By Martha Hewett @MARTHA_HEWETT
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Videographer / director: Marcus Hessenberg
Producer: Martha Hewett, Ruby Coote
Editor: Marcus Cooper
Jamie Raines, who first felt he was male at the age of four, met Shaaba Lotun, both from Essex, when they were 16 and he was still living as female.
Jamie, 25, and Shaaba, 24, met in art class and quickly became best friends.
They are now set to wed next year after becoming engaged in 2017.
At the age of 16, Jamie had seen a documentary on transgender people which helped him come out to his mum.
A couple of months later, he told his friends but he was nervous to reveal his new identity to Shaaba, who had been raised in a strict Asian household.
Jamie told Barcroft TV: “One of the people I was most scared to tell was Shaaba, I knew her families opinion on having male friends and I wasn’t sure how she’d react.”
Thankfully for Jamie, Shaaba was there for him in the way he had hoped.
“She was great, she was the first person who got my new name and pronouns down and never got it wrong,” Jamie said.
“Jamie sounded far more confident than he ever had before, I was just like, ‘Cool, I support you, what do you need me to do?’” Shaaba added.
Despite this, there was a question over whether they could still be friends.
Shaaba explained: “There was a strict rule about me being friends with guys, but in my defence, I didn’t actually break that – I didn’t know one of my friends identified as male.”
After Jamie came out as trans, they both knew the dynamic of their relationship had changed.
“I had fancied Shaaba for a while, I had a feeling there was something more going on but I had no idea if it was real or if I had imagined it because I wanted it to happen,” Jamie said.
“It was a difficult one, because I genuinely did love Jamie as a friend and would often say if he was a guy I’d marry him straight away,” Shaaba said.
“Our friends would always say we were like an old married couple,” Jamie added.
After revealing his true feelings to Shaaba at a party, it became clear to both that their feelings for one another had developed into something more.
Shaaba soon began to question her sexuality. She had always identified as heterosexual, and wondered if her attraction for Jamie meant otherwise.
“I identified as straight at the time, so there was a lot to process. Before Jamie transitioned I didn’t have romantic feelings for him, it wasn’t something I contemplated,” Shaaba explained.
Once their romantic relationship began to develop, they kept things private.
“We didn’t tell our friends straight away, we kept the whole relationship very secret, although I think my parents knew,” Jamie said.
However, they had to be particularly careful in keeping it private from Shaaba’s mum, who they knew would be against the relationship.
“After my parents separated, my dad remarried and lived a western lifestyle, but my mum remarried and lives a very Asian lifestyle.
“They are very strict and identify as Muslim, so there’s a lot of religious rules to follow. It was weird growing up, because I had two polar opposite dynamics.”
Their secret was soon revealed after Shaaba’s mum read a text from Jamie on Shaaba’s phone.
“My mum had confiscated my phone so I could revise, she saw the message and all hell broke loose on New Year’s Day.”
Shaaba added: “She thought her daughter was a lesbian, and told my whole family who were very, very unimpressed.”
What followed was constant pressure for Shaaba to end her relationship with Jamie, and when it became clear that wouldn’t happen, she was ostracized from the family and had to move in with Jamie’s parents.
“I ended up living with Jamie’s family for a bit which, in hindsight, wasn’t a good idea as it just created a bigger rift between the two families.”
It took four years for Shaaba’s mum to even contemplate talking to Shaaba about Jamie and begin referring to him in male pronouns.
“Everything happened in baby steps when it came to introducing Jamie back into the family.
“It was really bad, but I do completely understand it was coming from a place of her wanting to do what was best for me,” Shaaba explained.
Both Jamie and Shaaba say they don’t hold this against the family, and when Jamie underwent bottom surgery, things started to improve.
“In the last year and a half, things have accelerated so much and it’s more natural, friendly and genuine,” Jamie said.
“It’s fantastic,” Shaaba added.
Although the lack of acceptance was extremely hard for both Shaaba and Jamie, they are thrilled that they are planning their wedding with the support of both families.
Jamie proposed to Shaaba in September 2017, with everyone from both families present.
“It took me a whole year to plan the proposal, I wanted it to be at The University of Essex because it’s a very special place for us both,” said Jamie.
“To see my family there was just incredible, and to know he had asked for their blessing - I was just so happy,” added Shaaba.
Although reaching this place of acceptance has been difficult on their relationship, both Jamie and Shaaba feel grateful for how it’s strengthened them as a team.
“A big thing I’ve learned is patience and perseverance, and taking a kinder approach with education and giving people more time – that can help a lot.”
Shaaba added: “For me, communication is essential, and it’s key to ensure you’re on the same page.
“Going through this journey of conflict together has ultimately bought us closer together.”