Friday, 8 June 2012

Marriage on my mind

Some unrelated strands of thinking have come together to make me ponder the subject of marriage.

As some of you may have realised, I was married once, long ago, but we separated in 1991 and were divorced in 1996. By then I'd met M---, a widow, but we did not get hitched. Partly that was M---'s long-lasting grief for her dead husband, partly the financial complications marriage would have introduced, and partly my own reluctance to venture again into an institution that had not worked out well first time.

I suppose there was a moment when M--- and I could have taken the plunge, but it passed, and although marriage was never taken off the agenda, it became Something That Was Nice To Think About But Will Probably Never Happen. Nor did it. And no doubt just as well, considering what has happened to me in recent years! I am so sorry to observe the strife and heartbreak that nearly always engulfs marriage partners when Transition bursts into the home, and destroys the old comfortable life forever. For me, unmarried, it was bad enough; how awful if the bonds of matrimony had to be broken as well.

And yet.

While on holiday, especially while at the caravan site in Cirencester - but elsewhere too - I met a number of couples who had clearly made things work, and were happy with their lives and the families they had created. I won't say that I positively envied them, but I was certainly wistful for what they had achieved, and the mutual companionship they enjoyed.

All these couples had time for me. All had much to say (well, the wife had!) and they included me in their world and their news whenever we happened to encounter each other. In the circumstances, this was very generous of them. I am assuming that at some point they realised that I was not quite what I seemed to be, and so that's why their unwavering bonhomie was remarkable. One especially pleasant couple had me in their caravan (a luxury experience) for half the evening, with wine flowing, simply because I'd written a list for them of my favourite caravan sites around the country. The list was perhaps a slightly better effort than many would have made, but not anything that warranted such friendship and hospitality in return. It didn't stop there: the very next evening they treated me to a superior meal in a country hotel. I still can't get over how nice they were. And we spoke together as equals.

So here is evidence that successful marriages exist, not just ones that have become a habit. And that they enhance the personalities of the partners in them. It does make you think.

Then a week ago I was in Winchester, enjoying a Queen's Diamond Jubilee evening in the St James Tavern. The landlady had a woman booked (by name of Bunty Lancaster) who was going to sing a selection of 1940s songs, evoking the spirit of wartime England in the Vera Lynn style, plus some older music-hall favourites, and also a couple of patriotic numbers, including of course the National Anthem. I joined in with vigour, and was surprised to find that my singing voice had improved. I was glad of that, because I was sharing my songsheet with a natal girl who might have been disturbed if my voice had cracked and deepened under the strain! But I managed the high notes rather well.

The girl just mentioned (actually she was only ten years younger than me, but could easily have passed for 40) and several others nearby had all come to the pub because they had seen the event on, a website hitherto unknown to me that brought people together. It was not a dating site. It was interest-based, so that if you were keen on gliding, or country dancing, or creative writing, or theatre, or simply eating out and having a chat, you could find an event to attend. And there was nothing to prevent people who had met up on an 'official' basis from meeting up again under their own steam, if they wished. These women (and men) all had in common, and having casually met up had stayed together as a group. They had something else in common: they generally had too little time for a regular relationship. Work demands, travel and other commitments disrupted their lives. So they couldn't come to every event. But it was a fine way to set up a social life that you could dip into when you could.

And I thought to myself, what a nice bunch of people. All of them the sort you'd want to know better. I could well believe that occasionally they paired off. And maybe wedding bells might follow.

Then, in the news, was that story of yet another arranged marriage that had ended in tragedy. A tale from the Dark Side. Mind you, I am convinced that 'arranged marriages' are not simply the preserve of Asian communities. In every sphere of life, there are a few families who dominate the rest, and they naturally want to keep a hold on their wealth and their privileges, and not let outsiders in. Birds of a feather, in fact. Thus money marries money, and I'm sure that Daddy will suggest to Lucinda that fellow-industrialist's son Rupert is a fine young fellow, and how nice it would be if she lets him take her out. After all, they've been in the same set for years, and her friends will approve, and... Well, it's just a slightly more subtle arranged marriage full of social and material enticements, and to a man she knows, and has presumably quite liked for a long time - a bit different from the plight of some girls, who are threatened or shanghai'd into marrying a total stramger - but a honeyed trap devised by cunning parents all the same.

Before me is a copy of Country Life. In fact it's the edition published on 30 May, just over a week ago. On page 45 is a charming picture of a not-quite-young lady (she's got to be almost 30, I'd say, because of her top job) called Miss Elizabeth Hemstock. It looks as if she's wearing a richly-woven dark red shawl over a virgin white nightdress. The subscript says this:

Lizzie, elder daughter of Mr and Mrs David Hemstock of Charnwood, Leicestershire, is to be married to Captain Merlin Hanbury-Tenison, The Light Dragoons, the son of Mr and Mrs Robin Hanbury-Tenison of Cabilla Manor, Cornwall. They will be married at Cardynham Church, Cornwall, on June 2. Lizzie is the UK brand manager of Gu Puds.

