of ‘respectability’. He also used me as a convenient meal ticket since, during the years when we lived together, he paid no household bills. He persuaded me that his ‘business interests’ were doing badly and he needed all his money for ‘investment’.
Throughout most of my intimate life with my husband he was, in his secret life, a practising autogynaephile. I have come to realise that his autogynaephilia – I had no name for it then – included to a greater or lesser degree three of the four main elements associated with that condition. These are broadly: transvestic, behavioural, physiological and anatomic autogynaephilia. As far as I am aware, apart from having a somewhat salacious interest in pregnant women, my husband showed no other signs of physiological autogynaephilia either in his behaviour or his conversation.
I should make it clear that, despite the secrecy that surrounded my husband’s ‘other’ life, he was a difficult man to live with. You might think, perhaps, that my ‘not knowing’ would have made things easier but this was far from being the truth. On the contrary, I lived constantly in a state of anxiety and tension because he was so moody and unpredictable. Displays of interest or affection were rare so that I felt very much alone. Looking back I see that within a year or two of establishing this relationship my friends and social circle had for the most part fallen away. I learned later that my friends didn’t like my husband and that in some cases he had deliberately ‘put off’ or ‘pushed them away’. In a couple of cases he had achieved this by making sexual advances.
My husband offered as an ‘explanation’ for his behaviour towards me that he had always suffered from severe depression. He hinted that this was a consequence of ‘things’ in his past and an unsatisfactory relationship with his parents. As a survivor of early grooming and abuse I have my own dark moments so I accepted this as making some kind of sense. However, despite escalations in his problematic behaviour and my own repeated entreaties, he refused to seek medical help. I realise now, of course, that he knew perfectly well what was ‘wrong’ with him but that it wasn’t a problem in his eyes. To him the only problem was keeping me from finding out the truth.
My husband was emotionally unavailable most of the time, and very often absent from home. He ‘worked late’ regularly which he excused by saying his business interests were failing. He said I should be grateful that he worked so hard and that I should not complain. For a time I accepted this and tried to be a good wife. I cooked meals late at night, I paid all the household bills. I read half a dozen books on male depressive illness. But then, increasingly, I didn’t believe him any longer. I became suspicious. There were many things that didn’t add up. There were inconsistencies in his accounts of his movements and I received a lot of calls to ‘wrong numbers’. He had a mobile phone but he spent a lot of time in places where there was, according to him, ‘no signal’. I began to get calls on my landline asking for ‘Jo’ and on one or two occasions visitors called who claimed to be ‘old friends’.
Naively I thought that my husband was having a series of affairs. Of course, he denied it. It was, he said, ‘just his depression’ . My lack of ‘trust’ and ‘relentless nagging’ was making it worse. I must admit I felt a bit guilty then. I tried to be more supportive. I read more books on male depression. I did my best to talk to him. His response would be to quite literally turn his back on me. Like a sullen child he hunched his shoulders and crossed his arms over his chest. And when in desperation I stamped my foot and screamed at him to ‘please just look at me’ he couldn’t – or wouldn’t – do it. At any time when I stepped outside the very limited role which he had constructed for me, he simply refused to recognise or engage with my existence.
He said I was ‘unbalanced’ and ‘emotionally unstable’. It was ‘no wonder I didn’t have any friends’. In fact, by then he had systematically isolated me from my former social circle. Often he would leave – usually for days at a time but sometimes for a week or two – without giving me any indication where he was going. I would be left with my daughter’s care and my work as head of a large English faculty. Not surprisingly my health suffered – but that’s another story.
Eventually I turned detective. His absences and his strange habits – which included binge-spending as well as periodically removing all his body hair and spending many hours on a sun-bed – had to be caused by something. This was fifteen years ago. Even fewer people than now knew anything about such matters. However, I did know that he rented an ‘office/ storage space’. I had never been there. One day, like Bluebeard’s wife, I stole my husband’s keys and went in.
It’s hard to describe the scene that greeted me – maybe a cross between a love nest and a 1960s’ film set. There was king-sized bed – with fancy bedding – a fridge and a cooker and an armchair – and a vast array of photographic lights, a computer, and recording equipment for making and reproducing videos. It turned out that my husband’s preferred business was making and selling specialist porn on the internet. Remember he told me his business was failing and I was paying all the household bills. The equipment must have represented an ‘investment’ of tens of thousands of pounds.
At first I could not take it in but, investigating further, I found wigs of every style and colour, multiple pairs of size 9 stilettos, and several rails of women’s clothing. These garments were at the same time both expensive and ‘trashy’. Tight-fitting or skimpy – or both – was the order of the day and colour preferences were ‘girly’. There was an awful lot of PVC. Worse was to come. Cupboards and filing cabinets bursting at the seams with photographs. Many thousands of photographs. I do not exaggerate. About three quarters of these were sexually explicit and showed my husband fully ‘dressed’, alone or with various sexual partners, engaged in a whole range of sexual practices the details of which I will spare you.
