A couple who married as man and wife are set to renew their vows as a same-sex couple after the husband had a sex change.
Denise and Kristiana Taylor will walk down the aisle again 21 years after first getting married – but both wearing dresses.
The couple renewed their vows in 2012 after more than 15 years of marriage, but just days later, former Royal Navy sailor Kristiana told Denise he wanted to have a sex change.
The pair, who live in Sittingbourne, Kent, with their 14-year-old son, Stephen, have been together since 1996.
Kristiana, now a radiographer at Tunbridge Wells hospital, said: “We’re renewing our vows on August 17 and we both get to wear the dress this time.
“It’s a blessing and a celebration of the 60-odd people that are invited, saying thank you for the support as we’re so thankful.
“Something which could have torn us apart, actually brought us together.”
Kristiana, 49, left school at 16 and spent most of her life in the Royal Navy, serving in the Gulf War, but left in the mid-90s and soon met her future wife.
But in 2012, three days after they renewed their vows as a man and woman, a conversation over the wedding dress Denise, 44, had worn led Kristiana to break down in tears and come out as trans.
Now, five years after beginning her transition – which also included gender reassignment surgery – Mrs and Mrs Taylor could not be happier.
Denise, a midwife at Medway hospital, added: “I had my suspicions for quite some time, and every time I’d try to approach the subject we’d have a full-blown argument and she’d storm out.
“For me I thought, her as a man was having an affair or was gay and I kept finding things round the house and didn’t know how to approach it and I was anxious of thinking what was going on.
“It was a relief more than anything.
“It made me better to know I hadn’t physically been sharing her with someone else but actually someone that was trapped inside and was trying to get out.
“The way I saw it was that the inside’s not changing, and that’s what I married – so the outside didn’t make much difference.
The ceremony will take place at Judd’s Folly Hotel in Ospringe, Kent.
Kristiana knew she was different when she was eight years old, but did not know why.
The journey from male to female was not easy and took years of hormones, GP visits and psychologist appointments, as well as laser, speech and gender therapy before she finally underwent gender reassignment surgery in 2016.
However, Kristiana does still suffer some discrimination – something they say is borne from stupidity and ignorance.
She said: “We just come and go like anyone else. We’re living our own lives.
“We’re just a normal family, and normal is as normal as you make it.
“All I knew was that I felt comfortable wearing feminine clothing, there was a sense of attachment.
“But as a boy I felt the opposite of what I felt as a women.
“As I became older, these wants became more and more.
“Joining the Navy was a way of escaping it.
“You’re telling yourself it’s wrong all the time and you have coping mechanisms because you’re hiding it and you’re terrified your family, your friends and your loved ones will find out and reject you.”
When she left the forces, she kept dressing as a woman in secret and wife Denise had no idea.
Kristiana added: “That went on for some years and then the feelings got more intense and it got to a stage where I started getting careless, as if I wanted to get caught.
“I left an earring out and she came in and asked me what it was doing there so I blamed it on my son, but he was only tiny at the time.
“The lead-up to what I’d call ‘coming out’ was about five years.
“I wanted genital surgery because I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror, I felt sick, but you don’t just turn up and say ‘I want my bits sorted out’.”
“I was very matter of fact about it, I used to say ‘I’ll get my lady garden soon’, it softened the mood.”
The pair have been the subject of quite a bit of hate after coming out, but say they have made more friends than they’ve lost.
Denise said: “I got a lot of negativity, I got a lot of ‘Oooh I’ve heard about your situation’, but it makes me smile, because look at us now.
“We had two lists – one of the people we thought would be OK with it, and those who we thought wouldn’t, and they reversed themselves. It was really strange.”
Kristiana sat down with her son, Stephen when he was seven and explained what was happening, promising to still do dad things and to always be there for him.
They also gave him links to information and spent time answering any questions.
Kristiana said: “I very quickly became mum and Denise is mummy.”
Taking it in her stride, Kristiana said she now gets approached for advice by colleagues at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Hospital Trust who may be going through similar things, saying she’s become “something of a celebrity within the trust”.
The couple also do talks on transgender issues, one of which was recently for staff at Thameside Prison in London.
Kristiana also wrote workplace policy for Canterbury Christ Church University, where she trained as a radiographer.