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Transgender, and 55+ years in the closet

One thing jumped out at me from Bruce Jenner’s ABC interview about his transgender feelings, beliefs and actions: he has been wearing women’s clothes in private for over fifty-five years. I noticed this when I listened to Lana Wachowski’s speech to the Human Rights Campaign, and even when I read interviews with Richard O’Brien. All three described being fascinated with women’s clothes since childhood. Why didn’t they feel comfortable telling anyone about it before they started taking hormones and wearing women’s clothes in public?

Let me be clear: I am not blaming Jenner, Wachowski or O’Brien; they are completely entitled to their choices. I can understand people not wanting to talk about a private aspect of their life, and nobody is required to talk to the media about their transgender feelings or beliefs if they don’t want to, no matter how famous they are. Actor, director, sports star, stepfather to reality television superstars, everyone has a right to privacy.

I can understand people not wanting to discuss their life plans before they’re finalized. If someone is planning to go back to school for their MD, or move to Portland, or live the rest of their life as a woman, they need to figure out how to do what’s right for themself while honoring their obligations to family and friends. It may take a long time to do that, and they don’t need to tell anyone.

And yet, Jenner and Wachowski are just two in a long line of trans women who talk about wearing women’s clothes in secret for years before declaring their gender transitions. (O’Brien is a bit different: he made his feelings and beliefs pretty clear in his plays and movies.) There are hardly any famous trans women who feel comfortable talking about their feelings or actions while deciding whether to transition, let alone wearing women’s clothes in public. And among those famous trans women who have decided not to transition, very few are out about it in any way.

For me, as someone who decided long ago not to transition, the support that these declarations receive from some quarters rings a bit hollow. Often it feels like people are cheering the transition more than expressing support for people who have trans feelings. And it makes me wonder: what would they have said in 1995 if Wachowski had simply mentioned in an interview that she was considering transitioning but hadn’t made up her mind? Or in 1985 if Jenner had told Phil Donohue that he was a cross-dresser? It makes me wonder: would these people show the same support to someone who chose my path?

Would you show the same support to someone who chose my path? Would you want to know about my transgender feelings, regardless of what I do about them? Would you defend me against discrimination? Would you support my right to use bathrooms consistent with my gender expression, even if my gender expression changes from day to day?

If so, please tell the world. Say it louder. Because I don’t think Bruce Jenner heard you.

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7 Comments

  1. Thank you for writing this. I am still finding where I want and need to go, where I am under the TG umbrella. All too often when talking with a gender therapist, transitioned transwomen, and otters, they say something like “well soon you’ll be taking hormones and planning your transition.” Look, I’m a newbie at talking to others about this so I have the shyness about being embarressed at saying the wrong thing. But I tell them that at least for now I do not see myself as taking the HRT and GCS steps. They always confirm that that’s fine. But I wonder about it and wish they wouldn’t be so presumptious.

    Emma

  2. I removed a comment with judgmental language and vague warnings about “dangers” of transgender actions. Neither of those are okay.

  3. i read your blog now and then because i am married to someone who is transgender. he came out to me a few years ago and it has been a roller coaster. he has not decided yet on transitioning. i am finding there is very little support or guidance for someone to not transition. it seems every book i read and even his therapist remark on it is slow process but pretty much transitioning is the only solution. there needs to be more support,guidance and options of living happily without transitioning. thank you for being my one resource

  4. While I am new to your blog, I am not new to the issue of gender identity. I am in my fifties and ever since I can remember, I have felt more feminine than masculine, but growing up in the sixties and early seventies, people didn’t talk about or even know how to talk about gender identity.

    After high school I joined the Army. Five years later nothing changed. At the time I had no idea the feelings I was experiencing were of being trapped in a body that didn’t match my emotions. Still determined to live as I was born, I met, fell in love with and married the love of my life. For a long time I hid my true self from her and myself. I never told her about my feelings, but over time she figured out I was more than I appear. In fact on occasion when I would say or do something, she would say, “You’re such a girl.” She always meant it and I always took it as a compliment. While on the camping trip we always dreamed about, we were talking about us. At one point she said, “You are a girl”. That was five months ago. Talking since then she said it because of positive qualities my feminine side gives me such as my emotional strength (Yeah right!), my sensitivity, and my creativity.

    I lost the love of my life a month ago, however the feminine feelings have gotten stronger. I realize mourning may be a factor and I do know better than doing anything drastic while in this intensely emotional state. So I’m taking baby steps. She hated at Halloween that my nails for whatever costume looked better than hers, and had only asked that I limit painting my nails until Halloween. Yesterday was our anniversary, so I treated myself to a mani-pedi. My pinkies are pink and will always be. Her favorite color and my mother is a breast cancer survivor. The rest of my nails are silver, the color for the 23rd anniversary, with black tips on all my nails for mourning. Looks like a black tipped French manicure. Toes are silver too but only the big toe is black tipped.

    Like you, I’m not interested in transitioning. I would like to present a feminine appearance from time to time and I would however love to never have to shave my face ever again, but I know of only hormones or electrolysis to deal with my facial hair. I also have feminine looking hands and am seriously considering working as a hand model. What advice can you give?

  5. Why didn’t they feel comfortable telling anyone about it before they started taking hormones and wearing women’s clothes in public?

    Neither do I.

    I tried to come out 30 years ago and was lambasted for my effort. The key piece is this isn’t about wearing women’s clothes, it’s about being female. Being an obvious male in women’s clothes doesn’t cut it.

    What they/we are looking for is the ability to transform ourselves into the female we believe we are. Not play dress up and go through the humiliation of being told we are drag queens or just pretending.

  6. That may be true for you, Cinthia, but it’s not necessarily true for them. And even so, it begs a whole bunch of questions: Why doesn’t “being an obvious male in women’s clothes” cut it? Why are we told we are drag queens or just pretending, and why do some of us find that so humiliating?

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