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Real Life

REAL LIFE: "The only person who knew I was transgender was me"

For over 70 years Francene kept her secret.

By Courtney GReatrex

Francene Jacques, 78, Latrobe, Tas shares her story:

I smiled as I admired my figure in the mirror, with curves in all the right places.
"Mrs Vain," joked my wife of 30 years, Pauline. "Want some brekkie?"
"Of course, darl," I said, beaming. "Be right down."
Before heading into the kitchen, I applied my foundation, some blusher, mascara and a little lippy.
While I was living the good life now, things hadn't always been this easy.
Ever since I was little, I'd had this nagging feeling that something inside of me wasn't right.
I'd been born male, but always considered myself more female.
Even in the first grade, I befriended the girls before the boys. And as I grew older, that feeling got stronger.
I'm just more comfortable around women, I told myself, trying to bury it.
At high school, I tried to replicate what other boys did, I played footy, hockey, and had girlfriends.
After graduating, I even joined the military and spent eight years overseas being deployed to England, Cyprus and even Malaysia during the Indonesian confrontation.
The air force was an extremely macho place, and I never dared reveal anything about myself to my colleagues.
I played the part of an air force man, and managed to pull it off.
I was even married twice, and had two beautiful children, Donna and Tracey. After having my daughters, I decided to have a vasectomy.
As I groggily came out of surgery, I had a realisation…
I don't have to prove I'm male anymore, I thought. I'd been a woman all along, just in the wrong body.
After that, I started to discover my true self. I bought some dresses and my legs tingled under the delicate fabric.
I went to work at my teaching job dressed as a man, and afterwards, I'd change into the spare set of feminine clothes I kept in the boot of my car, then slap on some make-up.
Running my errands dressed in women's clothes became my little secret.
I can finally live life on my terms Image: Supplied
"Can I help you ma'am?" the shop assistant offered and my stomach flipped with excitement.
It felt so nice to be greeted with the gender I was sure I was.
When the shopping was done, I'd change back into my teaching clothes and go home.
"How was your day, love?" Pauline asked.
"Fine," I replied.
I hated lying to her, but feared the repercussions.
Would she leave me if she knew the truth? I loved her dearly, but she didn't realise she'd married a woman.
The only person who knew I was transgender was me.
Over the years, I hoped I'd get caught out, but I never did. It was a lonely existence.
One day, I found an advert online for a charity called Work it Out. The organisation supported the LGBT community, and provided a safe space to talk.
At the clinic the first time, I felt nervous, but they immediately put me at ease, and I visited regularly.
"What should we call you?" a caseworker asked me on my third appointment. It hadn't occurred to me that I could choose a name that better fit my personality.
Me with Pauline – I'm so glad we have it all out in the open Image: Supplied
"Francene," I blurted out excitedly. I have no idea where the name had come from, but I loved it.
The charity connected me with another transgender woman like myself and she referred me to a sexual health clinic, where I could discuss making my transition.
"You're definitely a girl who lives at the wrong address," the doc smiled afterwards. To be validated by a healthcare professional made my heart sing.
Eventually, I knew I had to confess my secret to my wife. I loved her, but I didn't know if she'd still love me when she knew who I was.
"Pauline, I have something to tell you," I said one day out in the yard. She sat beside me curiously.
"I'm a girl," I stammered, watching carefully for her reaction.
She paused briefly then gently grabbed my hand.
"It's not your fault," she said. "I love you."
I burst into tears of relief. It was so liberating to finally have my secret out in the open
Thankfully, our relationship didn't change at all. Pauline called me Francene, and referred to me as 'she' and 'her' to others. Our friends and family got used to it, too.
After coming out, I had more confidence to dress how I wanted all the time and officially changed my name to Francene, but my official gender stayed male.
I was so thrilled to get my new birth certificate Image: Supplied
At 76 years old, I finally started hormone therapy, which involved wearing oestrogen patches that I changed every three days.
Over the weeks, my dose increased and my body started to change. I spent hours looking at myself in the mirror, marvelling at the changes.
"You parade around the house like it's a fashion show," Pauline laughed.
I'd come so far, but there was still something missing – my birth certificate still didn't reflect my real gender. I worried I'd die an old man, instead of a
woman.
But last year, Tasmanian law changed, removing the requirement for surgery before I could change my certificate from male to female.
When I heard, I cried tears of joy for half a day.
Then, I drove the 300km journey to Hobart to be second in line to change my documents.
Once it was done, I celebrated with supporters of the LGBTI community, enjoying champagne and strawberries.
Now, I look back and feel proud of what I've achieved. I want others to hear my story and hopefully inspire them to live life on their own terms.

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