This Mother Calls Herself a Widow After Her Ex-Husband Deserted Their Family by Transitioning

By Ashley McClure

On a seemingly ordinary summer day, new mother and wife Ute Heggen* opened a suitcase that she now calls her “Pandora’s Box.” Thirty-one years later, she says the decision to open that suitcase changed her life forever.

It was August 1992. Heggen, her husband Ned*, and their two young boys, aged one and four at the time, were wrapping up a visit to her husband’s parents’ home in Chicago, Illinois. Heggen’s husband had recently returned from a business trip to San Francisco, exhibiting some unusual behavior. He had shaved off all his body hair—something she recalled he had never done before. However, the house’s thin walls—and the proximity of her in-laws—had hitherto prevented Heggen from confronting her husband about this change.

As she packed their family’s belongings, Heggen remembered that Ned had specifically instructed her not to open his suitcase. However, there was not enough room in her own suitcase to fit clothes for herself and their two sons. She unzipped her husband’s suitcase just enough to stuff in a few articles of clothing, reached in—and felt something odd. 

“There were three sketchbooks, filled with his distinct handwriting, describing his activities going out crossdressing,” Heggen said, recounting this experience during an interview with Independent Women’s Forum (IWF). “It must have extended back to when I was halfway through my second pregnancy.”

Reeling with shock, Heggen said she briefly envisioned a “paper-doll version of herself” falling out of the window. Such suicidal ideation would haunt her long after the discovery that her tech-consultant husband—who had never shown any indication of gender dysphoria—was living a secret life. 

“We met in college at a folk dancing club, and we were very well-matched partners. He was a very good dancer,” Heggen said. “He was two years older than me, and I was very flattered that he was interested in me.”

Though she was only 18 years old when they met, Heggen said that she saw no impediments to marrying the smart and talented young man she had fallen for. In hindsight, however, there were subtle warning signs her younger self had overlooked.

“He talked about how much he hated his father, but I wasn’t thinking to myself, ‘This might be a dysfunctional family,’” Heggen said. “What I did know about his childhood was that his father had been violent.”

According to Heggen, Ned’s father had a “hair-trigger” temper and severely beat his children for behavior as benign as laughing together in the back seat of the family car. She now believes that this physical abuse early in life may have sown the seeds of her husband’s desire to transition. 

After discovering that her husband was a serial cross-dresser, Heggen wrestled with this newfound knowledge until they had left his parents’ home and returned to their house in Brooklyn, New York. 

“When the children were in bed, I asked him, ‘What are you planning on? How can I trust you?’” Heggen recalled. “He said, ‘I don’t have a plan. I just need to do this, and you’re not respecting my needs.’”

Heggen told IWF she was baffled by Ned’s refusal to reassure her. She was still nursing their one-year-old son at the time, so she especially felt fearful that he might have contracted a sexually transmitted disease and passed it on to her.

“I knew from the diaries that he was doing his cross-dressing at gay bars in Greenwich Village,” she said. “It’s been explained to me by gay men that the gay bar scene involves a lot of anonymous sex.”

Instead of soothing her fears, Heggen said that Ned shamed her for not affirming his “need” to cross-dress. Heggen alleges that his treatment of her was narcissistic abuse.

“Narcissistic abuse involves coercion, a critical demeanor, and always insulting your partner and boosting yourself at their expense,” she explained. “He had done that at length, but I felt trapped because I was out of the workforce at the time.”

Heggen recalled feeling completely isolated as a stay-at-home mom in the early 1990s, without a cell phone or even a credit card. Her dependency kept her in limbo until a terrifying event finally convinced her to leave.

“My one-and-a-half-year-old son came paddling towards me in the kitchen with an ‘aren’t-you-proud’ expression on his face,” Heggen said. “He was holding a big chef’s knife that he had found under the refrigerator.” 

“I got it away from him and put it back in the drawer, sat down, and silently cried while I fed him a cookie,” she continued. “And I said to myself, ‘I have to get out of here.’”

Later that night, Heggen said she confronted her husband about the knife, despite her fears that he would blame her for the whole event.

“I was so narcissistically abused by that point, so criticized by him, that I thought he would accuse me of being a bad homemaker and say that I had probably swept the knife under the fridge by mistake,” she said.

