Blowing out the candles on my fourth birthday cake, I squeezed my eyes shut and made a wish. ‘I wish for a beautiful party dress,’ I whispered, hopeful.
Watching as one of my party guests twirled in her pink frock, I was captivated. ‘Can I wear that beautiful dress?’ I begged my mum, Fay.
‘Boys don’t wear dresses, Graeme,’ she said.
Mum was a practising Catholic and my dad, Val, was very much a blokey bloke.
Even though I was so young, I knew something about me was different.
This isn’t my body, I often thought, uncomfortable in my skin.
By 17, I’d bravely started painting my nails and dyeing my hair all colours of the rainbow.
I felt closer to the person I was meant to be. But at home with Mum and Dad, I found myself hiding my nails under the table.
'Boys don't wear dresses, Graeme.'
‘Time for a haircut?’ Dad would often ask.
‘You need to try to be more like the other boys,’ Mum warned.
In my early 20s, I started working as an IT specialist and behaved like a man to make others comfortable.
Stepping out of the shower each night, though, and staring at my reflection, I felt so out of place.
Why can’t I just be me? I thought.
I’d buy women’s clothes, hiding them and throwing them away before anyone found out.
There’s something wrong with me, I fretted.
Aged 21, I married my high school sweetheart.
Trying to be a good husband, I began tucking away the parts of me that sparkled in fear of disappointing everyone.
A year later though, we separated as friends.
At 26, I married again and my wife and I welcomed two beautiful girls, Angelika, in 1986, and Lily in 1988.
I wouldn’t change them for the world, I thought.
Travelling lots for work though, my marriage fell apart a few years later.Ten years into my third marriage, when I was 54, I decided enough was enough. In February 2012, I came out to her.
‘I like to wear women’s clothes,’ I said, frightened of her reaction.
Supportive, she came with me on shopping trips and gave me the freedom to wear women’s clothes inside our house. And while part of me felt relief that I could finally be me, something still felt wrong.
Sadly, in 2014 my wonderful wife was diagnosed with bone and lung cancer, losing her battle six months later.
She was the only one who knew the real me, I realised.
By May 2016, I felt completely defeated, like I couldn’t go on, and I tried to take my life.
Waking up in hospital 24 hours later, I decided I was going to be me, and I wanted the world to know.
The next day, I came out to my daughters.
‘I feel like I’m a girl on the inside,’ I admitted tearfully.
‘So long as you’re happy, that’s what’s important,’ Angelika said.
‘I think it’s wonderful,’ Lily agreed.
'I feel like I'm a girl on the inside.'
Within two weeks, after speaking to my doctor, I started the process of transitioning into a woman, changing my name from Graeme to Gail.
Six months later in July 2017, I went along to my first trans women’s social group, where I met Lisette, then 53, who’d also recently come out.
She’s beautiful, I thought.
Chatting on Instagram about our shared love of food and cooking, my feelings blossomed.
In May 2018, Lissy asked me on a date.
‘I’m in love with you,’ I admitted later that night. ‘Will you be my girlfriend?’
‘Hell yeah!’ she grinned.
It’d taken me 60 years to find my true love, as my true self. Moving in together shortly after, Lissy and I have been inseparable ever since.
She’s supported me through my transition, as I had gender reassignment surgery in February 2019, and soon after changed my gender on my birth certificate.
‘You can call me Grandma Gail,’ I said excitedly, meeting my first grandson, Angelika’s little boy Felix, born in November that year.
Joining forces, Lissy and I founded Trans Lipstick Lesbian Power Couple – a human rights organisation that fights for the rights of transgender people and other groups that are marginalised in society.
We also set up Kindred Spirits Australia, a social group for the LGBTIQA+ community.
Lissy and I decided we wanted to take the next step. I was going to marry the love of my life!
As I stepped into the dress of my dreams, a bright red gown, in September 2021, I knew that four-year-old me would have been so proud.
I’d met the woman of my dreams, as the woman of my dreams!
Surrounded by 120 of our nearest and dearest, I felt the happiest I’d ever been, unapologetically me.
Now we’re grandmas to three little loves, Felix, now nearly four, Aston, three, and Thea, one.
Love always wins.