Pride Month has come and gone in the United States, but this weekend Londoners will be catching up with their own celebration at London Pride — among them will be power couple Jake and Hannah Graf.
The Grafs, who married in 2018, have become leading advocates for transgender rights in the UK, together and individually. Jake is an award-winning filmmaker, actor, and writer who uses his talents to expand representation of marginalized characters. He has leveraged his media expertise and presence to shine a light on the unique experiences of trans people in the UK. In 2018, Jake appeared alongside Kiera Knightly in the biographical drama Colette.
While Jake was racking up impressive film credits, Captain Hannah Graf was on her way to becoming a decorated officer of the British Army. After coming out in 2013, she became the highest ranking transgender soldier, catapulting her into the limelight for her bravery. Since then, she has prioritized speaking out against systemic transphobia and was recently awarded an MBE, or a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire honor, by HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, for her service and advocacy.
Recently, photographer Curtis Brown captured the couple in a gorgeous series of images and Out caught up with The Grafs on love, life, and what the 50th anniversary of Stonewall means to two of the most prominent trans voices across the pond.
How did your love story begin?
Jake Graf: I saw Hannah in the media after she was outed on the front page of the UK’s biggest daily newspaper, and thought she was very impressive and certainly very cute. When she popped up on my ‘people you might know’ list on Facebook I added her, thinking nothing more of it. An hour later, I saw that she had accepted my request and sent me a very sweet message along the lines of: ‘Hey Jake, I know we haven’t met, but I’ve been watching everything you’ve been doing and think it’s great. Be nice to meet sometime. Love Hannah.’ I thought that was pretty adorable and quite brave, and so we started chatting online.
We exchanged some pretty mortifying flirty texts, building to our first date which lasted 11 hours, and featured several kisses. From the very beginning, dating her was easy as neither of us ever had to ‘come out,’ explain what it meant to be trans, or try to hide our feelings of dysphoria or discomfort. Hannah was sweet, shy, and had never dated before me, so we just took it slowly. I felt protective over her from the start, and our dynamic just worked. Also, I am more impressed by her everyday, which is a great way to maintain a relationship!
Hannah Graf: Before I met Jake, I had never been on a date. Having struggled with my body both before and during transition I couldn’t ever have imagined sharing it intimately with anyone. However, after a few years of transition I started to consider trying my luck with romance, but if I am honest I was certain that I would never find love. A lot of that was internalized transphobia, but I also worried about when to disclose that I was trans, meeting the parents and how their friends might react.
What does the 50th anniversary of Stonewall mean to you and your work?
Jake: As a writer and filmmaker, all of our stories are hugely important and all of my films so far have focused on trans and queer themes. This anniversary is an important moment in our collective history, and a moment when we came together and fought as one in a way that we had not previously done before.
Hannah: For me, it is a perfect moment to reflect upon our history, for everyone to take a step back and remember where we have come from. I think that it can be very easy to form separate smaller groups within the LGBT community, but it was unity and standing together that started our equality movement in the first place. While there is a lot to celebrate in how far we have come in 50 years, there is clearly lots of work to be done and we will do that best if we stand for everyone — especially marginalized members of the LGBT community.
Hannah, could you describe the significance of your coming out in the military in the UK and what you hope it means for service people moving forward?
The British military has had open transgender service policy since 1999 and I was by no means the first soldier to come out as trans. However, having an open policy and having an open culture are two different things and I think my coming out coincided with the latter. That’s not to say that it was necessarily easy, I had countless conversations with colleagues to break down misconceptions and a few occasions of dealing with outright transphobia, but those colleagues I spoke with were receptive and when hate was aimed at me, my chain of command were swift in dealing with the culprits.
Since coming out, I have served as the Army’s trans representative for five years alongside my day to day responsibilities and helped improve policy, training, and education for the UK armed forces, and mentor other trans soldiers. In January this year, I was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) on the Queen’s honors list for that work and I think it came at an important time considering the challenges being faced by US service members. To think that two militaries that are so closely aligned can have such widely different policies is completely unfathomable to me. Should the US military need proof that allowing transgender service people only strengthens combat effectiveness, then simply look across the pond where we have been doing it successfully for two decades.