Instead, Ned told her that he was suicidal and had put the knife there to hide it from himself. Deciding that the house was no longer a safe environment for her children, Heggen called a good friend of hers who she knew had helped another woman escape from an abusive husband. 

This friend helped Heggen hide boxes full of her and her children’s belongings, which she secretly packed while Ned was at work. On the day she decided to leave, Heggen picked up her four-year-old from preschool and told her sons that they were going on a trip to visit their grandparents at their home in Madison, Wisconsin. 

Once she had safely arrived, Heggen phoned her husband and told him, “I’m not going to hide from you. I’m at my parents’ house. But you cannot be in the same household with children—you’re hiding knives from yourself. It’s too dangerous.”

Over the next few months, Ned called her repeatedly—begging her to return home, threatening to commit suicide if she didn’t, and promising to stop cross-dressing by turns. Still, Heggen refused to rejoin him. In November of 1992, he called her and told her that if she did not return, he would initiate divorce proceedings and sue for custody. 

“I’m still nursing our little one,” Heggen remembered saying. “How could a court grant you custody?”

“I’ll just sue for custody of the older one, then,” Ned replied. 

Realizing that her husband was willing to separate their children if she didn’t come back, Heggen returned to Brooklyn in January 1993. At first, things seemed to return to normal. Ned had promised that he would stop cross-dressing if it meant keeping their family together, and Heggen believed him. 

A few years after her return to Brooklyn, however, Heggen began to notice her husband exhibiting a different kind of odd behavior—this time, wearing layers upon layers of clothing.

“I wanted to find out what was going on, so I made a point of coming in on him in our bedroom when he had his shirt off,” Heggen said. “And I saw that he looked like me when I was about twelve and a half.” 

That was the moment Heggen knew she needed a divorce. Far from overcoming his desire to appear like a woman as he had promised, Ned had been secretly taking estrogen—a feminizing hormone—the whole time. 

Heggen retained custody of her children and became a public school teacher to support them. Her two boys did not escape the messy situation unscathed, however. She revealed in a video on her personal blog that her older son suffered from suicidal ideation in the aftermath of the divorce, and she said that her younger son deals with the trauma to this day.

Despite the fact that Heggen and her sons still lived in the same city as her now ex-husband (New York City), she said that Ned refused to pay child support or contribute to their education. All that time, Heggen said he was enjoying a successful career as an executive at a tech firm. 

“I scrimped and saved and managed to save up enough money to put my two sons through college without loans,” Heggen said. “I was so convinced of their loyalty, but I didn’t know anything about the instruction around cross-sex and non-binary identities that was going on in schools.”

Now, neither of Heggen’s two sons speak to her. She said they began siding with their father after the indoctrination they experienced in college, and that they object to her openly criticizing Ned’s actions online—even though Heggen keeps her own identity, as well as his, a secret. 

Today, Heggen refers to herself as a “Trans Widow.” Having lost her family to gender ideology, she has built a community of women—mainly trans widows like herself—that she interviews to gather more information about how gender ideology affects women. 

According to the website Trans Widows Voices, women feel “like their male partner has died” when he begins cross-dressing, exhibiting symptoms of autogynephilia (AGP), and/or decides to “transition.” 

Over the course of 52 interviews with trans widows, Heggen has conducted personal research to discover the commonalities and risk factors experienced by these women whose husbands fell prey to gender ideology.

“Of the 52 women I’ve interviewed, 21 said that they lost their friends after refusing to support their husband’s transition,” Heggen said, revealing one of many sad statistics that she has compiled. 

In fact, Heggen—as well as many women that she has interviewed—experienced not only personal defamation from their gender-confused husbands, but had blame placed on them by therapists, friends, and even clergy. These acts of psychological manipulation occur despite those same women suffering sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of their “transitioning” husbands, as Heggen’s research reveals. 

Over time, Heggen said she has risen above the trauma her husband subjected her and their sons to. She still writes her sons postcards, even though they don’t respond, and observes the ever-growing influence of gender ideology with confusion and pain.

“On the postcards, I write, ‘I will love you always,’” she said. “After all, I’m their mother.”

*Some names have been changed to protect the identities of the people involved. 

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