Dr. Kit Rachlin is a gender therapist based in Manhattan
What is your take on males with transgender feelings…comparing those of us over, say, 45, comprising a large number of CDI members, settled, married with children, in jobs or professions for decades and forced to hide our crossdressing or transsexuality…versus those just out of college in their 20s and up into their 30s, less burdened, perhaps, with the restrictions that characterize our own lives… because they’re the beneficiaries of recent societal changes in attitude about the transgender world.
Compare any person over 45 who is married with children with a person in their 20’s right out of college and you’ve got endless points of difference. When focused upon the issues of gender and self-expression it may seem obvious that younger people have it better in some respects. They grow up in a world in which the internet provides information and support about options for gender expression and sexual and gender identity. They may attend schools with GSA’s (gay straight alliances) or LGBT student organizations, and if they do want to express an alternative gender, they have no wives, children, or established careers to hinder them. The world has never been more welcoming. But the picture is more complicated on a person-to person basis. Each family is a world of its own and people in their 20’s and 30’s may be more dependent upon their parents than are people over 45. Younger people may have less money and less access to resources because they are young and not established. As a group, parents are no less resistant than wives. Young people may not have children, but they often have siblings, friends, and extended family who would be deeply affected by their expression. True, that if they are destined for gender transition and find a way to take hormones before puberty then they will have a more feminine appearance than someone who has gone through a male puberty. But such early-transitioners are few and far between – even if they are well represented in the media. Depending upon who they are and where they grow up, young people may be harassed or ostracized for expressing femininity, even though there are more resources than ever before. I believe that most young crossdressers and/or transgendered and transsexual people remain very closeted and feel isolated, confused, and even ashamed. All that was my way of saying that young people don’t have it so easy either.
As you noted in your letter, people who are over 45 face specific challenges. Part of the experience of being over 45 is the tendency to look back at the things one did not do and the things one has a limited time to do. It is a time of reckoning and sometimes regret. The effects of male puberty are permanent and it is common to envy the young for their prettiness, softness, slimness, and the opportunity ahead of them. Keep in mind that non-crossing non-transgender people look at younger people with this same envy.
Older adults who have lived their lives as men often hold a feminine identity or self expression that goes back to early childhood. They learned early on that it was not acceptable to appear feminine and they suppressed that part of themselves. In an effort to fit in, or just in the natural course of life, many get married and have children. I work with many people who have very strong female identities, but they maintain their lives as husbands and fathers because they feel a strong love and commitment to their family. In order to maintain that relationship they postpone or limit their self-expression and this can be extremely frustrating and even painful. Counseling and support, participation in a group like CDI, crossdressing and transgender friends, and sometimes even a small dose of hormones can take the edge off, but may always seem like a compromise.
Like all generation gaps, this one includes styles in clothing and relationships and societal expectations. For people who grew up in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, concepts of femininity may be dramatically different from those of people who grew up post- women’s movement. Older people remember a time when there was no such thing as gender-neutral clothing. Women wore dresses, girdles, and stockings every day. Boys had very short hair and a restricted range of acceptable color choices for clothing. And even though gender roles have changed drastically, young people today often tell me that they find the current social role for boys limited and uncomfortable.
The basics of crossdressing and transgender experience transcends generations. You may be surprised at how similar the feelings are that older and younger people express in therapy. They often regret the time they spent hiding their true gender or preferred gender expression. They fret over what other people think and fear losing relationships if their true desires are known. They feel internal pressure to express themselves as feminine or female; Some sporadically, some full-time, but the desire is true and intense in either case. Everyone longs for understanding and to be seen and embraced for who they are. Young people worry about their future, but so do older people. Yes there are differences, but we have yet to see a generation that has it easy.
Dr. Katherine Rachlin is a clinical psychologist, gender specialist, and sex therapist in private practice in New York City. Her website is http://katherinerachlin.com. You can also reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 206-3636.