On May 16, Taimi hosted Taimi Talks — the app’s annual live streaming event where LGBTQ+ celebrities share their experience with Taimi users. This year, the line-up featured many inspiring individuals and one incredible couple, Jake and Hannah Graf. In their Taimi Talk, Jake and Hannah shared their stories of growing up transgender ever since their childhood to this day. Their resilience and success helped many trans people believe in themselves and find true love, so we are honored to be able to share their empowering story once again.
Jake and Hannah tuned in to Taimi Talks from across the pond after putting to bed their daughter Millie, who they welcomed to their family over a year ago. In 2020, the couple made history as the first ever transgender parents in the UK, but Jake and Hannah have been making history for many years now. Jake is an actor, director, and writer from London, while Hannah is a retired army officer who currently works in the banking industry. They also work closely with several organizations in the UK that aim to support LGBTQ+ kids and give them all the help they need to succeed.
As Hannah and Jake recount, their childhoods were far from perfect. Jake recalls that in the 1980s when he was born, the term transgender practically did not exist. He remembers that he felt like he was a boy ever since he was two years old, but his mother didn’t believe him, and the kids at school bullied him for dressing in a more masculine way. “I looked for myself in the cartoons I watched, in the books I read, in the films I saw. And there were no boys like me who were born in a girl’s body. And so, you know, I grew up desperately looking for anyone like me and basically feeling like I was wrong, like I was a freak. Like I was the only person in the world,” says Jake.
After he began puberty, things have gotten even worse. “Obviously, when you hate yourself so much, when you’re filled with such a sense of self-loathing, and your body is so alien to you, it’s really hard to be kind to other people. And so I pushed my family away. I pushed my mom and dad away. And things got really bad at home really early on,” he recalls. Years later, he found some solace after joining the lesbian community, but it wasn’t until he was 25 that he met another trans man in New York City, which has changed his life forever. “This is a guy who saved my life. Quite literally. He taught me through hormones and surgeries and how everything was going to be okay. And how society would adjust to me and I’d adjust to society,” he says. After returning home, he came out as transgender to his mom, who turned out to be very supportive, and began his medical transition.
“You know, when people say to me now, ‘Oh my God, you transitioned, you know, that’s so brave’, for me, the transition wasn’t the brave thing. The brave thing was all the years before when we suffer, when we’re struggling or when we’re just feeling so uncomfortable. And the transition, honestly, it wasn’t great, but now finally I can be me and finally I can be happy in my body, and this is where I am.”
Hannah’s story is similar to Jake’s but different in many ways as well. Growing up in the 1990s, rather than the 1980s like Jake, she remembers that society already knew that there were people who were transgender, even though the term transexual was more common back then. However, the representation in media was very hurtful. As an example, she brought up the 1994 movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. “And in that movie, there’s a transgender woman, Jim Carrey kisses her. And then when he finds out that she’s trans, he takes a shower, he burns his clothes, he brushes his teeth, and then she’s revealed to the world by being stripped naked, and everyone throws up,” she recalls. “Like I’m watching it as a kid, and my family and my friends, they’re all laughing at it, thinking, this is hilarious. And I’m like, ‘Wow. If that’s what it means to be openly trans in this world, then I don’t want that.”
After that experience, Hannah says she learned to play the part and participated in things that were widely considered more masculine. Over time, she realized she genuinely enjoyed spending time outdoors and staying active. That eventually led to her joining the army, a career she looks back on with great fondness. “I loved the camaraderie. I loved the travel. I loved the training, the people, all that kind of stuff. Really, really loved it. It was a career that I really got on with, but it was also weird because it was very gender segregated,” says Hannah. She remembers her first operational deployment to Afghanistan as the turning point in her life when she realized something has to change. “I was living in a tent with seven guys. I had no way to be myself whatsoever. And it was just all too much. And honestly, after that, I said, I could never do that again,” she recalls. Fortunately, her commanding officer turned out to be very supportive. After she came out, she worked in the army as an openly trans army officer, mentoring other transgender people. Hannah’s career in the army culminated with getting awarded an MBE at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
Jake + Hannah
Hannah’s and Jake’s paths finally crossed in 2015, when they both had their friends’ and families’ support, and the only thing that was missing was a relationship. As a former member of the lesbian community, Jake remembers that he dated a lot but never truly clicked with someone, largely because of his transgender identity. “I found it so tiring explaining to everybody I dated about what it meant to be trans, and dysphoria, and, you know, how I struggle with my body. And no matter how much they told me, you know, your body’s beautiful, it didn’t have any effect,” he recalls. Again, Hannah’s experience was quite different but very similar at the same time. For her, dating as a trans person never seemed like a good idea. “I was so disgusted by my body for so many years. The idea of sharing it with someone else just felt crazy. And like I said, the whole Ace Ventura stuff, society makes trans women feel so undesirable. I just thought it wasn’t even a possibility for me. When I transitioned, I thought I was making a decision that may mean I would be alone for the rest of my life,” she says.