Well, she has clearly fallen under this young man's spell, as you would expect from his name! Love his magic, or love his horse, or love his smart uniform, this sounds like a peer-to-peer County Wedding par excellence. Guard of Honour, crossed sabres, the lot. And not the humble bonding by an anvil at Gretna Green of eloping lovers, planless, penniless, but free.

Hmmm. They've surely misspelled Cardinham. Cabilla Manor by the way is a country residence across the valley from the village of Warleggan on the south edge of Bodmin Moor. (Warleggan? All terribly Poldark)

The final strand in my marriage pondering is a diary note that I need to execute another Deed Poll to link the name on my Birth Certificate (Lucy D---) with my present name of Lucy Melford. And the legal right I now have to marry any man I please at a white wedding in a church, assuming the clergyman is agreeable. Quite a privilege in itself, I'd say! And oddly enough in the last day or so I've been approached by a TV producer who is proposing a series about four trans persons who go through the marriage process. That is, forget the coming out and the surgery, this is now the Life That Follows and how a set of people cope with the stresses and strains of one of life's Main Events. Presumably, for most or all of them, it's the second time around, with kids watching in the wings, and parents and siblings taking sides and cheering or tut-tutting as the case may be. I admire the four participants' courage.

The producer asked me if I knew of anyone in my circle who was getting married and might wish to be included in the documentary. I didn't. Not even myself.

Which begs the question, will I ever join the growing band of people who take the plunge after transition? I don't think so. But then who can predict the future with any confidence?

I think I'd like to be a senior bridesmaid at least, though! Niece and nephew please take note.


  1. Methinks this is all just a teenage fantasy Lucy, a surge of hormones like that due to puberty, and after all this is where you are at the moment. There's nothing wrong in hoping or thinking that marriage is a possibility but it is probably not very likely if you are honest with yourself. I am intrigued as to how you came into contact with a TV producer who is proposing such a program and why he approached you. Does he know your story?

    Shirley Anne x

  2. 'Cardynham' it is, Lucy. The other spelling is just too common, my dear! See

    Thankfully, I'm still happily married (depite the ups and downs of coming to terms with Angie) but it would be lovely to be a bridesmaid. So if you or any other trans-girls out there are about to tie the knot, I'm available!

    Incidentally, Winston Graham lifted several obscure Cornish place names for his characters, including Demelza (on Bodmin Moor) and Jud Paynter (Paynter's Lane End, near Redruth).

  3. A lovely post, Lucy.

    I do hope you find that soul mate and I'm optimistic you will. I've seen how easily you make friends and I know your personality will win that special person over, probably when you least expect it.

    I am, btw, one of those who still remains in a successful and happy union....something I cherish.

    Calie xx

  4. Dear Lucy,

    I must agree with the other ‘commenters’ that you’ve written a lovely post and I can only agree with all of your sentiments and observations of love, marriage and companionship. I feel duty bound, however, to correct you in your errors regarding Lizzie, my wife, and me. I thought I would give you a snapshot of the true story rather than assumption of a ‘peer to peer’ marriage. As you quite rightly pointed out in your piece I am a Captain in the British Army. Lizzie and I met six weeks before I deployed on my third and final tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2010. Our parents had never met before or even heard of each other. She is from the Midlands and I am from the South West. We quickly fell in love and wrote to each other every day for six months while I was in Afghanistan. The shawl that you mention in your post was a birthday present that I bought for her from a street seller in Kandahar market. As soon as I returned from war I knew that I wanted to marry her. I had met not only my soul mate but also my best friend. I waited a year before proposing because I didn’t want to rush her and I wanted to leave the Army before we married so that she wouldn’t have to go through the hell of another 6 months with me in Afghanistan.

    I am a private person but I tell you this because I want you to know that we are madly in love and would most likely have greatly enjoyed spending an evening drinking wine with you if the opportunity had arisen. I feel that your allusion to the middle classes being less likely to have a marriage based on love is unfair and unfounded. In my 8 years in the military I lived with people from extremely underprivileged backgrounds and I saw a great many marriages fail. Often this was due to unwanted pregnancies, lust coming before love or complacency being mistaken for happiness. These problems span all classes and backgrounds. Arranged marriages can come in many forms and as Lizzie and I live in a small one bedroom flat I hardly think we are contenders for this unpleasant title.

    I hope that you don’t find my comments rude but I was offended to be talked about when you don’t know me or my wife and yet you write as though you might.



    PS. Lizzie is 27 (26 at the time of your writing). The reason for her ‘top job’ is entirely due to her competence, drive and professionalism.

    1. I've just seen your comment, Captain, and because I made those assumptions I offer my apologies for my consequent misrepresentation of your meeting and marriage. My very best wishes for the future.



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