Double Life

Roger and Charlotte were that increasingly rare breed: high-school sweethearts. They had met in the late 1960s, two Grade 11 students in Scarborough. Soon they  were sharing lunches, playing cards in the cafeteria and listening to Jim Croce and John Denver. By the time their final year rolled around they were a couple—a handsome,  enviable pair. Roger, the lanky football player whose amateur team twice won the Ontario Senior Men’s championship.  Charlotte, the blond gymnast with big, expressive eyes.
The August after graduation Charlotte became pregnant during a camping trip. Unaware, the two headed to their respective universities. When they learned they were to be parents, a wedding was hastily arranged at an Anglican church. By spring the young couple had welcomed a baby girl into the world. Roger stayed in school, paying for tuition and bills by driving a cab and delivering Chinese food. Charlotte dropped out to work full-time as a bank teller, enrolling their daughter at a nearby daycare. Their life together had taken an unexpected turn, yet in the eyes of all their friends they remained the perfect couple.
But Roger had a secret he’d been keeping for years: He liked to dress in women’s clothing. As a teenager he would lock himself in the bathroom and put on his mother’s outfits and
makeup. At the same time, he desperately wanted to be one of the guys.
Roger was very close with his brother and friends, who loved sports, and he tried to out-muscle them in football, wrestling and lacrosse. “I was a macho jock,” he says. “The rougher
the sport, the better. I needed to prove to myself I was a man.”
By the late ’70s transgenderism was inching its way into public consciousness. Roger had already heard of Christine Jorgensen, a former army officer who became an instant celebrity when he underwent sex-reassignment surgery in the 1950s. Then, in 1977, Renée Richards, the tennis star who transitioned from male to female, won the right to compete at the U.S. Open. Roger began to wonder if he might be like Christine and Renée.
Worried that a full disclosure would destroy his marriage, Roger didn’t tell Charlotte how he felt. A new husband and father, he was devoted to his family responsibilities, which increased after Charlotte gave birth to a son in the early 1980s. But Roger began leading a frenetic double life.
He started working different shifts at a local airport while his wife continued at the bank, and with the house often empty, he lived out his fantasies several times a week. He purchased skirts and blouses, storing them in garbage bags in the rafters of the garage,
and dressed up while Charlotte was at work. “It gave me an opportunity to explore my feminine side,” he says.
It wasn’t until the 1990s, when Roger started using the Internet at the North York Central Library during his lunch breaks, that he made a lifechanging discovery. His secret distress
was, in fact, gender identity disorder, defined as a powerful identification with the opposite sex and a discomfort with one’s biological gender. “I found out there were others like me,” Roger says. “I also learned it wasn’t my fault. The shame and guilt subsided a little bit.” Though Roger continued to hide his true identity from Charlotte, their bond stayed strong. Whenever the kids were out the couple would pull a mattress into the den, light a fire
and make love. On anniversaries, Roger never forgot to pick up Charlotte’s favourite bouquet: six yellow carnations for friendship and six red carnations for love. They camped as often as possible at Oastler Lake Provincial Park, a pretty spot south of Parry Sound with windswept trees and rocky shorelines. Roger loved barbecuing rack of lamb and roast
beef for his family. And as their children grew, the couple became more involved in their activities, with Charlotte driving their daughter to dance class and Roger helping to
coach their son’s soccer team.
Then one day in 1995 their idyllic life came crashing down around them. Charlotte found a trove of cosmetics in the back of a filing cabinet. She thought Roger was having an affair.
“Charlotte came to me with the bag. She wasn’t angry, but she was upset. She wondered if it belonged to another woman,” says Roger. “I guess it did. The other woman was me.”
Overwhelmed by a maelstrom of emotions—remorse, relief, terror— he explained to Charlotte that all of his life he had never felt like he was the person he was supposed to be. He was trapped in someone else’s body—a man’s body. He told her that transforming himself with makeup and clothes put him at ease. “She didn’t yell or call me names,” says
Roger. “She was more concerned about how it would affect our relationship.”
Sitting on the family room couch they put their arms around each other and cried.
Charlotte tried to make the best of it. She helped Roger choose a new name—Paige—and took her shopping for outfits. While no one else knew at that point, the couple realized they needed help if their marriage had any hope of surviving. “We knew the odds were bad, but in my research I had learned that some couples in similar situations had managed to make a go of it,” Paige says. “I guess I was hoping that we would end up as one of them.”
