Her two lovers, Ms. Brown, 41, and Ms. Knight, 39, were once a straight married couple – when Ms. Brown was a man. The two are now in a civil partnership. Miss O’Connell told the Mirror: “We’re content together…that is what matters to us. I’m running for office to change things. Twenty years ago this would never have happened.”
“I’m standing up because I don’t think anyone should be treated differently because of gender or sexuality or the way they choose to live…we live together. We’re in a relationship and we’re not ashamed of that.”
When the former IT worker and father of three was a man, he split from his wife in 2005. Doubts about sexuality that he had as a child re-emerged and he realized he was a woman trapped in a man’s body.
Miss O’Connell met transsexual Ms. Brown, a former computer technician, online later that year and struck up a friendship.
After marrying when she was a man, Ms. Brown’s sex change had forced her to divorce Ms. Knight – because the law then prevented marriage between two women. But the couple were still in a relationship and living together.
Ms. Brown eventually told Ms. Knight about Miss O’Connell – and was amazed when her partner welcomed the idea of a three-way relationship. The women have lived in a three-bedroom home in Cambridge for the past seven years.
Miss O’Connell was a bridesmaid when Ms. Knight and Ms. Brown took their vows for a second time in a civil partnership six years ago.
The Lib Dem candidate said: “It just works. There’s more often someone there to be supportive. If one person’s off doing something else then the other partner is still there…you can just keep each other company. It’s given me strength since I underwent my transition.”
She says her relationship with her children – an 11-year-old boy and two girls, 13 and 14 – is ‘no different’ to what it would be if she was still a divorced father. She spends weekends with them, but they call her ‘Zoe’ instead of ‘Dad’.
“The kids were three, four and five when we separated,” she said, adding: “Over the course of about four to six months I was spending more and more time in girl mode … They kind of gradually got used to it. There wasn’t much in the way of verbal explanation. Since then I think they’ve just absorbed information via osmosis … it’s normal for them.”
Miss O’Connell met Ms. Brown on an online forum. Ms. Brown said: “It took some time before we realized we had feelings for each other. Zoe was married at the time and going through a divorce … and we were only friends. But we were going through the same thing, speaking to the same people and comparing experiences. We were giving each other mutual support … and we were each there when the other went through surgery.”
Miss O’Connell is standing in one of the Tories’ safest seats, held by John Whittingdale – vice chairman of the Conservative backbenchers’ 1922 committee – who had a 19,000 majority in the 2010 election.
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