WOMEN OF THE BEAUMONT SOCIETY (WOBS)
A WOBS TALE
This article by journalist Pat Meakin was published in the Cambridge Evening News on February 19th, 1999 and features WOBS Co-ordinator Di and her husband Jim/Jenny. Do you have a story which you would like us to feature here? We can change details to maintain your confidentiality if you wish.
THERE are, says Diana Aitchison, three people in her marriage. Herself, her husband Jim - and Jenny, the "woman" Jim becomes when he dresses in women's clothing. "The situation is different, but I knew exactly what the Princess of Wales meant when she made that comment about there being three of them in her marriage," said Diana. Although initially Diana Aitchison was shocked and distressed by Jim's transvestism she has, she says, learned to cope with it. And because she still remembers how she felt when she first found out, she runs a national telephone helpline - "Women of the Beaumont Society" - for the wives and partners of transvestites.
"They can relate to me because I understand what they're going through," she said. The helpline takes around 500 calls a year, not just from women but also from men, wanting advice on how they can break the news of their transvestism to their parents or partners. "When the helpline first started, women used to say 'How can I make him stop?' But because there has been so much publicity in recent years, most people now know it isn't something that's going to go away, but they want to talk about the best way to deal with it," she said. Diana and Jim, who is now 63, had both been married before when they met, early in 1983, in a pub in the village where they still live.
"Neither of us were looking for new partners, but we got chatting and got on well," she said. Jim, who is a mechanical and design engineer, was then on leave from a job overseas, but they met each time he returned to the UK, and she later agreed to join him in Kuwait, where he was then working. And it was there that Diana made the discovery that was to turn her life upside down. "I found some underwear in a drawer - briefs - and they weren't mine," she said. She thought at first he must be having an affair, but realised almost immediately that he wasn't. "Jim isn't a womaniser, he's quite shy with women, and anyway he had only been in that job for a few weeks. Also the size was wrong - they were far too big for the average woman."
It was then, she said, that she realised the truth. "Something went 'click' in my head, like a light bulb going on. I felt sick and angry and disappointed. I confronted him about it. I can't remember whether it was that day, the next day or a week later, but I held them up and said: 'What are these?'" Jim, she says, looked shocked and embarrassed but admitted straight away that they belonged to him, and said that he used them to help him relax. "He offered me a first-class ticket home," she said. "He said he didn't want to lose me, but if I wanted to go he would understand." Looking back, Diana says, she realises how naive she then was. "I thought I knew it all".
I thought: "Well, he's got me now, so he won't need these any more," and I threw them away and thought that was it. It was a typically head-in the-sand attitude, but at that time cross-dressing wasn't a subject that was talked or known about the way it is now." As time went on, however, she realised she had been wrong, and shopping trips soon found them buying women's clothes for Jim as well as for her - initially only underwear, but later other garments as well. It was, says Diana, as though the fact that she had chosen to stay, and not rejected Jim as a person when she found the briefs, had been taken by him as an acceptance also of his behaviour.
"Sometimes when we were going out I would say 'I don't like this, I don't want it', but his feelings by then were so strong that they couldn't be denied," she said. Despite this, they were married in November 1984. "The positive things still outweighed this aspect of life, and although I felt uncomfortable, it was part of him, and I realised it wasn't going to go away. He said that all his life he had denied himself the opportunity to really be himself, and although he didn't want to lose me it wasn't something he could give up." The following year Jim went to work in Saudi Arabia and Diana, who is now 52, remained in the village because the placement was not considered a suitable one for wives.
Every six weeks Jim would come home for two weeks. "And the times he was home were dominated by his need to cross-dress," she said. At that time the matter was still a secret between the two of them, and Diana says she became quite neurotic in case anyone found out. "I was still helping him buy clothes. We invented a lady in a wheel-chair, a big lady who couldn't get out to shop for herself. I was convinced that, because we were buying size 24 clothes and I was size 12, people would know they were for him and not me, and at that time I would have cared about that a great deal. Then we reached a crisis point, where Jim had all the clothes, and was very frustrated because there was nowhere he could go in them. It dominated our relationship completely. He had developed such a strong female persona that I felt there were three people in our marriage. I had given 'her' a name - Jenny - as an attempt to get to know her, because I thought if I could give her an identity, I could deal with her."
It was around this time, Diana says, that she began drinking heavily, and realising that she needed help she went to see a counsellor. "And that was my watershed, because it was when we were talking about why I drank that my feelings about Jim's cross-dressing all came out." Encouraged by the counsellor Diana rang a gay helpline, and was put in touch with the Beaumont Society, a national organisation for crossdressers, which has a Cambridge branch holding monthly meetings, which partners can also attend.
The first time she went to a meeting was funny in retrospect. "I went out and brought the car as close to the gate as possible while Jim ready dressed, waited indoors with all the lights off. Then when the coast was clear I opened the car door and he ran out and got in, and I shot away like a getaway driver after a robbery." Initially, she said, Jim was reluctant to go in, so she went first "like a scared rabbit. There were eight or nine men in there, all dressed, and one came over, very friendly and said 'Where is he?' and when I said Jim was waiting in the car, he said: 'Wheel him in'. And that was the first day of the rest of our lives."
Over time, Diana says, she has developed a wider understanding of the situation, learning to live with both Jim and Jenny, and because their friends and family now know the situation they are able to be more relaxed about it. "Jenny is like a shadow who flits in and out" said Diana. "She's a place Jim retreats to sometimes. Occasionally Jenny cooks dinner, but the one place she doesn't go", says Diana, is into the bedroom. "I draw the line at her coming into our private life. That is for Di and Jim only." The Beaumont Society can be contacted on (01582) 412220, and its helpline on 07000 287878, is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7pm-11pm. The Women of the Beaumont Society helpline number is 01223 441246
'Jenny' is Jim's alter ego. JIM Aitchison is a tall, burly Scot who says quite frankly that he wishes he were anything but a transvestite. "It wasn't something I chose of my own volition", he said. "When I realised, as a young man, I felt as though I was the only person in the world like this." He first found comfort in cross-dressing, he says, after splitting up from his first wife. "I spent a long time trying to deny it. I would buy some clothing and then throw it away, and then buy something else and throw that away too. It was very expensive, but, I gather, a very common reaction." When Diana confronted him, he says, he realised that he had to tell her the truth. "I loved Di, but I would rather have lost her than spend the rest of my life living a lie."
Although his family, friends and work colleagues are aware of the situation, Jim says he tries never to embarrass anyone. "When the news first came out, my boss said that if I wanted to come to work as Jenny that would be fine, but I never would - Jim goes to work, Jenny stays at home. Similarly, although Di's twin sister and her husband know everything, I would have too much consideration for them, and too much respect for myself, to dress while they are here." Mostly, he says, Jenny appears when he has a problem to solve, especially for work. "I don't expect anyone else to understand, but it helps me relax and concentrate on what I need to." When he first discovered the Beaumont Society, Jim says, it became his lifeline, and at first he went to every meeting, but over the years, Jenny has become quite a small part of his life, "because I have a wife who understands. When you have freedom it can be used or abused."
Statistics from the Beaumont Society suggest that about one man in 100 is a crossdresser, with transsexualism being considerably rarer, probably one in 10,000. So a town of 100,000 may have at least 500 men who cross-dress, and 5-8 transsexuals. The actual figures, they say are probably higher, because many cross-dressers do so in the utmost secrecy. The majority of cross-dressers are heterosexual.
© Copyright Women Of the Beaumont Society (WOBS)
1999 amended 05.09.04, 17.08.07