At the time, there were no supports groups in Toronto for couples dealing with transgenderism. So Charlotte (who declined to speak on the record for this piece) joined a
support group for women with transgendered partners. Betrayal was a big topic in the group. If you didn’t know something so important about your partner, what else didn’t you
know? Sexual uncertainty was also a concern. Charlotte, for instance, was aware Paige wanted to transition fully through the help of surgery and drugs. Paige now recognizes that fact must have raised an important question in Charlotte’s mind: If my husband becomes a woman, does that make me a lesbian?
Paige joined a group for transgendered women. “I wanted to meet locally with people in my situation. I was desperate to learn more about what I was going through.” Thinking back on it and recognizing how badly she underestimated Charlotte’s anxieties about lesbianism, Paige wonders if she and Charlotte should have tried harder to pursue therapy together. “Most of the time,” Paige says about her group, “our discussions focused on ransgenderism and its effect on us and the people around us. We didn’t really talk about its effect on our partners’ sexual identity.”
The couple’s two children, who each discovered the truth about a year after Charlotte did, reacted differently to the news. Their daughter was in her early 20s. “We were upstairs
in my home office. I wanted to get it off my chest. The first words out of her mouth were, ‘Oh, cool,’” said Paige, who admits to being surprised by the reaction. “She wasn’t bothered
at all.” Their son, 12 at the time, found out accidentally. “At Christmas he was looking for hidden presents and found my wigs in a box,” says Paige.
“He went to Charlotte and she told him what was going on. We didn’t talk that much about it. He was, and still is, a little embarrassed.”
The couple’s mutual friends have been mostly supportive, but it took some adjustment. “I showed a picture of me dressed as Paige to my four closest friends, all of whom I played
football with. No one recognized me. When I told them who it was, their jaws dropped.” One friend, despite having very liberal attitudes about different lifestyles, turned white. “He
had a hard time with it.”
In 1997 Paige consulted specialists and started taking hormones. From her perspective, the marriage was still on solid ground. “Charlotte and I continued to have an intimate sexual relationship,” she says. “Other than the transgendered issue, we were pretty much a normal couple.”
Over the course of the next several years, Paige’s desire to transition fully became stronger. “I wanted it so badly,” says Paige. “I knew it was my only shot at complete happiness.” In
October 2004 she was approved for gender-reassignment surgery, which occurred the following year, in the spring of 2005. She was in the hospital for ten days, five of which Charlotte spent in the room with her. After the surgery Charlotte threw a birthday
party for Paige at her favourite restaurant. “She was so sweet, accepting and understanding,” Paige says.
Even so, Charlotte began to grow more distant. While most of the couple’s family and mutual friends had been supportive about the surgery, Paige sensed Charlotte’s circle
didn’t feel the same way. “They kept saying to her: ‘You’re not going to sleep in the same bed, are you? You’re not going to stay married, are you?’” The questions were having an
effect. In the end, the support group Charlotte attended just wasn’t enough to defeat her doubts about her new sexual role with Paige. “We don’t necessarily have a lot of control
over our own desires, what is attractive and what’s not,” says Paige. “I saw the end coming, but I didn’t want to deal with it.”
After the surgery, the two women still shared the same bed, but the intimacy started to ebb. “We hugged and spooned,” says Paige, “but she was getting very cold.”
By summer, uncomfortable with the changes in Paige’s body, Charlotte had had enough. “When I wanted to hold her hand, she yanked it back,” says Paige. “When I wanted a kiss,
she turned her face the other way.”
Charlotte told Paige she loved her, but it was time they went their separate ways. Paige was devastated. “We were best friends for 34 years,” she says. “I thought that might count for
something. Love isn’t just a physical thing.”
The couple’s kids are now grown. Their daughter is nearly 40 and their son is in his mid-20s. Paige still feels like their father, but is uneasy playing the role around other people. “I ask
them not to call me Dad, but I’m not their mother. Charlotte will always be their mother. I’m Paige.” The couple’s children never went to counselling, but as a teenager Paige’s son became close with a girl who was herself struggling with the reality of a transgendered parent. “He tried to be a friend to her and tell her how he dealt with it.”
While Charlotte stays in touch about the kids, she keeps her distance. Paige, who isn’t attracted to men, has initiated relationships with other women, but their feelings quickly
fizzle when she discloses her history.
“It’s not something I would want to deceive someone about,” she says.
Paige is much happier as a woman. “I love the way I look,” she admits. “I feel a whole lot better.” However she misses Charlotte deeply—misses her hair, her tiny hands and feet, her sense of humour. “If Charlotte had warned me she positively was going to leave when I first told her I wanted to go through with the surgery, I’m honestly not sure I would have done it,” she says. “I thought we’d grow old together. I never thought it would come to this.”

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