There were also videos – shelves and shelves of them – with names suggesting their content. I selected some at random with the vague notion that I needed ‘evidence’. Viewing them later, I spent hours on on the floor weeping into my dog’s fur. I knew some of the people in the videos. One of them was our postman. Others were people I had been introduced to as my husband’s friends and acquaintances. Some of the videos had been made in my home – in my lounge, my kitchen, even in my bedroom – during the hours I was teaching. The sheer scale of the betrayal of trust, and the deliberate and callous nature of his deception took me many years to process and overcome.
Later I confronted him. I wept as I told him that I had booked an appointment at the clinic. Did he not care that he might have infected me with some terrible disease? He laughed at me. ‘Don’t be so dramatic,’ he said.
I should not have been surprised by that comment. My husband’s feelings were always paramount. He was was deeply wounded by the smallest criticism or slight – yet he was incapable of empathising with others.
I will list some of the other things that I learned about my husband over the period of twelve years of my precious life which I ‘lost’.
He was completely obsessed with his own image – witness the many thousands of printed images I referred to earlier. For years I kept, on the advice of my solicitor, at least five hundred of these. Before I eventually burned them I made a kind of ‘pornographic cover for my kingsize bed’ and took some photographs of my own. I think of this as therapeutic art.
His brain was soaked in pornography from childhood, from the age of eleven or twelve. He told me eventually he used to masturbate using his older sister’s underwear. By the time I came to know him, therefore, he had been heavily involved in pornography for almost three decades.
Even as a man, he was the vainest person I have ever known. He was also, when it came to women, one of the most judgmental. He was, for example, apt to make scathing comments about my clothes and my weight. He frequently spoke in praise of other women in my presence. Over time, he destroyed any self-esteem I might have had when we met.
For him the sexual act was linked with the notion of ‘performance’. It was as if his focus was somehow internal. If he was making love then it was to himself. It was a source of acute pain to me that he kept his eyes closed throughout any intimate contact we had. This, I later discovered from watching video material he had filmed, was not typical of his sexual encounters when dressed as a woman.
Sexually, he wasn’t ‘picky’. I soon realised he would have sex with pretty much anyone. It didn’t matter too much what sex they were or even if they were attractive. The important thing was that they were prepared – for whatever reason of their own – to ‘go along’ with the pretence of him ‘being’ a woman. Some of his partners were downright ugly. One of them was a local postman. Another turned out to be a man that he had introduced as a ‘friend’ and allowed me to entertain in my home.
Some of the pictures I saw showed people who seemed disturbingly young. After my marriage ended and my husband ‘disappeared’ an acquaintance who had been working as a ’special’ in the local police force told me that he was one of a number of men who had been ‘under observation’ in connection with crimes relating to sexual activity with minors.
He was utterly deluded about his ability to ‘pass’ as a woman. He was six foot three with the upper body development of a competitive banger racer. In fact, he drove for one of the well-known teams on the circuit at that time.
He was an exhibitionist. He found it sexually exciting to be naked and/or performing sexual acts in public places. He would do this equally while presenting as a man or as a woman. He told me once that he liked to walk naked along the hard shoulder of the A30 to see the effect on passing drivers. Of course he never considered that his thrills might kill someone in an accident.
I discovered that he had a criminal past going back a very long time. His criminal activity included buying goods on stolen credit cards, or on credit cards taken out in false names at incorrect addresses; various, car-related crimes, ‘fencing’ and selling stolen goods. I subsequently learned that local shop-lifters knew him as a fence and frequently ‘stole to order’. I believe he received quite a lot of stolen jewelry. He was inordinately fond of gold. I often got jewelry as a birthday or a Christmas gift. I believe now those gifts were stolen. Once he gave my daughter, then aged about eleven, a ‘dress ring’ to play with. Recently, clearing out some of her old toys I found this ring and looked at it more closely. It is, in fact, a fairly large diamond. This was typical of him. He would have considered it a huge joke.
He lied for fun, for pure entertainment and to see how ‘beautifully’ the lie could be spun. Occasionally he would tell a ‘truth’ but in a way that made it sound like he was joking. I remember him ‘joking’ once that one of his businesses, a second hand book shop, was a ‘cover’ for his porn empire. Everyone laughed. Even me. And of course it actually was!
He found it ‘exciting’ to shock other people and to not respect their boundaries. He liked to go to places dressed as a woman where he knew he had no right to be. He even boasted to me about his exploits in this activity.
After many years I think I have – finally – learned not to hate him. I hate his lies and his cruel behaviour and I hate what he did to me and my daughter. Nevertheless, over time, I have learned to pity him for what he was – and presumably still is: a man with a whole raft of emotional and mental health problems. He had a total lack of empathy with others combined with acute hypersensitivity when it came to his own feelings. He was manipulative and controlling. He used people – all people – for his own ends. I cannot be sure whether, if it had happened today he would have been openly ‘trans’ but I am sure beyond any shadow of doubt that he is not the sort of person who should have free and unrestricted access to women’s spaces. For a man like my ex-husband, the opportunity to self-ID as a “woman” would present him with a “Willy Wonka”-style golden ticket, a free ticket to ride.