More Than a Woman

The poet and philosopher, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, coined a phrase back in the 19th Century – “the suspension of disbelief” – which suggests that if a writer injects a “human interest and a semblance of truth” into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgement of the implausibility of the story. The case of Gayle Newland is a case in point.

Gayle NewlandFor those not familiar with The Curious Case of Gayle Newland – a British woman convicted of sexual assault on another woman by pretending to be a man – allow yourself to become enlightened.

Gayle Newland was initially convicted of three counts of sexual assault at Chester crown court back in September 2015 and was sentenced to eight years in prison. Her conviction was overturned at the Court of Appeal in October 2016 following criticism that the judge’s summing up was heavily biased towards the prosecution, and she was released from jail pending a retrial.

The basis of the case was this: Newland adopted an online male alter-ego by the appalling name of ‘Kye Fortune’, a Filipino/American who, somewhat improbably, lived in Chester in north-west England. Newland’s intention was to allegedly seduce a fellow (female) student at Chester University.

‘Kye’ contacted the complainant on Facebook and the pair struck up an online relationship lasting over a year before they first ‘met’. Kye used a number of elaborate excuse to avoid meeting – he had been badly injured and disfigured; he had a brain tumour and was being treated in hospital; that he’d had a seizure and was in intensive care. The complainant, for whatever reason, readily accepted these excuses for over a year, incredible as that may sound – keep that disbelief suspended!

Terms & Conditions

During this period, Kye put the complainant in touch with a friend of his, none other than Gayle Newland. The pair became friends, the complainant confiding in Newland details of her relationship with the mysterious Kye. Eventually, Kye and the complainant agreed to meet up, but ‘he’ laid down a number of conditions for a meeting:

  • the complainant was to remain blindfold throughout – because Kye was ashamed of his injuries
  • Kye would be bandaged around his chest because of a heart condition and had to wear a “medically necessary sort of bodysuit” during sex
  • Kye would also have to wear a hat due to scarring caused by an operation on his brain tumour

This bizarre state of affairs continued for a number of months until Kye and the complainant had sex for what would be the final time. She became suspicious(!), and “grabbed for the back of his head and my hand got caught on something. It did not feel right.” She finally ripped off her blindfold and “Gayle was just standing there with this strap-on on, and I couldn’t believe it. I ran into the bathroom and locked myself in.”

Gender Bender

Phew?! Still following? Newland dismissed this version of events; She claimed she had first come across the complainant at a gay night in a Chester nightclub called ‘Gender Blender’, not online as the complainant alleged. She said at no stage of their relationship was a blindfold used; Newland insisted she and the complainant conducted their relationship transparently, with ‘Kye’ created to ease the complainant’s difficulties in confronting her homosexual tendencies.

They agreed to conduct the sexual part of their relationship with Newland ‘in character’ as Kye:

“Both of us struggled with our sexuality. I guess we were two stupid girls experimenting with our sexuality. It felt easier, and it was a bit of fun. And it kept things exciting. A bigger reason for complainant is that she had told everyone she was in a relationship with a man, and for whatever reason that was a big thing.”

Newland claimed in court that she did not know what to do when their relationship became sexual, that she was a virgin and that it was the complainant who asked her to buy the prosthetic penis. Newland and the complainant had a sexual relationship with her in character but maintained it was consensual at all times.

Newland was initially convicted in September 2015 and sentenced to eight years, but the conviction was overturned on appeal following criticism of the summing up by the original trial judge.

However, at a recent retrial (from which press reporting was prohibited), Newland was again found guilty, and sentencing is due to be determined on 20th July. In all likelihood, Newland will be returning to prison. The judge in the re-trial, Recorder of Manchester David Stockdale, said,

“The fact I’m granting you bail now is absolutely no indication of the sentence that you are likely to receive on 20 July. On the contrary, you must understand now the overwhelming likelihood is that on 20 July you will receive a significant custodial sentence. You should be in no doubt about that at all.”

State of Mind

What an incredible, perhaps even unbelievable, state of affairs! In considering the verdict, the staggering naivety shown by the complainant is just one of the fascinating aspects of this story.

It might be worth applauding the elaborate deception perpetrated by Gayle Newland were it not for the undoubted psychological damage inflicted on the victim, for we can now call her that. How did Newland manage to keep the deception going for so long? What was the state of mind of both parties, both before and during their relationship?

What seems clear from this tragic case is that Gayle Newland has mental health issues which desperately need to be addressed, perhaps not best served by a return to custody. She has apparently suffered with her sexuality from the age of 13, telling the court:

“I was pretending to be a boy for a variety of reasons. All my best friends were boys at primary school, then I went to an all-girls school and was out of my comfort zone. I knew I was attracted to girls, but didn’t realise what it meant. I didn’t know any gay people. You’d use the world lesbian for name-calling.”

But was Newland’s behaviour motivated by a desire for close friendship, or entirely for her “own sexual satisfaction and choosing to ignore the devastating impact that the eventual discovery of the truth would have” on the victim?

We can barely scratch the surface of the psychological implications for the victim, and there are certainly no winners in this tragic case. It is not the first ‘gender deception’ case – the cases of Gemma Barker, Justine McNally and Fiona Manson/Kyran Lee spring to mind – and likely it will not be the last.

EDIT: 20/7/17 – Gayle Newland was sentenced to 6 and a half years following the re-trial.Sentencing her, Recorder of Manchester, Judge David Stockdale QC, said: “Truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction. The truth, the whole truth, here is as surprising as it is profoundly disturbing. It is difficult to conceive of a deceit so degrading or so damaging for the victim upon its discovery.”

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