With the technological advances in communication that began in the 1990s, the opportunities to meet people from all walks of life and virtually any location in the world opened up entirely new doors for people. A person in New Hampshire could start up a conversation with a someone in Iowa, for example, and in the case of SueZie and Cheryl Hawkes, speaking with each other became a trans-Atlantic affair.
“In 1997, then living in England, I stumbled into an internet chat room,” SueZie said. “Chat rooms were a different world where you could be yourself or who you wanted to be without face-to-face confrontations. We felt there was nothing to lose by being open and honest, so we shared our inner thoughts and feelings.”
Cheryl further elaborated, “SueZie spared no details and explained herself so clearly, I was refreshed by the honesty. We got to know each other on the inside, long before we physically met.” One of the many things SueZie shared was that she desired to transition to female.
“Happiness and acceptance elevated our bond; we are who we are because of the other.”
“I did not choose what gender was to be written on my birth certificate, and likewise it was not my choice to present as male,” SueZie explained. “I was a child afraid to publicly reveal my inner identity. Occasionally I had given some clues that I was really a girl inside which, for the most part, were received negatively. For 50 years I could only sleep as a girl.”
After three years of talking via the Internet, in 2000 SueZie decided to move across the ocean in order to be with Cheryl, and the two were married later that year.
In 2009, SueZie began her subtle transition, but it wasn’t an easy process.
“Until that time she had always been on the career fast track with glowing reviews and quick progression,” Cheryl explained. “Suddenly all that changed, and her role became static. The ‘rolling of the eyes’ were evident. SueZie began to try to hide some of her transition changes. Over the next 5 years I watched SueZie’s health deteriorate. Her inner torment had serious consequences. In 2014 SueZie restated her desire for surgical transition. I looked into those eyes that were begging for approval. All I could say was, “Let’s do it.”
“We both were in fear that the lack of acceptance could cost me my job, the house, and even our relationship,” SueZie said. “Discrimination isn’t always visible. People make decisions and they don’t necessarily openly discriminate, but you’ll find people will come up with different reasons not to choose you for a job or give you housing.”
The couple now lives in Florida, where there are no statewide non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. SueZie is a firm believer that protections for LGBTQ people are an absolute necessity, especially for younger people only just beginning to understand themselves.
“Non-discrimination policies are really going to help kids coming up,” she said. “This is the land of the free, and everyone deserves to be who they are. It’s kids that are going to get hurt if we don’t have policies in place.”
After all these years, the couple is still madly in love. “I can’t wait to see her face every single day,” said SueZie. “I miss her the minute she walks out the door. Cheryl is extraordinary, her values are so humbling and her love so abundant, that’s why I gave up my home and country for her. I am so lucky…everyone should have a Cheryl!”
“We hope that other people can simply see us as two people who are in love.”
Cheryl echoed: “Transition was a long road, with it comes many changes, both physical and in character. Through it all, our love only grew more powerful. SueZie evolved into such a beautiful person inside. Happiness and acceptance elevated our bond; we are who we are because of the other. We fell in love with the person on the inside, the outside is not so important.”
Recently the couple had their original year 2000 marriage certificate legally changed by the courts to state both SueZie and Cheryl as female. This certificate is believed to be the first and only one of its kind showing a same sex marriage, 15 years before same-sex couples had the freedom to marry in the United States.
When asked what she would like people to think of when they hear the word “transgender,” SueZie replied thoughtfully: “Our goal is to show people that transgender individuals are everyday Americans, and we are for the most part, the same as everyone else. We all have our individual characteristics about who we feel we are, who we love, what our hobbies and pastimes are. We just want people to understand that it really doesn’t matter how you present yourself.”
“We hope that other people can simply see us as two people who are in love,” she continued. “Our relationship is stronger because we’re respectful and appreciative of each other’s individualism. I love her to bits. I can’t put it into words. We are a family that contributes to society like anyone else — we work, we pay taxes, we help people out, we’re no different to anyone else.”
It is the love they have for one another and the journey they have shared that keep SueZie and Cheryl going strong.
“It’s been twenty years since we met, and we both still have butterflies in our stomachs. We are so thankful for the passion and love we share. It truly is the kind fairytales are made of.”
Special Thanks to Our Partners:
This profile was produced in collaboration with the National Center for Transgender Equality, the nation’s leading social justice advocacy organization winning life-saving change for transgender people. Learn more here.