Jake, why do you think using film and media is important in shifting narratives on trans people?
Jake: Historically, trans people have seen some pretty negative on-screen representation, and that has only really started to shift in the last six or so years. There are relatively few trans folk in the world, I think 0.1% of the population, and only 8% of Americans have knowingly met someone trans, so many people will rely on and believe what they see in the media. If that continues to be negative, it will continue to affect the safety and well-being of trans and gender nonconforming people, a pretty dangerous prospect. We need positive representations and stories to show that we are not a trend or a fad, that we have been around forever, and that we are just the same as anybody else.
You’ve both traveled to a number of places. In your opinion, what makes Pride in London unique?
Jake: Pride in London is a phenomenal event that takes a full year to put together, and eclipses many other prides with its sheer scale and attendance numbers. Hannah and I work closely with Pride in London, this year doing a film screening, marching with 4 different groups and charities, hosting two stages and giving a talk, so it’s very dear to our hearts. I have been going since I was 16 years old, and I remember the first time I saw tens of thousands of queer people celebrating together in a park, and the feeling of hope and belonging it gave me, something I had never felt before. I know it does the same for new and old generations every year, and while I sincerely hope for the day when we no longer need pride events, until then I will march with my head held high, surrounded by our vibrant and diverse London community.
Hannah: Pride in London (London Pride is a beer!) is an amazing event that has a place for everyone. I absolutely love seeing the diversity of the day, which perfectly represents the diversity of our amazing city!
What are the most pressing issues affecting queer and trans people in the UK?
Jake: In the UK we currently have legislative protections for LGBTQIA identifying individuals, but that could change if Brexit happens, as we risk losing European governed human rights legislation. We are all hoping that doesn’t happen as the status quo right now is fairly positive, although there is always room for improvement. Hannah and I are patrons of the Mermaids charity which helps trans kids and their families, and we hear daily of bullying in schools, not only from peers but worryingly also teachers and other parents.
After gaining ground in recent years, there has been a backlash in the UK Press against the trans community, with several publications running what can only be termed as anti-trans campaigns, and we have seen small but extremely vocal groups of trans exclusionary radical feminists [TERFS] vilifying and attacking trans women at every turn, and calls for young people to be prevented from transitioning until their late teens. There is a global kickback currently against our LGBTQIA community, and we all need to stand and stick together to make sure that the progress made in the last 50 years is not taken away.
Hannah: Like many countries, the UK has been victim to populism and we have had a spate of politicians openly working against LGBT inclusion. Whilst these individuals may be a minority, it certainly seems to legitimize some people’s preconceptions of the LGBT community and as such we have had a rise in hate crime.
What brings you joy these days?
Jake: My wife, my niece and nephew and extended family, spending time with good friends, and feeling that in some small way Hannah and I are changing the world for the better, and leaving a positive legacy behind us.
Hannah: American barbecue, holidays with the family, and of course… Jake!
What do you hope the world will be like in the next 50 years after the Stonewall riots?
Jake: I sincerely hope that we will have moved to a time where hate and prejudice are a thing of the past, where presidents of large countries shudder at the notion of rejecting a gay child and where LGBTQ young folk are no longer afraid to come out or of being bullied at school. The slaughter of trans women of color needs to stop, and young gay women must feel safe on their way home, not scared of being beaten on a bus at the end of an evening out. The sheer magnitude of change that needs to happen is overwhelming, but I hope that the tide will continue to turn, progress will be made daily and we will soon come to a place where the young generation wonder what all the fuss is about, and never feel shame to simply be themselves.
Hannah: I would love to see homosexuality decriminalized, marriage equality legalized across the world, and all aspects of the trans experience recognized. Most of all, I hope the 100th anniversary of Stonewall will be today’s LGBT youth looking back and echoing my own words of “look how far we have come.”