At the start of 2018 Bobbie was recovering from a break-up. Seeking a fresh start, she left her job in Essex and travelled to China. “I’d always wanted to go there,” she says. “I wasn’t in a good place when I arrived. I was living on vodka and M&Ms and didn’t have a clear plan.” She found somewhere to stay in Zhongshan, 50 miles from Guangzhou.
In February, she connected with Abelina on a dating app. “I’m from Germany but I was working in Guangzhou for a government organisation. She sent me a message first but I was the one to ask her out,” says Abelina. “I was attracted to her eyes and the beard she had at the time.” Although Bobbie has always known she was a woman, she was presenting as a cisgender man.
They met in Guangzhou at a local restaurant a week later. After laughing their way through their first date, they became a couple. For the next few months, they continued to meet every weekend, until Bobbie’s visa ran out in August. “I went home for my sister’s wedding and looked for ways to come back,” she says. The visa was hard to obtain, so she accepted a teaching job in Prakhon Chai, Thailand, in October. Abelina was able to visit at weekends, travelling from Guangzhou. On one of her trips, Abelina had a broken toe. “She ended up snapping the tendon in her other foot and was completely off her feet,” says Bobbie. “I was caring for her and carrying her around. It showed we could be there for each other.”
At the end of the year, Bobbie proposed in Thailand. They married in Gibraltar in April 2019 and Bobbie moved back to Guangzhou six months later. “Neither of us had lived with a partner before, so it was quite an adjustment period,” says Abelina. “Bobbie is messy and leaves shoes everywhere. It’s like living in a shoe museum.” At the end of that year, Bobbie spoke to Abelina about her lifelong gender dysphoria. “Initially I came out as non-binary because it felt safer, but it didn’t feel like me.” She would have some days where she dressed as male, and others where she dressed in the clothes she wears now.
In summer 2020, the couple went on a six-week trip to Sanya in southern China, where Bobbie came out as a woman. “I’d repressed it as I wouldn’t have been safe at home. I’d been running away my whole life and couldn’t run any more.” Abelina is bisexual, but found it hard to watch her partner changing. “I told her it felt like I was losing my husband,” she says. “I regret saying that now.” The couple had been trying to have a baby and were struggling to conceive. Abelina worried their future family might be under threat if her partner transitioned. She came to terms with Bobbie’s identity with the support of her partner and a couples therapist. “When I saw how much it was hurting Bobbie to present as a man, I realised she had to be herself, no matter what.” Although it wasn’t easy, their relationship remains strong. “We still share the same values, which is what keeps people together,” says Bobbie. “When you come out as trans, both halves of the couple are transitioning.”
In China, same-sex couples can face social and legal challenges, which has further complicated their relationship. “People think we’re friends and often don’t believe we’re married,” says Abelina. The couple are moving to Spain soon, where they hope to be able to access gender and IVF services. “We’ve always wanted a family. That hasn’t changed,” says Bobbie.
Both before and after her transition, Bobbie has been grateful for her partner’s compassion. “It was a risk coming out – I could have lost my marriage. But I know I can be vulnerable with Abby without feeling like I’ll be burned.” Abelina admires Bobbie’s resilience. “She never lets anything get her down. I love her sense of humour and we laugh constantly.”