YOU should never assume you know someone completely. I was certain I knew my husband inside out. I thought I was an intelligent, educated person and a good judge of character. As it turned out, I was ignorant, with a mind not half as open as I'd always assumed. It took me eight months to discover that the man who is now my husband was a transvestite.

I met him in the pub one summer. I'd just been stood up by a man I was having a relationship with. Blow that for a game of soldiers, I thought, when suddenly Jim appeared from one corner of the pub and offered me a drink. He was wearing a leather bomber jacket - he rode a motorbike in those days. Jim was an engineer and, I thought, just a normal chunky chap. We got chatting about general things, and immediately I felt at home. I didn't feel that I was being bought just because he gave me a free drink or two. He didn't leer at me across the table. We started going out, and within a year we were living together.

Our relationship was a dream at first. I'd been treated like dirt by my former husband and kept thinking 'How incredible, I've been a skivvy for the last 20 or so years, and here I am being treated like a queen.' It was wonderful. I never cooked any meals - he still does all the cooking.

He was shy on the sexual front, though. I thought that was sweet at the time. He never grabbed or pushed. He said he admired me for being a very tolerant person. At the time, I thought he meant I was quite relaxed. Little did I realise he thought I might be tolerant about his cross-dressing.

I was attracted to him because of his obvious empathy with women; sometimes this could be pleasantly embarrassing. He liked coming shopping, for instance, but unlike most guys who will linger outside women's shops he'd actually come in and point out the embroidery on underwear.' Look at all the work,' he'd say admiringly. I thought that was interesting.

He seemed to have lots of friends, always the life and soul of the party; playing the clown, which, in fact, hid a painfully shy person. He preferred women for friends. He'd look down his nose at any man making sexist jokes. He'd come out with jokes himself, but they'd be old mother-in-law jokes - never crude or cruel.

I was stunned when I found the women's knickers. I was totally appalled. I was just sorting out some drawers and there they were. I didn't snap at him, I just couldn't bring myself to mention it at all. I can remember him looking at me quizzically. He knew there was something wrong and was puzzled as to why I'd changed - even though I was desperately trying to appear normal. He didn't think it was anything to do with his 'fem' clothes.

I was completely shell-shocked, so I can't remember if it was days, weeks or months later. But one day I just got them out and said ' Well, what are these?'. He became very sad and embarrassed and immediately began to pre-empt my criticisms by saying that of course I'd want to leave. But I still loved him, and didn't have anywhere else to go. He has now developed into a full cross-dresser. It is usually a temporary thing. He may feel the need at the end of a long day to cross-dress for a couple of hours - say, two or three times a week. I don't really take much notice, I'm so used to it now.

We tend to put our men on a pedestal. We ask them to be macho and very strong all the time, and I think cross-dressing is the way some men try to get rid of their responsibilities. It's to relax. But it was confusing for me at first. Part of my anger was due to the fact I felt my role was taken away.

Jim told me his greatest secret. That's one of the nice things. Nothing could shock me again - at least I hope not. I'm sure now that I know my husband more completely than most women know theirs. But there's still a sense of being cheated when you find out.

Interview by Catherine Milner