Growing Old With Gender Dysphoria

R. L. Lake, Ph.D.

One of my continuing frustrations as an elderly gender dysphoric is that I've never been able to develop a strong sense of self-identity. What's happened is that I've lived my life denying the evolution of the person who lives inside my mind. I'm sure it takes a lifetime of associations -- with one's mother during our pre-teen years, with girlfriends as we struggle through adolescence, and with daughters later in life -- to develop a proper sense of style, to learn to laugh and interact as a female, to feel like a real woman. Over the years, however, I've kept a tight rein on interacting with people in ways that might have brought out my female internal self, as well as an external one. I've had to resist searching for the person inside, the person I feel I really am. Even at this late date I still have no idea what clothes would look good on me, I don't know what hairstyles might work for my face, and I don't know how to apply makeup properly. In short, I don't know how to appear, to act, or to be a real woman.

This is much more than being denied the pleasures of opening Christmas presents and finding personal items to cherish or dressing up as a woman and putting on makeup. For all these years I've had to resist a powerful and intensifying pressure to transform myself into the woman I've always wanted to become -- someone I might actually like being -- an individual that I could truly admire.

When I look into a mirror, I'm appalled with what I see. I'm still unable to reconcile that reflection with what I feel within, for it's not the person who lives inside my mind. And since I haven't developed an external image that fits who I think I am, I can't identify myself very well, for I don't know who or what I should be seeing there. What's reflected is a sagging, aging man with balding head and tired eyes, and it fills me with a deep sense of longing and regret and sadness. The reflection of that old man staring back at me is someone else, not a person I feel comfortable living as. Who is that person, and how did he manage to take over my life?

This is the first year of my life I've begun to see and feel my body's growing weaknesses and decline. And since I'll be turning 78 shortly, I guess that's to be expected. Perhaps it's overdue. I know that I'm now on that slow downward spiral that will continue until the end. And as time passes, my dual identities, the physical, external one and the one inside, will continue to diverge until this frail body will no longer support my dreams. And then all of this will thankfully come to an end.

So here I am, left with a profound sadness as I mourn the passage of the potential person who might have been. For every waking minute I've had to keep an impenetrable, protective shell wrapped around me while I watched my hopes gradually dwindle away. That was what I lived for -- hope. But hope is about all faded away, depleted, extinguished, leaving no more than a fleeting shadow behind. Mostly, what I'm left with is a feeling of overwhelming emotional exhaustion. I'm tired of fighting. I've worn myself out.

This isn't what I would've chosen, of course, if I had been born decades later than I was. I really didn't have a choice. But since I've had to go down this path, it would be highly irresponsible and cowardly of me to walk away from family, friends, and responsibilities. This is the house I've built, and for my family's sake I don't feel that I have a right to rip it apart, for I love them very deeply, apparently more than I love my own happiness.

That's what it feels like to be an elderly person still burdened with gender identity dysphoria.