There was hardly a dry eye in the church when newlyweds Ryan and Brooklynne Kennedy were pronounced man and wife.
With Brooklynne (28) radiant in a white gown and tiara, and Ryan (34) handsome in a formal suit, one friend said it was the most "traditionally beautiful wedding" they had ever attended. What is unique and non-traditional about this wedding, however, is that Ryan was born a woman and became a male seven years ago, while Brooklynne was born a man and has lived as a female for the past nine years.
And just like many newly married couples, they're hoping to take the next big step - having a baby together. The Wellington couple say it's their shared experience as transgender people that brought them together and allowed them to fall deeply in love with each other.
"There's a lot less we have to explain to each other and we both understand what it's like to spend a lifetime transitioning into the opposite gender - we've both been through it," says Ryan. Brooklynne gazes at her husband with adoration. "When we met, we were on level playing fields," she says. "He sees me as a woman and I see him as a man. I never think, 'oh, that's my husband who used to be a woman'," she says.
Brooklynne describes herself as "an average woman" and has put her years as a biological male behind her."Everything I do is what a woman would do. I feel feminine and it's great to be with someone who understands that," she says.
From a young age, both Ryan and Brooklynne felt unhappy with the gender they were born. Ryan, originally from Australia, moved to Wellington 12 years ago and used the fresh start as a chance to transform himself from girl to guy.
Five years later, he started chatting to Brooklynne - then living in the US - via an internet group for transgender people. Ryan had spotted a picture of the vivacious Brooklynne and knew she wasthe girl for him. "Ryan had posted a picture of me on his blog saying, 'I'm in love with this girl!' oy friend told me about it, so I contacted him," smiles Brooklynne.
Internet messages were soon replaced with phone calls as they realised they'd found a strong connection. Ryan, who works for the Green Party, had just started transforming from female to male by taking the hormone testosterone and dressing in men's clothing, while Brooklynne had already spent years living as a woman.
She gave Ryan the support and understanding that he had been looking for. "I've dated mostly femaleto- male transgendered men, so I had a wealth of knowledge about what Ryan was going through," Brooklynne says. After four years of chatting, Ryan asked Brooklynne to move to New Zealand so they could be together. For Brooklynne, the idea of moving here was very appealing - she's a big fan of former Labour Party oP Georgina Beyer, the first transsexual to be elected into a parliament anywhere in the world.
"Even in the small US town where I came from, Georgina made front page news. Up until Georgina, all the media representations of transgender women were of hookers, hairdressers or drag queens - that's all you saw. My mum saw Georgina's achievement and said to me, 'You can have a normal life.'"
She made the move three years ago and as soon as she and Ryan were together, it confirmed what she already knew in her heart - they were soulmates. "Even though we had never met in person, we were so close," she smiles. "We knew each other's childhood secrets." A year after Brooklynne moved to New Zealand, Ryan proposed. "I was so nervous," he says. "It was an old-fashioned proposal. I got down on one knee and asked her to be my wife."
Brooklynne accepted and a year later, they wed in a civil union ceremony. While Ryan has legally changed the gender on his Australian birth certificate to male, Brooklynne, born in the US, is unable to legally become female. Today the couple are enjoying their lives as husband and wife - their past identities are long forgotten. Asking what their birth names are prompts a polite "no comment", while Brooklynne adds that it's not relevant since those lives "no longer exist".
In fact, she had a funeral for her former self, burying a coffi n full of pictures from her life as a man - symbolising her rebirth as a woman. When it comes to their next big step as a couple, however, they're using their original genders to try to make their dream of being parents come true. Ryan is the only one of the two to have had surgery - a double mastectomy to remove his breasts - and they are both having hormone treatment. Ryan takes testosterone to give him more masculine features and facial and body hair, while Brooklynne takes oestrogen, to give her a womanly figure and breasts.
In what's believed to be a New Zealand first, the two are planning to get pregnant naturally - Brooklynne will provide the sperm and Ryan will carry and give birth to the baby. "I've been to a fertility clinic and done all my testing, so I'm good to go," laughs Brooklynne.
Ryan sees himself as becoming "Dad", even though he hopes to take the female biological role in starting a family. "I don't see wanting to have a baby as a conflict," he says fi rmly. "The desire to have children is gender neutral. I think the struggles that Brooklynne and I have been through will make us great parents."
All future surgery is currently on hold until the couple complete their family "the old-fashioned way"."our priorities now are creating a solid and loving marriage, and having a family together," says Brooklynne. The couple, who are Christians, have already been harshly criticised by some people for wanting to have not just one baby, but "a big family". However, they insist they are like any other couple when it comes to wanting kids, to complete their life together.
Brooklynne, who will be the child's mother figure, knows she and her husband will make great parents."People see being transgender as a curse. To me, we have a very meaningful purpose: To teach people to love - no matter what someone's background or history is," she says.
The couple, who both share a love of embroidery and are members of a craft group, hope their journey throughmarriage and to potential parenthood will inspire and empower other people with gender-identity issues. While Brooklynne describes herself as a "housewife", she also runs a support group for transgender youth in Wellington, whose youngest member is 14, and Ryan has recently published a fictional book, co-written with Australian author Hazel Edwards, based on some of his own life experiences.
They know they will always face hurdles as a result of the bodies they were born in, but by getting married and one day having kids, Ryan and Brooklynne are determined to make a success of their life together. "Being in love and having someone to share your life with empowers you to achieve any goal," says Ryan.
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