Transgender of a Certain Age

Friday, January 23, 2009

Question

I am in my late forties. Ever since I was a teenager, I have enjoyed wearing women's clothes. At first I felt a lot of guilt about it and went through a few years of swearing I would give it up, throwing away my wardrobe, then gradually giving in and accumulating a whole new one. I finally decided this was stupid as well as expensive. I am not hurting anybody, and the fact that most men don't share my erotic enjoyment of lingerie and high heels doesn't make it wrong. Or sick.

But now I have a whole new problem. I'm sick of cross-dressing. It's been months since I even bothered to put on some lipstick or shave my legs. I don't want to put on sexy clothes and masturbate. I want to put on ordinary women's clothes and go have lunch, watch a movie—or go to work. My female identity has been only a sexual thing for decades. But it's not just a fetish, I'm coming to realize. I think I'm more of a transsexual than a cross-dresser.

But isn't it too late? What kind of life could I expect to have as a middle-aged woman? I could kill myself for not having the courage to investigate this when I was younger and better looking. I look in the mirror and feel that I'd just be ridiculous and pathetic if I got a sex change. Who would ever want to be with me? What would happen to my career, such as it is?

I'm married, but I think we stay together mostly for companionship. We've got separate bedrooms. She travels a lot for her job and doesn't ask me any questions about what I do behind closed doors. I think she suspects there is something wrong with me, but she's afraid to confront me. So we just ignore the elephant/rhinoceros/tranny in the living room.

I don't even know why I am writing to you. You can't turn back the clock. But maybe my letter will help somebody younger who is wondering if they should change their sex or just develop their gender problems as a sexual fantasy. The warning is: It won't work forever. Do what you want to do with your life before it's too late.

Answer

Why are you telling other people with gender issues to do whatever it takes to have a happier life while you deny yourself the same opportunity?

First of all, you are not the only person who found out in middle age that the way they used to cope with their gender difference is no longer working. You were born in a time when relatively few people had even heard of transsexuality. I give you tons of credit for refusing to commit suicide, drink yourself insensible every day (you aren't, are you?), or bury this so deeply that you had no outlet at all for your female identity.

While some people are lucky enough to find enough information and support to transition earlier in life, many of us did not. We sought other ways to cope. We tried to keep it as private as possible, to protect ourselves from discrimination and scorn. If you are a cross-dresser, the erotic fantasies associated with women's clothing can provide enjoyment throughout your entire life span. But if the need to be a woman goes beyond a sexual fantasy, sooner or later, that coping mechanism will stop being effective.

What kind of life would you have? I think that depends a lot on you. It certainly isn't easy to go through the process of taking hormones, getting electrolysis and surgery, and changing one's legal paperwork. It's not easy to come out to a spouse or family members and seek out a community that can offer information and help. But a lot of other people have gone through this and made it work for them.

If the only way you can be happy is to be a twenty-three-year-old fashion model, you are doomed to clinical depression. But would it be so bad to have a dignified life as the woman you are right now? Genetic women your age do manage to find love, have satisfying relationships and careers, and it's altogether possible that you can too.

The first step is to find somebody to talk to about this. Locate a decent therapist and explore your options. Ideally, this would be someone who has experience working with members of the transgendered community, but doesn't view themselves as having the right to tell you what you can or can't do. Ultimately, the decision whether to transition or not is up to you, not some so-called "expert." It's your life. Be a modern woman and take charge.