Hannah and Jake met on social media and Skyped a couple of times before they went on their first date, which lasted 11 hours. Jake immediately felt that they had a special kind of connection that he has never experienced before. It was also his first date in a while when being transgender wasn’t a topic that needed to be discussed. “My God, it is so exhausting talking about it the whole time, and the transphobia, and then this or that. So we didn’t talk about it. We talked about music. We talked about love. We talked about happiness, we talked about families, and we just clicked. And after our first 11-hour date, Hannah on the way home gave me a phone call and told me she loved me,” he recalls.
Not having to come out to each others’ families and friends was something Hannah and Jake really appreciated from the very beginning. “If you date a cis guy as a trans woman, you know that the mum is going to be like, ‘What are you doing? How do I get grandkids?’, friends might be going like, ‘Have they had surgeries?’, all that kind of stuff. Whereas when you’re dating someone who is trans, actually, all that stuff just doesn’t really happen because everyone’s kind of like tuned up on the situation,” says Hannah.
Jake + Hannah + Millie
In 2015, Jake proposed to Hannah in New York City. Four months later, they got married in London and started planning for a baby. Having a child can be difficult for any family, but for Hannah and Jake, it was even more difficult. While some trans men choose to go through fertility treatment before transitioning or carry their own kids, Jake knew it was not a good option for him. “There is no way on Earth I would have walked into the London Women’s Clinic as it’s called in London and sat there as a single trans person whilst waiting to have eggs harvested,” he recalls. “But six years later, I was so confident in myself and my masculinity and who I was as a man that I thought, ‘You know what?’ I stopped testosterone, and yeah, my muscle dropped, my face changed again, and I would cry at everything, but I went to the London Women’s Clinic, and I had eggs harvested.”
After all the necessary procedures, it was time to look for a surrogate, which wasn’t easy either. Luckily, after Jake and Hannah appeared on TV sharing their stories and saying they are trying for a baby, a woman reached out to them and said she’d be happy to help. Everything went well, except for one thing — the pandemic. “The only slight blip was that we had our baby in the middle of corona. And that was kind of insane. So, you know, we had to go to Belfast overnight driving through the night just to kind of avoid travel bans and get to her. And then we sat in Belfast for five weeks, waiting for a beautiful baby to be born. But then little Millie was born,” says Jake.
Hannah had her fears about being a mother as well since she knew that as a trans woman, she couldn’t carry her child, but she says her doubts went away quite fast. “I was really nervous about not finding motherly instincts or feeling like I couldn’t bond with my child as I didn’t carry her, but I always remember one of the first nights when I was alone with her, Jake was sleeping. And she woke up in the middle of the night. She needed a feeding. And I realized at that moment I was the only person she had to help her stay alive. And that was the moment I realized that I was obviously a mother, and it was lovely.”
At the end of the stream, Jake and Hannah answered some of the fans’ questions. For example, if they think that trans people should only date trans people. “I do not think trans people should only date other trans people, but for us personally, it has worked,” says Jake. Hannah agrees with him and says that while it might be difficult for a trans person to date a cis person, as long as two people love each other, they will find a way to make it work. “I always say like being trans was the thing that brought us together, but it’s everything else that keeps us together,” says Hannah.
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The UK’s most visible trans couple share their story of growing up trans and building a family in… was originally published in Taimi Lifestyle & Community on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.