Photo: Jess T. Dugan/Catherine Edelman Gallery
Cheryl and SueZie Hawkes met online in 1997 and carried on a transatlantic love affair until 2000, when SueZie — then living as Ian, in her native England — joined Cheryl in Michigan. They were wed later that year and today live in Florida with their teenage son. SueZie made clear that she was transgender from the start, and completed her transition in 2014. The two have been happily married all the while.
Thanks very much for hopping on the phone with me today.
SueZie: Yesterday when you reached out we were cooking dinner together. That’s why we couldn’t talk. We do just about everything totally together as a couple.
Cheryl: She’s gonna talk now though!
Cheryl: You can interrupt her to ask questions, because otherwise she’ll keep talking. Go ahead.
You said you do almost everything together. Like what?
SueZie: Before I transitioned, I used to go shopping for Cheryl. I knew her size, I knew what would fit her and work for her. And I always said, “If it doesn’t fit her, I’ll wear it.” Now we go shopping together. We do girlier activities together now. We go out dancing. Whenever we have to be apart, we miss each other a great deal. Every day when Cheryl has to leave to go to the office we hug; we hug real tight and are very interlocked like it’s the last time we’ll see each other. It’s so important to us never to stop doing that. Same when we come back together. We put down the bags, and then it’s a big hug and kiss.
So the transition didn’t change the attraction?
SueZie: I joke that Cheryl’s “lesbian by attrition.”
Cheryl: I didn’t come up with that. To me, it’s not that I was straight and now I’m not. She’s the same person, only a lot happier. She smiles more.
SueZie: Cheryl used to say, “I married a person, not an appendage.” I didn’t understand that before. I wasn’t sure that was possible, didn’t really get it. Then, after the transition, I found that I had been attracted to Cheryl, the person. She felt the same way.
In the photograph you’re posed with a bike. Whose is it?
SueZie: Mine. Cheryl won’t even get on the thing.
Makes you nervous?
Cheryl: Very. She rides it. I don’t.
SueZie: She’s a back-seat talker, cutting me off when I talk too much, and a back-seat driver! I got her on the bike for the first time in a while recently. She was clinging to my back the whole time and screaming in my ear, “Slow down!”
Does the bike have any particular significance?
SueZie: I do like to ride fast. Very fast. But it’s about much more than that. Before and during my transition, I couldn’t walk down the street or walk through the mall with Cheryl without turning heads. People would go, That’s a man in a dress. On the bike, with the crash helmet on, it was different. I could hop on the bike in a mini skirt and a bikini top — and I did! — and with the crash helmet I was like any other woman to the drivers. They saw a woman. And I was. The bike represented that freedom.
Transgender aside, it sounds like you have a great marriage.
SueZie: You know, I went back to England to have my sex changed on my birth certificate. So then we went to the county clerk where we were married in Michigan. I showed them my birth certificate and the medical documents from my gender reassignment surgery, I answered their questions, and the judge signed an ex parte order changing our marriage certificate to reflect my gender. This was before the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage on the federal level. So ours is actually the first same-sex marriage certificate in America [because it’s dated 2000]. We love each other. We just love each other and love being together.