Extract 'Well', I said to her - 'I have something to ask you but I don’t want to upset you'

In this extract from her book, Philippa Ryder writes about a question she asked her wife-to-be which changed the course of her life.

PHILIPPA RYDER WAS born in the 1960s. Growing up as a boy seemed wrong to her but she didn’t understand why, or why it felt more natural to dress in her female relatives’ clothes. It wasn’t until the 1990s, when, in her 30s she found she wasn’t the only person to feel this way.

In her memoir, My Name is Philippa, she tells her transgender journey. My Name is Philippa is a story about love, understanding and a family who stuck together as Philippa moved from husband and father to wife and mother.

Philippa met her wife, Helen in 1980, and they are still together as a married couple 40 years later. Here, Philippa details the ‘third question’ she asked Helen, aged 22, that had a major effect on her life. 


Helen’s usually busy and bustling family home was quiet for once. A large three-story terraced set in a hillside suburb of Leeds, she shared it with a sister and brother, and her parents. But for some reason everyone was out, and we had the opportunity to explore each other in comfort and privacy. Tonight would be question three.

The first was when I had asked her to marry me. I performed in the traditional way, laughing nervously and going down on one knee on the wet ground, terrified that she would reject me even though she had pretty much agreed in advance, giggling as I had raised the subject the previous day. There was really little doubt in either of our minds that we were right for each other and following her soft yet enthusiastic Yes to my question we celebrated with a flat coke and an awful science fiction film that was memorable only due to the occasion.

The second question was when I had the equally terrifying prospect of having to ask her father for permission to marry Helen. He had always treated me well but there was a family story that he chopped a man’s hand off in the Second World War when he served in the Royal Air Force in India. I didn’t want something of mine chopped off for having the nerve to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage! But he agreed, of course, delighted for us.

And to question three: Helen closed the door, locking it. ‘Just in case,’ she said, and smiled. Her room was small with a single bed and a homemade wardrobe. And books, lots of books, unsurprisingly considering our common interests. There was a little incense and low lighting giving a lovely romantic setting. My passion for her was sometimes overwhelming and she found it hard to deal with. But I found her irresistible, truly a part of me, even at this early stage in our romance.

I knew that our relationship, no matter what happened, was going to be a huge part of my life. I had feelings for Helen that I had never dreamed possible. As much as I had liked and desired other women this was true love, a completely different experience. It was beyond romantic or sexual, important though they both were. It was feeling like Helen was just a discrete part of myself that had somehow been surgically removed. I seemed to know what she would say, and she felt the same about me.

Helen moved towards the bed and shyly undid the buttons on her blouse, then unzipped her skirt, letting it fall to the floor. One of the many attractions of her for me was her stockings, and today they excited me even more.

This question, the final of the three and the one that was to define our relationship from this point on was on my lips. I was afraid to ask it, afraid of rejection, afraid of the effect it might have on her. I had thought about it in advance, thought about how I could phrase it so that if she was horrified or upset I might laugh it off as a joke, but I was almost too nervous to ask it, and that was going to ruin my plan.

‘God but you look sexy tonight hon,’ I said, reaching for her and kissing her.

‘Are you all right?’ she asked, perhaps sensing a different emotion in my body. ‘You seem nervous …’

‘Well I have something to ask you but I don’t want to upset you. It’s just something I want to do that you might not be comfortable with,’ I said.

‘Well, the only way to know is to ask me,’ she said, looking anxious, the passion waning.

‘It’s about your stockings, I like them so much and I’d love to wear them while we make love.’

There, it was out, at last, the secret I had kept from everyone my entire life. I looked at her with an equal amount of fear and hope.

‘Oh,’ she said, cautiously. ‘Of course, I don’t mind.’ Lots of possibilities had probably run through her mind when I said I had a question, maybe some strange or unusual sexual practice, but this was not something she might have thought of.

The effect on me was immediate, it was as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. She sensed this and perhaps she wondered if there was something more to it than just a little bedroom play. But soon the passion reignited, and we explored each other fully, relaxed and comfortable in the privacy of the empty house.

The remainder of the weekend together was even more wonderful for me than usual. The experience of finally telling someone had energised and excited me in so many ways. It had lain hidden deep within my core for most of my life. Now I had shared at least part of my innermost desire with the woman I knew I would spend the rest of my life with.

When I got back to Dublin the following week I thought about the weekend, and the direction our relationship could now take now that my secret had finally been revealed.

I tried to keep busy while I was away from Helen, always preferring to have too much to do rather than too little, leaving as little time as I could to dwell on wearing female clothes? I felt, however, that a new chapter of my life had begun.

Philippa Ryder’s new bookMy Name is Philippa’ is out now.

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