In an exclusive interview with InterMediaUK, we caught up with LGBTQI+ golden couple Jake & Hannah Graf as they set out on their biggest challenge to date, becoming parents!
Jake is an actor, writer, and director specialising in short films dealing with transgender issues in an effort to normalise queer and trans experiences to a wider, more mainstream audience.
Hannah was an engineer with the British Army (retired in 2018) and assumed to be the highest ranking transgender officer, advising Senior Army commanders on transgender policy. Hannah was awarded an MBE in 2019.
Both patrons of the Mermaids charity, the pair were named as the UK’s most influential transgender couple on 2019’s Independent Pride Power List and have become something of an inspiration to the international trans community, seizing every opportunity to increase acceptance and understanding of the transgender experience.
They are expecting their first child in the coming weeks!
(First published 08/04/20)
You have both had hugely successful careers. Would you be able to tell us a bit about where your careers began and how you got to where you have? I had always wanted to be a storyteller, be that through the tales I wrote as a child, or my lifelong dream of acting, but was crippled by nerves and doubt pre transition, never allowing myself to believe that might be a reality. It was only when I was 28 and just about to start my medical transition that I finally felt the drive to start writing again, and penned my first screenplay, XWHY. It was the story of a lesbian couple rocked by one partner’s revelation that ‘she’ is in fact a transgender man, and the subsequent heartbreak that follows. I actually ended up producing, directing and starring in the film, and we shot it over two years to illustrate my physical changes in real time. Back in 2010 it proved somewhat groundbreaking and premiered at the BFI, receiving several award nominations. Spurred on by this early success I continued to write and direct, my main drive to give visibility to those characters that we so rarely see: older trans folk, gay trans men, queer people of faith or colour and trans kids. All of my films were well received, screening internationally and winning in excess of 60 awards. I began receiving messages online from LGBTQ people across the world who had seen my films, as far afield as Lebanon, Syria and the Ukraine, and that truly meant more than any other accolade.
In the last few years I have written and directed 9 films and a drama series, and am currently working on my first feature film. I have also been extremely lucky in my acting work, with roles opposite Eddie Redmayne and Kiera Knightley, being directed by Oscar winners. Hannah and I are currently making our first foray into the world of presenting and are loving every minute, so hopefully that will be another exciting avenue which Hannah and I can explore together.
Hannah’s story is truly inspiring. Joining Sandhurst in September 2009, she excelled during her Officer training, quickly impressing her chain of command, and her first operational deployment came in 2013, to Helmand Province in Afghanistan, a tour for which she was decorated. It was shortly after this posting that she came out as a trans woman, to a surprisingly supportive welcome from the Army, becoming the highest ranking transgender Officer, as well as taking on the role of Army Transgender representative.
Over the next 5 years, Hannah would go on to amend and update policy around trans issues and acceptance in the Army, including recognition of non-binary identities for the first time. She also visited Washington DC to speak with members of the US military about the inclusion of trans troops in the US forces.
Retiring in December 2018 after a shining decade-long career, Hannah was awarded an MBE by HRH Duke of Cambridge for her services toward LGBTQ acceptance and inclusion within the British Army. She now works in the anti-financial crime sector of the banking industry and remains a reservist in the British Army.
How did the two of you meet?
We actually met online in the first instance. I was doing the press tour for The Danish Girl and Hannah had just been outed on the front page of The Sun, so we were both vaguely aware of each other, and I added her on Facebook. After a week’s very awkward online flirtation, we met on the 30th December 2015 under the clock in Waterloo station for a first date that lasted 11 hours. We just immediately clicked, not because we are both trans but because of our shared love for sci-fi, heavy metal and travel, and Hannah’s ridiculous sense of humour. Our experiences of gender, though wildly different, gave us an unspoken connection, an understanding of each other’s struggles that few other people would ever understand. Neither was nervous about meeting the in-laws, nor about any dysphoria that we might feel, and that on top of an already undeniable connection meant that after a two year courtship, we married in March 2018, and haven’t looked back.
We now speak internationally on trans issues, lives and families, and have been incredibly fortunate in the support that we have received from much of the media in depicting a positive trans story, something which is often in short supply. Would you be able to tell us how married life has been for you both so far?
Married life has certainly been an adventure! Hannah and I were both already fairly visible trans people prior to meeting, aware of the importance of that visibility, neither of us having had any positive role models when we were young. Since marrying we have had countless adventures travelling across the world, have just bought our first house, and are now expecting our first child. We are stronger together than we could ever be apart and laugh every day, trying our best to ignore the last few years of vitriolic transphobia from some of the mainstream press.
Neither of us ever imagined that we would be married and about to become parents, and we often have to pinch ourselves as we marvel that we have come this far. Trans folk are so often made to feel unworthy and undeserving of love and stability, and we know that we are very fortunate to have found each other when we did. It's so exciting that you'll soon be a family. Would you be able to tell us how you're both feeling about this?
We’re currently awaiting the birth of our baby over in Ireland, which is where our surrogate is based. Aside from the usual excitement and nerves, we are also wondering how we’ll get our baby home if crackdowns continue. These are strange times indeed to be having a child, neither of us imagining that we might be on global lockdown as she arrives, but we’re rolling with the punches, and crossing our fingers that it will be as stress free as possible, given the circumstances. Otherwise, crazily excited about becoming parents, something which I have dreamed about since my twenties. None of it feels real, and we’re getting ready for a wild ride!
You're both hugely inspirational to the LGBTQ+ community. Is there anything you'd like to add here for the members of InterMedia UK?
That’s very kind! Obviously, we are in a very strange moment in our global history, but it certainly hasn’t stopped the transphobia, divisions or hate that we still see being spouted online. What we would ask is that for this window in time, when we are all staying home and isolated, that we all try and spread some love online, as our younger generation needs it now more than ever. Once this passes and we return to some sense of normality, we must support each other as the beautiful, diverse and vibrant LGBTQ community that we are. The wedges that we see being driven between us as we all fight for our space and our voice can only serve to weaken us all. Although we may have our differences, when push comes to shove,we are discriminated against by the same people, and unless we stick together, we will find our rights and lives eroded away by those who would seek to destroy us. We’re stronger together, let’s stay that way!